Language coaching is appearing everywhere. What is it? And how does it differ from language teaching? While not all language coaches are the same, they do share a common approach which has similarities to, and differences from language teaching. In this article we will look at what language coaching is, how it compares to traditional language teaching, who might benefit from it, and what resources there are to further explore the field.
The word “coach” first appeared in 1830 at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. A coach was a slang term for a person who helped students pass their exams. Thirty years later, it was used to describe a person who led a sports team, a meaning which today is probably the most common association we have with the word.
In the past 50 years coaching techniques have been applied outside the sports world, particularly in business settings. Similar to sports, the coach focuses on the “achievement gap” the difference between how the business person is performing now, and how they would like to perform in the future. Executive coaching was followed by life coaching, academic coaching, health coaching, financial coaching, career coaching - and many more areas.
Performance: the Goal of Coaching
Language coaching is a relatively recent development. However even in the origins of the word "coach," it’s possible to see why coaching could be a good method to train language learners. For while the goal of teaching is to increase a student’s understanding and knowledge of a subject, the goal of coaching is to help someone perform and succeed. Unless you are learning a language for academic purposes, you probably want to function in that language - in real time situations. Your knowledge of the language is crucial, but using that knowledge effectively to succeed is a different skill. Anyone who has studied a language for years yet can’t speak it is an example of this difference.
Coaching and Teaching - What are the Differences?
In order to better understand language coaching, we can compare it to language teaching, the traditional way that language is learned. In general:
Emphasis on knowledge Emphasis on achievement
Teacher is the authority Coach is an expert but has equal status to client
Curriculum determined by subject Material is chosen for client’s specific needs
Progress occurs in class Progress occurs training outside of class
Concerned with subject Concerned with all aspects of the client’s learning
Class presentations Questions/strategies for self study and practice
Dependent on teacher for learning Client is coached to direct their own learning
Key to the difference between teaching and coaching is perhaps this 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 taking in 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. These are two different models of authority.
Who is Language Coaching For?
There could be many people who could benefit from language coaching, but there are two groups that seem like they could especially benefit from this approach. The first is the independent learner. In this modern age, where there is everything you need available on the internet, many people can learn English without attending English classes. A coach, however, can help organize and guide this process by setting goals and measuring progress. A coach also will help a self-directed learner know more about their learning style and methods that specifically suit them.
The other group of learners that seem like a natural fit for coaching are executives and managers. People who are used to taking a leadership role could feel more comfortable with a language professional who will use principles of motivation, efficiency and performance to design an individual program for them, rather than more traditional methods such as a set curriculum with specific activities. Executives who work in a non-native language often need to function in high stakes meetings, presentations and conferences. Coaching focuses on those events offering support for practical achievement in the client’s world.
There is not a huge amount of material online about language coaching, but there is a fascinating blog at https://learnercoachingelt.wordpress.com/ Here you can find material for students who wish to use coaching strategies to direct their own learning, and for teachers who wish to incorporate more coaching methodology in their work.
What do you think? Do you think coaching is the language method of the future? Can it be mixed with teaching? Who should take responsibility for learning - teacher or student? I’m curious to know - please leave a comment!