Using Coaching Techniques In ELT

Using Coaching Techniques In ELT

Using Coaching Techniques in ELT

I have been a language trainer here in France for over 20 years now, having started by learning Lozanov’s suggestopaedic method back in the early nineties at the Ecole française de suggestopédie run by Fanny Saféris. That experience was extremely rich and allowed me to be the successful freelance trainer I am today. After five years at L’Oréal’s RAD Centre in Aulnay, where I set up intensive immersive English courses for their engineers and scientists, I have continued applying my methods to other satisfied clients in media (TV, radio, outplay), big pharma, transport and humanitarian action until now.When did I begin using coaching techniques in ELT?

Two years ago , I started a training course to become an executive coach. Why, I hear you asking? Well, even though my clients were (and still are!) very happy with my services, as well as the fun activities, the positive feedback I give and the progress they make, I was unable to seriously address the problem of lack of motivation and commitment on the part of some of my trainees. How many times have I heard them complaining because they couldn’t find the time to practise outside the classroom, that they were over-worked and had to cancel because of other, more pressing deadlines? I was helpless in these situations, feeling in the dark, but not very successful in dealing with the very real concerns of my trainees. That’s when I heard about coaching.

What I discovered was a method that really holds the client (we’ll call them the “coachee” or the person being coached) responsible and accountable for the success of what they want to achieve. The parallel with my trainees’ problem with English was striking. One of the main problems I had was getting my trainees to commit to regular practice in order to reach their objectives. Usually, the imperatives of the job and conflicting priorities lead trainees to slacken the pace of their training and thus the progress they’re making. If you add that, in France, at least until recently, training is a right and training managers rarely checked the impacts or the return on investment, there is very little encouragement to help the trainee motivate themselves, leading to discouragement and demotivation. With coaching methods, there is a real opportunity to reverse this situation and maintain a high level of commitment to the initial goals, therefore speeding up the learning process. How is this possible? Well maybe a little background information about what coaching is.

When a coach and a coachee (usually with the presence of the HR manager or Line manager) enter a coaching agreement, it is the coach’s responsibility to first discover, clarify and align with what the coachee wants to achieve. Secondly, the coach encourages coachee self-discovery, elicits coachee-generated solutions and strategies and finally holds them responsible and accountable. By using coaching techniques, I thought, my trainees might have more chance of reaching the goals in English they had set themselves.

All very well, I hear you saying, but that’s what (good) trainers do already. Yes, intuitively, we all strive to do so, but maybe not in such a structured way, especially when it comes to generating goals and keeping the trainee on track. Let’s take it from the top. How does a coach generate inspiring goals and help their coachees stay on track?

First, coaching is self-directed learning, i.e. coming up with your own answers rather than the coach giving them to you. This gives the coachee ownership of the process which is always much more motivating for the coachee.

Secondly, it is a process whereby we focus on solutions rather than the problem. This positive approach will help the coachee dare to think and so allow them to find solutions themselves instead of looking to the “expert” for the solutions.

It is also a structured process that ensures the coachee stays on track and progresses towards their desired outcomes. This structure makes sure the coachee has a safe, nurturing environment which is going to allow them to explore and ultimately, take risks without fear of the unexpected.

Finally, coaching should be challenging and “stretching” so the coachee gets the most out of their coaching. This is a way for the coach to get a greater commitment from the coachee (actions to do, follow-up activities, etc.) which the coachee usually finds rewarding. We call this “hard-wiring” the habit.

So, that’s coaching. But how can we adapt these coaching methods to language training and acquisition? Well, here are a few pointers:

  • By agreeing on prerequisites such as:
    • a minimum level (minimum intermediate levels)
    • being supported by line manager and/or HRM
    • the coachee taking ownership of their learning path by completing actions
    • regularity (e.g. once a week or fortnightly sessions)
  • On the outset, by helping the coachee:
    • analyse the existing situation (i.e. their language needs, objectives, etc.)
    • check objectives and define clear, measurable, challenging, but achievable goals (e.g. speak more fluently, negotiate a deal, feel more self-confident when speaking in public, chairing meetings, troubleshooting on the phone, etc.)
  • During the sessions, by letting the coachee:
    • decide what they want to work on
    • find the answers,
    • offer solutions,
    • choose their preferred teaching method
    • practise
  • After the session, by encouraging the coachee to:
    • define and set concrete actions for the following session
    • practise daily to move towards completing those actions
    • note down insights, changes, paradigm shifts!


Of course, this means the trainer/coach must have the necessary training to be a coach, i.e. train and then pass an exam or admission test that is officially recognised by the major existing coaching federations, such as the International Coaching Federation (ICF) or the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) to name but two. This might seem obvious, but how many language schools offer English “coaching” lessons, when in fact they are just offering one-to-one sessions, maybe specialised, certainly worth every cent they cost, but in no way using coaching methods and given by a recognised coach? This can be a problem for language trainers and coaches alike when the definitions are vague and used abusively. A physiotherapist cannot call themselves a medical doctor (at least not in France), nor a legal assistant a lawyer, so I think we trainers must take care how we call ourselves.

A coaching session is usually sold between €200 and €750+ per hour here in France, a one-to-one English class, less than €100. This is due partly to the fact that coaching is sold mostly to decision-makers and top executives for the moment and this fee will probably come down when coaching becomes available to a larger circle of clients, but also because the coach’s training is expensive and on-going. They must also keep paying for their own “supervisor” to check progress and answer questions (just as a psychologist does), and prepare longer and spend more time following up after the session.

To conclude, coaching is a formidable tool to improve motivation and commitment for the trainee. It is a conversation, so can be adapted relatively well (given that coaching isn’t at all directive and this means a major change of mentality and approach for some more “classic” trainers) to language acquisition.

If you would like more information on the subject, the teachers’ organisation I belong to here in Paris, The Language Network (affiliated to the Franco-British Chamber of Commerce), is currently organising training to become a coach. Please feel free to contact me for further information or for details concerning their training offer.