What is Language Coaching?

Language coaching is a method that supports language learners in their learning process.

Language coaches are aware of the basic theories of language acquisition and are also experts in the use and structure of their language, but go a step beyond. Language coaching is similar to other various branches of coaching, such as sports, business and life coaching, and related to positive psychology and cognitive science. It is a conversation-based process the purpose of which is to map and create optimal language acquisition or language usage-related goals. The framework is based on strategies utilizing intrinsic motivation and developing learning awareness, where both parties (coach and client) are equal partners. 

Five things are crucial in a language coaching framework:

  1. support of learner goals
  2. identification of learner skills and strengths
  3. focus on what the learner does beyond the classes
  4. increased awareness of the learning process
  5. development of learner independence

How is Language Coaching different from Traditional Language teaching?

Many fundamental practices in language teaching are based on 20th century theories and practices with the teacher as the source of knowledge and the dictator of the learning process. This often does not go down well with adult learners used to independent decision-making and control in their own learning. Ridged curricula and the cover-to-cover textbook syndrome crippling many language learning processes comes from the need to standardize, yet this does not make sense in a number of – if not all – cases in adult learning above the B1-B2 levels. 

For busy professionals, the lack of choice and autonomy felt in tradional language classes has a negative impact on motivation. Learners may be very motivated at the start of their course but after a few weeks of being a passenger on the language journey, they find other things to do with their time. Making progress in language learning is a relatively slow process (sometimes a frustrating one) so being able to stay motivated is key. A language coach uses coaching strategies to help the learner rekindle their motivation, reminding them of their progress towards their chosen goals and the reasons behind them.

Furthermore, language coaching can be used to make targeted improvement in highly specific areas of language use. You need to work on presentation skills? You can work with a language coach to improve those skills pertinent to your role and situation. You’re working towards an examination? The plan you crate together with your coach will target and practice the skills and language knowledge that you will need on the big day. This is where language coaching becomes more efficient and cost-effective in comparison to standard teaching practices.

Key to the difference between teaching and coaching is perhaps the area of responsibility. Who takes responsibility for learning? Traditionally, teachers can feel a huge amount of pressure to make their students learn in lessons. Class time is spent imparting information and practicing, and then assessing the student for progress. A coach-client model however recognizes that skills are developed both inside and outside the classroom. The coach will spend class time not only practicing and instructing, but also discussing the client’s practical language situation, motivation, and strategies for achievement. Progress is measured in success outside the classroom. A coach will typically ask many questions to provoke the client to reflect upon their own learning process and discover answers themselves. In this way the coach supports the client in being in charge of their own learning process.

The first step in the coaching process is to set goals together. The coach takes care to find out what the learner wants and needs and how that individual learns and practices best, and then works with them to make progress towards their personally-chosen goals, not the teacher’s goals, nor the goals of a prescribed textbook nor a pre-determined curriculum. The coach guides the client to discover the language and to take the steps needed to achieve their goals.

The coach also supports the client to overcome any obstacles they encounter along the way. The coach helps them get rid of their limiting beliefs, become self-confident and apply learning techniques that best suit them as individuals. After the goal setting process, some tools used during the classes include carefully designed conversation questions that provoke powerful learning conversations, active listening, metacognition and learning strategies, simulation (role-play) activities, and strengths & weaknesses analysis.

In summary, a language coach is definitely an expert practician of the target language, an experienced language teacher, and probably an experienced language learner as well. They know traditional language teaching methods well, however they also know the limitations of those methods.

It should be noted, if the coach insists that a coaching session is only a freeform conversation with no structure or guidance toward the goals, it’s not coaching (or good teaching for that matter). The coach is like an alpine guide who knows the terrain thoroughly, is well prepared, and carries the maps and tools necessary for any situation that may arise. They let the learner lead the way, while providing wise guidance and support.