Language Learning & Beyond: the Role of the Language Coach
My mom is an Olympic-level canoeing and kayaking coach. I’m an English teacher. Now, as part of the Excedo Team, I also am a coach – a Language Coach. It’s not just a difference in title but a whole new paradigm for understanding what I do to support learners.
When I wanted to delve into what makes me a coach, above and beyond merely a teacher, I went to my mom and asked her to describe what she does as an athletic coach. This conversation gave me a deeper understanding for describing my role in the field of corporate English training.
Picture a teacher in a classroom, perhaps standing in front of learners at their desks, talking to them while they are listening and maybe even writing some notes. Now picture a coach training an athlete. The athlete is running or swimming or paddling and the coach is observing. The coach is evaluating the athlete’s progress, determining what the athlete’s strengths are and where there are opportunities for improvement, designing the best exercises to help the athlete perform even better. Notice, it’s always the athlete who’s actively doing the work, not just passively listening to the coach explain it or watching the coach do it.
Now think about the planning stages. A teacher plans out a curriculum to get through all of the material in a predetermined amount of time. That curriculum most likely represents a one-size-fits-all plan that can be repeated for every class, even over multiple years with minimal changes. Compare that to the coach. She talks to the athlete and discovers their goals. Is the goal making it to the Olympics? Is it winning the gold medal? The goal ultimately determines the type of training that will produce the results. Together, they determine how long they have to achieve the goal.
The coach brings her considerable experience and specialized knowledge about the sport and the human body to bear and designs a training plan that will build the athlete’s skills and strengths to achieve the goal in the desired timeframe.
A Language Coach uses the same communicative and collaborative approach to form a training plan for any of learning, including corporate English courses. The Language Coach finds out what the English learner’s goal is as relates to their career and how long and how often they have to study in order to achieve that goal. She personalizes the content of the corporate communications course – the skills, the language, the strategies – around these goals and this timeline. She also customizes the types of activities and tasks to the goal as well as to the most effective learning style for the individual. Just like athletes, different corporate English learners are motivated and engaged by different types of training.
Traditionally, teaching has been about the transmission and reception of information. The learner is passive and the teacher is active. The relationship is very one-directional. Coaching, in contrast, places the learner at the center and develops a more equitable relationship. The learner and the Language Coach are partners, a team, working together to effectively and efficiently produce results. It’s a two-way relationship where skills progress through sustained and targeted practice. The Language Coach takes on the receptive role, observing and evaluating the active learner to determine where the learner has opportunities for improvement.
Assessment also differs significantly. A teacher often assigns a grade at the end of a course representing the level of performance achieved during the course. A Language Coach, by contrast, assesses performance throughout the course to help form the direction of the training itself and to streamline and focus the remaining work in order to maximize the potential of the individual learner.
These distinctions are really important in courses focused on English for corporate communications. Because the goals are specifically related to each learner’s profession and field, it’s crucial for the Language Coach to customize the content and the skills, such as moderating a meeting or mediating a negotiation.
In order to build confidence, develop fluency, and increase comprehension, the learner must be actively practicing these business skills rather than merely listening to expert advice. A corporate English course with a Language Coach will have higher Student Talking Time with ample opportunities for collaborative task work and speaking practice with case studies and role plays. The material in the meetings will be more authentic and relevant for corporate language needs, e.g. professional emails, presentations, articles, and simulations.
A learner-centric approach
A key point here is that the Language Coach helps each individual learner apply the business principles and strategies to their own field and it is this customization and personalization that most strongly distinguishes the Language Coach from the teacher. In a corporate English course, the Language Coach observes and evaluates the active participants to identify the most effective and efficient methods for achieving the goals and producing results.
My conversation with my mom reminded me what excites me most about being a corporate Language Coach. It’s an honor to partner with someone to help them achieve their goals. It’s a privilege to engage with someone in sustained practice to develop their skills. It’s a thrill to watch someone grow and develop through the combination of my years of experience and my specialized knowledge about language acquisition and their dedication and hard work.
I’m a more active participant in the process because I’m not just delivering a memorized or outlined lesson but rather am on my toes, responding and reacting to what the learner is doing, constantly adapting the next question or exercise to the needs and skills of the learner in order to maximize their value for their time. Ultimately, I’m not teaching them but am enabling them to learn.