Why I Became a Language Coach
Language instruction is changing to empower global learners
“Anyone can call themselves a coach. It’s a scam.”
This is a common saying in the education community.
Nowadays almost every LinkedIn profile lists ‘coach’ as a profession. And many of these coaches are telling others how to grow their coaching business. I should know because I’m one of them.
I understand the skepticism of language students who are used to learning in a classroom, learning from an institution with long-standing methods and a history of work in the town.
It can be hard to judge the value of a different approach when we are used to language schools with such similar methods and setups.
But with digital lifestyles and the pandemic, online education has become the norm for many. Language learners now have much more flexibility and choice. People are free to curate their own learning experiences, rather than choosing from a few brick-and-mortar schools.
Education is changing. Students don’t have to ‘finish the book’ or ‘pass the exam’. They are free to work towards their own goals.
What is a language coach?
Essentially, a language coach creates a personalised programme of learning to meet the student’s needs.
These needs or goals often stem from working in an international environment or wanting to reach the next stage of their career. Having a higher level of English proficiency is often necessary for that.
For example, a learner might be embarrassed about their spoken English when they give presentations to international clients. They’ve learned general English in class, but they can’t apply it to speaking in front of others.
Or perhaps they need to submit written proposals in English in order to secure funding for their business. Those proposals must be accurate and convincing, and no one has given them any training on how to write effectively.
A general English instructor teaches the language. Grammar, vocabulary, and phrases are the tools students need to speak and write. But the students are left to apply those tools to the presentations they give or the proposals they write. There’s a massive gap to bridge and there’s no one to help them do it.
A language coach guides the learner on how to apply the language they know to develop the skills they need. After all, it’s these skills that guarantee a better future, not a language learning certificate.
Coaches focus on providing the learner with systems and practices to continue improving on their own.
It may take a while for learners to embrace this change. Really, the only coaches who don’t get people riled up are sports coaches. So let’s consider what makes a sports coach great. Is it the qualifications they have? No. What about their playing career? Doesn’t matter. It’s the improvements they get out of the team and the results on the field. That’s all we care about.
A mum or dad with no formal experience can be a great coach if they can inspire kids to perform well. But their ability to do that relies on their experience as a parent.
It’s the same for language coaches. Having a background in linguistics or classroom teaching is certainly a great benefit. Understanding the gap between the language that is learned and applied is crucial.
I became a coach the day I started calling myself a coach, but I had to collect quite a bit of experience first. The road to coaching followed many twists and turns and more than once, the wheels nearly came off.
I studied a ‘useless’ subject
“What are you going to do with that degree? Become a historian?”
So said many family members and friends. At the time, I didn’t know or care. I loved studying history because I learned to analyse sources. I read hundreds of books and figured out that there is no one truth. It’s all about the narratives that writers impose on events. That’s what history is.
Although I left university with little idea of what I wanted to do with my life, I had learned to write compelling and convincing essays. It turns out, those skills are pretty useful when helping language learners write effectively.
I learned to lie and gave it up
For five years, I worked in the media industry in London. The psychology of why people make the decisions they do was fascinating.
I learned how to twist numbers, and how to survive in the corrupt world of advertising, where all people wanted was pats on the back, not to actually help others.
On the plus side, I did get to attend celebrity parties, expense meaningless taxi rides and drink my own body weight in free alcohol.
But it didn’t last. At age 26, I grew a conscience and quit my job to go travelling.
I became a language learner (and teacher)
“You’re from England. Why did you choose to live here?”
I faced this question almost daily, as I spent the next four years of my life in Latin America. I travelled the plains of Patagonia, visited Macchu Picchu and surfed the Pacific Ocean.
Along the way, I learned about people whose lives were radically different to mine. I learned a new language and new ways of thinking.
One highlight was organising an international day at the university where I worked in Mexico. We served scones and jam with cups of tea to bemused local students. We gave talks about rock ’n’ roll and Shakespeare.
One month later, we attended Semana Cultural — a week of local concerts, talks and traditional dance. All of this cemented the fact that language and culture are intertwined. I became less keen on teaching the present perfect tense and more interested in communication, collaboration and creative thinking.
I started to write more about my experiences to try and make sense of it all. Essentially, the answer to the question of why move there was ‘to learn’.
Since then, I’ve never stopped learning about language, writing, and different cultures around the world.
I walked out on a job
“You have to teach this class. There’s no one else!”
Every English teacher has probably encountered this kind of attitude from a boss. The class in question finished at 10 pm and I had started work at 7 am. It would have meant eight teaching hours, four hours of preparation and three hours of travel, all in one day. Oh, and I had to get up the next day at 7 am to teach.
By this point I was in Spain, working in a run-of-the-mill language academy which charged 40 Euros per class and paid teachers 10. A lot of the business students I taught didn’t see the point of working from text books to learn general English. It didn’t solve their problems. It was just box ticking.
Education has changed massively over the last ten years, and this kind of high-pressure, low-result model is bust.
The next week, I quit the job and went freelance. I could focus on writing, and help clients with their actual needs.
Four years later, I’m not working for an academy that sells ‘English’. I work with clients and companies to solve their problems directly.
Writing, culture, and helping others are what I truly care about. Many English teachers don’t understand how to motivate learners because they haven’t learned a language themselves. They haven’t faced rejection and discrimination. They haven’t seen what it takes to solve problems or hit targets.
I call myself a coach because my experience helps get the best out of multilingual writers.
As long as you have strong reasons to do the job you love, you can call yourself whatever you damn want.
He writes about the following topics:
✍️ How to produce accurate and authoritative articles so you can find clients, get promoted, or charge more
✍️ Typical English language problems for multilingual writers
✍️ Industry discussion on the big issues in content writing
✍️ Short-fiction analysis and original stories
If you are a creative writer or content writer looking for advice, get in touch.