Language Coach

When a Language Teacher Becomes a Language Coach

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” – William Arthur Ward.

Language CoachOne of my students recently passed her IELTS exam on the first attempt. When she first came to me, she was nervous about speaking and had quite a low level. She had the motivation to learn (and a huge need to pass her exam) but didn’t know how to apply this to her learning. In addition, she’s a very busy person and struggled to find time to study English.

She came to me asking for two lessons per week. In the time we had I knew that she needed to do much more than this. So, we worked together to come up with a plan of action of what to study outside the lessons. We also went through different time management techniques to help her find the time to learn, and delved into the world of personal development to help her build confidence with her speaking and to overcome some limiting beliefs that she had.

I feel very confident when I say that if my student had gone to one of her local language schools, she wouldn’t have passed the exam.

My Experience Teaching in Language Schools

Working in different language schools always felt restrictive, especially in the ones where they had very particular methods that they wanted me to follow.

I think most of us question traditional ways of teaching when we first start. For me, at the heart was the following question:

Are my students really going to make good progress by coming to class two times per week and doing the standard homework?

I mainly taught classes of between six and twelve students, and the only contact we had was in the classroom. I wanted to help them in more meaningful ways, but our time together was limited and at first I didn’t have the necessarily knowledge or experience. Only the students who took responsibility for their learning were the ones who made any real progress.

Becoming a Language Coach

In addition to teaching in language schools in Spain, I created my first site that offered lessons over Skype and gave private lessons face-to-face in Bilbao and Valencia. This gave me room to experiment a little and try different things. I didn’t have a lot of experience at the time, so I mainly stuck to going through a course book, giving homework, and focused on conversational English.

It’s been six years since I started giving private lessons, and the way I “teach” has evolved dramatically over that time.

Instead of seeing myself as a teacher, I now call myself a language coach. I use the knowledge I have of personal development and time management to help my students make the necessary changes.

I know what works when it comes to learning English and what needs to be done. A big part of my job is to work with students so that they:

– Accept the level they have.
– Know that it’s okay to make mistakes.
– Know what it takes to reach their goals.
– Have the belief that they can achieve these goals.
– Have a clear plan of action.
– Use the time we have together in the most effective way possible.

I can’t “teach” my students English; a language isn’t learned like this. But, what I can do is create engaging and relevant lessons, inspire my students, and show them how they can effectively make the progress that they desire.

Let’s now look at two areas from the list above.


One of the biggest problems that needs solving for language learners is that of expectations: the majority of learners either think (or are in denial about) what needs to be done to reach their goals. They have been sold on the idea that taking a course is going to dramatically help them. Or when that fails, that buying a new product that promises results in 7 days will mean they’ll be speaking like a native in a week.

When I go through this with my students, the majority know deep down that it takes more than that, while others have no idea of what actually needs to be done to gain fluency.


Once learners go through the traditional and “7 day” methods and see little or no progress, then doubts start to creep in. I often hear English learners say:

– I will never be able to speak well.
– Others must have a language learning gene.
– People will judge me when I make mistakes.

These are all limiting beliefs that stop our students from making progress, and as with all beliefs, they can be changed. We can do this by getting the heart of what is holding them back, and change these beliefs to help our students reach their full potential.

“Man is made by his belief. As he believes, so he is.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

If I had the opportunity to teach my group lessons in Spain again, I would do things differently. It would present more of a challenge than my one-to-one lessons, but I would go that extra mile to help them make progress by using the methods and techniques that I speak about in this post, and use email to help me communicate this with everyone.

The majority of language learners need more than just a teacher. They need a language coach.


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  • Nicolas Cramer

    This goes against everything they teach in colleges and universities, but it is 100% spot on. You need to care enough about the students you are teaching and help them learn outside of class. As I have said for years, if you come to my class 1,2,3 or 7 days a week and that is the only time you speak English, you are not going to learn English. You need to help them outside of your classrooms. I offer an e-book for free that show them 5 things they can do to learn English outside of class and help them get started using it. I had one mother talk to her infant son for 20 minutes a day in English. In another case I suggest a brother and sister talk to each other every day in English. I was surprised when they both came back and asked if the correct expression “You have poop for brains” or “You have poop in brains.”

    When one thing doesn’t work try something else. This helps keep your students motivated. When they know you haven’t given up on them, they won’t give up on themselves.

    From an ESL teaching perspective, Long gone are the days, recite, repeat after me and memorize. It’s about making them successful. It’s about giving the students the confidence, knowledge and tools to use English well.

    Great post, Jack. Keep up the good work.

    Nick Cramer
    Together English Academy
    “Bringing the World Together”

  • Alison Wilcox

    Well put! I see this need everyday. I have students brainstorm in my class all the ways to learn English outside the classroom. They come up with some fantastic ideas and they realize this is what makes the difference in their learning- taking control and taking risks- using English “out there”. I am toying with the idea of having students make an action plan (or contract) for their goals in life and English learning. I believe that becoming a language coach is more important than ever. Thanks for this post. Your website is such a contribution to teachers and students!

  • Jerry Buvidas

    Interesting article. I’m new to teaching ESL. I took an online course and received an TEFL diploma from a well regarded company
    several years ago, but didn’t put it in use. I, recently, was looking
    for a way to use it as an online tutor. Somehow, I was able to get a
    business up and running and have attracted some interest. I have someone
    who would like to improve his English through immersion with me. His
    job is in sales with Chinese and communicates in English with them. I’m
    not sure how to go about setting up sessions. What subjects should we
    talk about and such. I’d appreciate any advice.

  • Natasha Thompson

    I love this idea! I too am moving away from being a ´teacher´ to becoming a ´coach´ (and funnily enough, with IELTS students). I´ve been creating materials for my students to use where they are responsible for what they learn and how – I just show them ways to go about it, and work on an action plan with them to achieve what they want. I think giving students the tools to study English is even more important than explaining a grammar point – they gain more confidence when they are in control of their learning which in turn helps them learn even more.

  • nate

    Jack. I really enjoyed this post and so much of the other great information throughout the site. As a classroom teacher I have always felt like the main thing students need is more time to speak. However, the traditional classroom can be a difficult environment to provide speaking practice. I believe there is a lot of benefit for students to learn through online speaking coaches. At least as a supplement to classroom learning. Thank you for being a pioneer in this area!

    In the six years of experience you have I am really curious about how the materials you use have changed. Online lessons are obviously different than the classroom setting and so should the materials, but it is difficult to find discussions about what people are teaching and how. I think the quality of materials will play a big role in the perceptions of learning a language online.

    Anyway, I wanted to thank you for the great information and look forward to your future posts.

  • ElfinW

    Sorry for commenting this late, but I have been reading all the old articles.

    I think you make some great points, most of my students end up needing motivating and learning management tips not being taught literally.

    And that is the first thing I work on with my students. But maybe because I am working for agencies, my students tend to drift away after a while if they do not have an exam to give or some other commitment. So how do we keep our students for a longer amount of time ?
    I think coaching is an art in itself, I would love to hear more about it, there are so many kinds of students and we have to know how to push the right buttons.

    • Thanks for your comment ElfinW. Student retention is a really important part of building a successful teaching business, and working on the things in this post really helps with that. Also, keeping things fresh and experimenting with new ways of teaching helps too.