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Don’t Say You’re a Language Coach If You Don’t Know What Coaching Is

3 reasons why language teachers shouldn’t say they’re language coaches

man-in-black-sweater-sitting-on-brown-wooden-chair
Photo by Cottonbro Studio on Pexel

I’m a trained teacher of English as a foreign language.

During the pandemic, I noticed that many of my teacher colleagues magically started calling themselves “language coaches”.

Fluency coaches, listening coaches, writing coaches, communication coaches, pronunciation coaches.

I was tempted to say I was a coach too because it sounds much cooler than saying, “I’m a teacher.”

“Teacher”…meh.

But if you say you’re a coach, then you need to act like one. You need to know what coaching involves.

Do you know what coaching involves? I didn’t.

I didn’t until I read “A Comprehensive Language Coaching Handbook: Theory and Practice” by Gabriella Kovács.

I finally understood what language coaching is and here’s why — if you don’t know what a language coach does — you shouldn’t claim to be one.

Coaching isn’t teaching

Coaching and teaching are two different things.

Gabriella Kovács has written 311 pages on this and all the differences are neatly summarised in a 3-page table towards the end of her book.

In short, pure language coaches don’t teach you anything. Instead, they help you discover, set, and achieve your goals, trusting that you’re able to find your own solutions to problems.

Coaches ask you insightful questions and make use of a variety of tools and techniques that will help you move forward (the word “coach” comes from the coach used with horses).

a coach with horses
Photo by Olivier Darbonville on Unsplash

A coach doesn’t give you advice.

A coach doesn’t train, counsel, test, instruct, or mentor you either.

A coach coaches you.

If you don’t know what this means, shamelessly give up the unearned title today and be proud of the one you have.

You’ll sound less cool on social media, but much more authentic.

Coaching requires specific training

Coaching is a profession in its own right. It has its own skills, competencies, qualifications, and accreditations.

It even has an international organization: the ICF (International Coaching Federation.)

On their “About page,” you’ll read that the ICF is “dedicated to advancing the coaching profession by setting high standards, providing independent certification, and building a worldwide network of trained coaching professionals.”

So to become a professional coach you need adequate training, just like you needed it to become a teacher.

You may say, “Can’t I just learn how to ask great questions and use coaching tools? Wouldn’t that be enough to say I’m a coach?”

I wish we could do that.

You wouldn’t say you’re an electrician only because you managed to wire a couple of sockets around your house, would you?

Coaching has a code of ethics

The coaching profession is regulated by a set of rules and principles to ensure accountability and standards.

Pure coaches would email you a contract and ethics statements before you start working with them. There are binding terms and conditions that they are ethically required to disclose.

One of their principles is confidentiality: what happens in the coaching session stays in the coaching session.

Yes, there is information that may be shared with a stakeholder in a report (e.g. goals achieved and learner progress), but the interaction between the coach and the coachee is confidential information.

Isn’t this another good reason for not calling yourself a coach?

I think it is.

Final thought

Coaching isn’t better than teaching. Teaching isn’t better than coaching. Both are highly respectable professions.

The question is not about which is better, but rather which is appropriate and relevant for the people you seek to help.

If you’re a teacher but want to become a language coach, you can do so by joining Gabriella’s program through the International Language Coaching Association (ILCA)— the association she co-founded (I’m not an affiliate, in case you’re wondering).

You can also learn more about the profession by reading Gabriella’s book. It’s a great starting point.

Until then, proudly call yourself what you are: a teacher.

At least that’s what I decided to do.

I’d like to end this post with Gabriella’s words:

The use of the term “coach” might stem from branding — a teacher or a trainer may find it difficult to procure work with high-end clients if they call themselves a teacher or instructor nowadays, whereas if they call themselves a coach, the work comes in more easily. […] However, having trained many language practitioners who call themselves language coaches in ILCA courses, after a few days of working together, they often say, “Oh, so that is what coaching is, I thought it was something different.” (pp.26)

Fabio Cerpelloni is an English language teacher, writer, author, and podcaster from Italy. You can find out more about him and his work by clicking on his glass of beer in the photo.