There is confusion when defining teaching and coaching in language learning. I extensively talked about the difference between them in previous articles.
A language teacher will help you learn specific aspects of the language you want to study. He/she will assist you in building your speaking, listening, reading, and writing abilities as well as learning grammar structures and vocabulary. He/she will correct your mistakes and he might be a native speaker of your target language.
On the other hand, a language coach helps you learn how to learn. He/she is there to assess you in building your study skills and have a positive mindset. He/she does not give you direct solutions to specific language problems but helps you find these solutions when engaging in brainstorming activities. The coach is usually also someone who has learned various languages, so they assist from experience.
In both cases you will only succeed if you take absolute responsibility for your studies.
You may be taking a language course at a college or university and still have a language coach and you will be referred as a ‘client’ by the coach.
Nevertheless, there is an intersection where language coaching and teaching meet and this is called “the coaching approach to language learning.”
Unfortunately, all these concepts might seem somehow confusing especially where people label the combined activity of teaching and coaching as “language coaching” when it is not.
As I mentioned before, language coaching is often used on its own, and the ‘language coaching approach’ is basically lessons and application of coaching techniques when needed. It gives an extra layer of support and increases the efficacy of the language learning process in this context.
What are the benefits of the language coaching approach when teaching a language?
This way of teaching puts the student at the centre. The student needs are prioritised. The teacher assesses these and cater for them. The teacher takes their language goals into consideration and by focussing their time and energy in finding the right solutions so that the learners succeed in moving forward in their language journey.
The teacher also knows that learning something new triggers adverse reactions in the brain like the fight or flight one when facing great danger. It goes without saying that stress chemicals are released impairing the learner capability to memorise and retrieve the new information. If you ever wondered, why is it so difficult to learn new words in your new language, this is the explanation. Or have you ever panicked when trying to engage in conversations with native speakers? Yes? I have been there too. Stress inhibits our performance in new situations.
So, the teacher will find ways to neutralise the release of stress hormones like cortisol and make the learning process more efficient by modifying the way the new knowledge is taught. When using the coaching approach, the learner’s autonomy is enhanced and the teacher is just a facilitator, contrarily to the traditional way where teaching is a step-by-step approach to learning. It is mostly a one-way communication where the teacher-the bearer of the knowledge acquired through study and experience- imparts this knowledge little by little, to one or more students.
The teacher introduces new topics to the students of which they did not have previous knowledge. The goal is to present new concepts in an easy manner that will allow them to digest it easily.
Generally, they follow a curriculum which must be completed in a certain amount of time. The students are tested regularly to assure that the concepts are understood. The person responsible for the change in the students is mainly the teacher.
When using the coaching approach, teachers adjust to their students’ needs so that the session is personalised. What is discussed in the sessions have immediate application in the real world.
The teacher, then can coach the learner whenever necessary, handling the obstacles that might hinder the learning process like limiting beliefs, low self-esteem, commitment issues and low motivation.
When using the coaching approach, the teacher transfers his/her expertise in a “brain friendly” way and helps the students to refine and develop the skills that they already have so that they can succeed at learning the new language.