By Rachel Marie Paling
In the autumn of 2018, the IATEFL BESIG Annual Conference took place in Iasi, Romania; the perfect opportunity for teachers, trainers, coaches and educators to convene, share information and network. This year, for the first time, the organising committee came up with the brilliant idea of a “Coaching Strand”, consisiting of panel discussions, fly on the wall coaching, and individual coaching and networking opportunities, all under the umbrella term coaching. I was delighted to take part in one of the panel discussions, as well as demonstrate a coaching situation relating to language issues and also to offer individual coaching. It was a fantastic experience.
For me, what this coaching strand has really highlighted is the current confusion in the language market relating to coaching and language coaching and it was wonderful to bring this into discussion with other types of “coaches”.
So, what is coaching? Originally, in the 1800s, a coach was a tutor. Later, in the mid-ninteenth century, the word and the concept was imported into the world of sports. Over the last 20 years, we have seen how coaching has and is penetrating all walks of life and perhaps we could say that coaching is now a type of “meta-profession”, which can combine with different disciplines to assist “clients” to develop personally or professionally, overcome hurdles, tap into unknown potential, achieve amazing goals or in other words, to achieve success or solutions relating to the discipline or question at hand.
There is no one perfect definition of coaching, in fact there are many definitions and coaching in itself is largely an un-regulated profession. However, there are some professional associations which are working towards developing training standards, as well as a body of ethics and standards for members to follow. The four main internationally recognised bodies are the International Coach Federation (ICF), the Association for Coaching (AC), the international Association of Coaching (IAC) and the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC).
In addition, there may be cultural differences relating to the term “coach”, which may also lead to further confusion as to what a coach really is. When I began my own personal quest to understand the differences between teacher and coach in Germany 15 years ago and researching heavily on this topic, I was shocked to realise that the German perspective and expectation of a qualified coach involved training which even tripped into the realms of psychology – an extremely far cry from the US and UK comprehension of this term. This was further exacerbated when even Wikipedia in its definition of “Coaching” on the English page totally and utterly transformed when you look at the German version of that page. For me 15 years ago, this explained the hostility and may I add “rather unpleasant attacks” I received from certain purchasing managers in German companies.
For the general understanding of the term coach relating to life coaching or business coaching and perhaps more from the US perspective, the ICF competences give certain guidelines to coaching, which is not about giving advice or telling people what to do, but is based on attending to the client and the agenda and not the coach´s agenda, (ICF competence 5,1), hearing the client´s concerns, goals, values and beliefs about what is and what is not possible (ICF competence 5,2), encouraging, accepting, exploring and reinforcing the client expression (5,5), integrating and building on the client´s ideas and suggestions (5,6), allowing the client to vent or clear the situation without judgement or attachment (5,7), helping the clients to discover for themselves new thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, emotions, moods etc that strengthen their ability to take action and achieve what is important for him or her (ICF 8,4).
In a nutshell, the coach is not there to deliver psychotherapy or therapy, nor to be a mentor or an adviser. That is, I would suggest, the generally accepted understanding of the life coach or business coach. Now, a business coach or professional coach may in fact possess certain expertise in a particular area and in this respect both coach and coachee may benefit and tap into such expertise to facilitate beneficial input into that particular coaching agreement.
So far, we can already witness that within the meta-profession coaching, there are different interpretations and expectations as to what this really means, so I do believe that when we talk about the term “language coaching”, we really need to have the clarity and understanding ourselves, as language professionals, to be able to firstly explain to our clients what this is and secondly allow our clients to decide whether this is in fact, the exact service they are looking for.
For me, personally, language coaching necessarily has to do with some aspect of “language”. If I take the term Nutrition Coach, my understanding is that the coach has the expertise and niche relating to nutrition and the aspects of coaching will relate to style, delivery, maybe even tools and models of coaching. So, in my humble opinion, a language coach is, as an analogy, an expert in a language or languages who then delivers this expertise through “coaching” and has received adequate training and development and is in fact a “qualified or accredited or certified coach”. Could we then say that, in the pure sense of the term, a Language Coach is “a language educator, expert or professional in the field of language knowledge transfer, who utilizes coaching as the vehicle to transfer that knowledge, encompassing coaching models, tools, principles, ethics, and practices to create a different delivery to the traditional “language teaching style.””
Nowadays, in the language market, there are many coaches delivering “coaching” in a target language. In other words, professional business coaches or highly experienced business trainers are delivering coaching sessions with the focus and attention on coaching clients around certain personal or business related questions, issues or goals in a target language. For me, this goes beyond simple language coaching and I do think we as professionals should always ask ourselves the question “what is the focus and attention of my session with this client and what are the results my client wishes to obtain from the session?”. When I can honestly answer this question by saying language improvement, then we are in language coaching. If the answer to the question is, for example, to improve time management, to resolve team conflicts or something similar, then may I suggest that we are in the realms of “coaching”. However, what if my client says, “Actually, I have a conflict within my team and I would like to discuss this in English because my team is a multicultural team and I will in fact have to resolve this conflict with them in English”. Here, there may be a grey area because in fact, the first focus appears to be language improvement in practice, however during the discussions there may be that added bonus of the client exploring through coaching conversations, the solution to this dilemma. So, once again, as language professionals, we need to understand what it is that we are doing: is it language coaching or is it coaching in a target language and an even stronger argument for this need to clarify lies within the pricing of the “session” as each service may command a different price.
One of the reasons that I actually created the method and approach called Neurolanguage Coaching was to bring a “crystallised definition and structure” to the general term of language coaching, but with the added extra of neuroscience and how the brain functions, learns and reacts. I personally began with this quest 18 years ago, when I was first introduced to the concept of language coaching in Germany.
Neurolanguage Coaching is focused on and ever related to the learning, improvement or enhancement of a language that is being learnt, practised or utilised by the coachee. It encompasses all that we have said relating to the world of coaching: coaching models, tools, structure, practices, philosophies and in addition the ethics and standards of the International Coach Federation. This is because the training course to become a Neurolanguage Coach is in fact accredited by the International Coach Federation. In addition, Neurolanguage Coaches are trained in the practical application of neuroscientific principles, relating to how the brain learns, functions and reacts, in particular in relation to emotional triggers when learning a language, drawing Krashen´s affective filter into the scientific evidence arena.
Therefore, there is even a difference between language coaching and Neurolanguage Coaching. Pure language coaching does NOT normally draw upon the neuroscience and how the brain functions and learns.
I do hope that this article conveys the potential differences which the interpretation of coaching is now presenting us with. Starting with the term “coaching” and what that implies, then language coaching and coaching in a target language and finally, the difference between language coaching and Neurolanguage Coaching.
I welcome comments from my fellow coaching professionals as well as language coaching professionals and do hope that between us we can bring the clarity and focus for our clients, who, ultimately, are the ones paying for our services and the ones who really need the focus and attention of our expertise in the area that each and every one of them require. In the end, the agreement relating to our services lies in the hands of our clients and the more that we can explain the differences, the more they will understand and be able to choose the right service for them!