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The role of coaching in language learning

Naturally, language learning and language teaching have always gone hand-in-hand, but the world is changing. Not only are we seeing a massive move to online learning due to the restrictions on movement caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, but we are also witnessing a change in how the learner is viewed… not as a vessel to be filled with knowledge – surely that went out with the ark – but holistically as an individual who needs to develop skills just as much as accumulate knowledge.


In my many years as a language teacher trainer I have noted that language teaching has not been quick to react in this respect, and, unlike with the teaching of the language systems of phonology, vocabulary and grammar, which is fairly straightforward in comparison, it is common to hear language teachers express uncertainty when it comes to developing their students’ skills. How do you help someone listen better? How do you help them improve their reading or writing competence? And what of the speaking skill? I believe the answer lies not so much in teaching, the intrinsic focus of which is on the teacher showing the student what to think and how to act, but rather that coaching can be seen to be much more effective in this regard.


And that’s because coaching is all about developing life skills. It also entails methods and techniques that treat all individuals as having their own particular strengths and weaknesses that can be worked on, rather than assuming that the transference of knowledge to all learners will simply have the desired effect.

Here’s a blog by Shanthi Streat that appeared on the British Council website way back in 2014 – making it absolutely ancient now! – extolling the virtues of introducing coaching elements into the language classroom. It focuses on how coaching helps learners set goals and play a more central role in taking responsibility for their own learning, and is a good start for those interested in knowing how coaching can improve how learners tackle the task of learning a language.

https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/why-adult-learners-english-can-benefit-from-coaching

“We shouldn’t restrict ourselves to simply teaching the language,” the author says. Indeed. I have been combining language teaching and coaching methods myself for some 15 years now, and cannot praise the usefulness of incorporating coaching techniques into language learning highly enough.

Although the author says “Admittedly this is challenging in most classroom environments where the opportunity for individual attention is limited. But I’ve come to believe that coaching should form a vital part of any one-to-one language course,” I myself have found that coaching methods and techniques can also be successfully implemented in groups of learners. I will be blogging more about that a later date.

One last question, given the recent shift to online learning mentioned earlier: Can language coaching be done online? The answer is clear: absolutely, as long as the coach and coachee can communicate, then coaching can take place.


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If you would like to know more about language coaching, whether as a learner or as a language teacher, contact me for a free consultation at barnaby@bglc.es.


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BGLC provides international high-end English language communication services for academic institutions, businesses and freelancers.

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