Coaching International Professionals to Communicate in English with Confidence — Julie Yoder

Bryn Bonino
12 min readApr 6, 2021

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After Julie wrote the below blog post, we followed up in this video interview. Our conversation strayed a bit from the Q and A format and we discussed what challenges we’ve both faced and what we’ve found works well as compassionate and empathic language educators.

Intro:

I’m an English language teacher and coach. I’ve been working independently through my own small company, English With Purpose, since 2009. We help international professionals who are working for a better world communicate in English with confidence. I’m also a writer and musician.

Hi Julie, when I first met you, I knew I wanted to learn more about how you came to do what you do now. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory? How did you first get started teaching English?

I went to a liberal arts university, which I loved, but didn’t have any clue after graduation about what I wanted to do for a career or income. I know this is common, but in my case, there was a ton of internalized pressure to figure it out quickly.

My mother came to the U.S. as a refugee from Ukraine after World War 2 — we didn’t talk about it much, but I always sensed that I was supposed to use the opportunities my parents hadn’t had to make something of myself. I knew I didn’t want to work in an office or for a corporation — I need autonomy and the thought of not being able to go outside for much of the day makes me feel suffocated. This caused a lot of friction with my parents because they wanted me to have a safe and stable career.

I want to be clear that my parents were very loving and supportive in their own way and I consider myself lucky. They never told me what to do or not do. A lot of the wealthy kids I had gone to college with had no choice about going into law, business, or medicine — their own interests and talents were of no concern to their parents — it was all about having an acceptable and status-driven career, and I appreciated that I wasn’t in that position. But still, the pressure was there. I was expected to work and make money as soon as possible after graduating.

I had studied German as one of my majors and spent a semester abroad in Vienna, so the best plan I could come up with after graduation was to go back to the German-speaking countries and create an immersion experience for myself so I could finally feel fluent. I thought if I could be truly bilingual, then I could find opportunities.

I thought if I could be truly bilingual, then I could find opportunities.

I got a job as an au pair in Switzerland, which turned out to be pretty miserable for various crazy reasons (who leaves a 22-year-old in charge of their toddlers for 12 hours a day while they are getting drunk at a party at the top of the Alps?), so I quit early and then ended up in Berlin where I worked a series of odd jobs to cover my basic expenses. This was in the 90s and it was still very cheap living at that time.

One of my regular jobs was tutoring a neighborhood teenager in English. Somewhere in that process, the light bulb went off — I discovered that I really enjoyed teaching English, and he started making progress after struggling for a long time in English class. We looked forward to our sessions together.

Somewhere in that process, the light bulb went off — I discovered that I really enjoyed teaching English, and he started making progress after struggling for a long time in English class.

The skillset didn’t require me to be fully fluent in another language, which is something I actually struggle with because I have a poor memory for vocabulary. I had elements of Spanish, German, Ukrainian and Latin floating around in my brain, but, in true Gemini style, I hadn’t really mastered any of those languages to any useful degree.

It all sort of clicked into place at that moment with the tutoring gig — my interest in languages, language structure, and words and their meaning allowed me to help others understand my native language, even if I wasn’t very good at theirs.

When I went back to the U.S. I started applying for graduate programs in linguistics and TESOL. The University of South Carolina offered me a fellowship that included teaching at their academic English Institute, where I ended up with amazing mentors. That experience led to opportunities to create business English courses for German executives and a job after graduation where I taught business English on-site at a company in Bavaria.

There was no road map or curriculum — I was creating everything as I went along, but I knew I had finally found my career ‘thing’ because it felt like the right balance of challenge and natural skill set and people were happy with the results of my teaching.

There was no road map or curriculum — I was creating everything as I went along, but I knew I had finally found my career.

The pivots that you made early in your career remind me of myself. I did a few different things and lived in a few different countries before I decided to pursue education as a career (that is, before I pivoted again to work in marketing). Can you tell us, what does your business look like now?

Right now English With Purpose offers 1-to-1 coaching and tutoring services, which is what the business was built on, and specialized group programs for international professionals and advanced learners. I have a second wonderful coach, Janna, who works with me part-time, and sometimes we have an intern. We have live synchronous online speaking courses and workshops for international professionals focused on things like fluency and building confidence, giving presentations, and being more effective in work meetings.

I’ve also been working on holistic weekend immersion retreats for a few years but those are obviously on hold during the pandemic. Instead, I am developing an asynchronous video course about career skills and presenting yourself for the U.S. job market.

English with Purpose offers so much! I can tell that the creative problem-solving that you used to find your own purpose is shining through in your business. The niche you serve is not common. How did you come to focus on the population that you serve?

When I started developing the service in 2007, I wasn’t focused on building an online business, so I surveyed what was around me and what clients needed. In DC we don’t have many corporations but we do have foreign embassies, various organizations umbrellaed under the United Nations, international NGOs and law firms, and international development organizations. A lot of foreign media companies also have offices here.

When I started developing the service in 2007, I wasn’t focused on building an online business, so I surveyed what was around me and what clients needed.

The top challenge for many people in these fields is not having the time or flexibility to attend traditional language classes because their jobs are demanding, their schedules don’t allow it, and they have advanced-level needs that are not typically addressed in other programs. At that point, I had lived in DC for eight years so I had a pretty good lay of the land. I knew that language and communication skills of all kinds were not just valued but often essential for the types of careers people build here.

I like how you worked backward from what you had to work with to set up for your business. Since you don’t offer a service that sounds like other English teachers, do you find things easier or more challenging to run your business?

This is a great question. I don’t know if it’s one or the other. I think it has to do with when and how my target clientele is able to find me. For example, since the pandemic, it’s been a bit harder. I have a strong Google My Business profile — in theory, this should be a good thing — it’s what all the digital marketers tell you to focus on, but in reality, it’s been attracting a lot of English learners I don’t serve.

I have a strong Google My Business profile — in theory, this should be a good thing — it’s what all the digital marketers tell you to focus on, but in reality it’s been attracting a lot of English learners I don’t serve.

People see ‘language school’ and the 5-star rating and they don’t read further. They punch the button on the phone and assume that they are calling a traditional immersion program to compare prices. Or the same with the contact form on the website. I don’t know what to do about this because Google makes the decisions about how to label your business — you have to choose from their pre-set descriptions, and coaching isn’t one of them.

So according to Google, I’m a language school first and foremost, and the secondary label is English tutoring service. I don’t have an assistant right now to filter these inquiries — it’s just me until I can grow a bit and hire a communications assistant, which is definitely part of my plan. So from about August through October 2020, I was spending a lot of time on the phone explaining to people that no, I cannot have this conversation fully in Spanish, no, we do not offer immersion courses or student visas, no, we do not have classes for beginners, etc. Sometimes they would ask about tutoring and then be shocked at the hourly rate or even get angry. It doesn’t feel good to have strangers calling you and getting pissed off that you can’t speak Spanish well and that you have to charge for services to make a living.

I try to be gracious because people are really suffering in this pandemic — clearly, there’s a need for free and low-cost English immersion classes, but that’s not at all what I do. I used to know where to refer people in that situation, but many of those programs appear to have disappeared since the pandemic. In that sense being a niche service is harder, because spending time and energy on these conversations takes away from all the other things I have to do to run and grow the business, and the icky interactions are an energetic drain.

In that sense being a niche service is harder because spending time and energy on these conversations takes away from all the other things I have to do to run and grow the business

I’m an empath, so I can physically feel people’s desperation over the phone. I’ve been working on not letting it derail me, but it REALLY throws me off my game when someone gets angry at me when I’ve done nothing wrong — like a visceral reaction in my body that’s been happening since childhood. Thankfully something eventually shifted, although honestly, I don’t know what — since the new year the phone inquiries from Google have mostly been our target clientele again, and we gained three absolutely lovely clients.

You know, I’m an empath too! I know how challenging it can be when you get overwhelmed with other people’s emotions. But on a positive note, empaths often have stronger intuition. Can you explain what intuition means to you, and how you use it to help you in your business?

I love this question! I think the number one thing I use my intuition for is serving clients — understanding what they need in the moment and how to deliver it, and understanding when there is a difference between what they are saying and what’s really going on. Not that they are being disingenuous — we often don’t even know why we may be experiencing a negative or stressful emotion, but I have the ability to pick up on when someone is really struggling beneath their composure and address it in a gentle way, because I am very familiar with the ability to present one way yet feel another. I never get tired of blowing people’s minds when I’m able to give them exactly what they need when they weren’t even able to articulate what they needed.

The number one thing I use my intuition for is serving clients — understanding what they need in the moment.

The second primary way I use my intuition is in decisions about the business. Do I enter into further conversation with this person who has expressed an interest? Do I take on this project? Will following X or Y advice help me grow or take me away from the direction I know I need to go in?

As I’m sure you know, when you have a business there is no end to the advice that streams your way and it can be really tough to filter out what you don’t need and tune into your gut, especially with everything changing so fast since COVID. It can get muddied at times, but I’ve learned to take my time when I don’t know the answer immediately and take a few days to hike outside, meditate, get out of my thinking brain, get enough sleep, etc. After that, the answer I need usually comes to me clearly.

I recently turned down two different opportunities that on the surface would have brought in secure additional monthly income. If I had gone with just my rational thinking brain, the answer would have been: “This is a pandemic and all the language services are competing for your clientele now and you don’t know what will happen in the coming months and this is just part-time anyway so you can find a way to fit in into your schedule and who do you think you are to leave money on the table?”

But my gut was saying “No way. This is not the place to put your energy right now.” Every single regret I have in life and in business was the result of going against my intuition, usually when I made a decision from a place of fear or perceived scarcity. Or both. They tend to go together.

I can totally see how some people won’t even know what they’re feeling, so they are impressed that you can identify that for them. I’ve had similar experiences when I help people brand their business in alignment with who they are as a person. I have also found in my own entrepreneurial journey that the best thing I can do is to follow my intuition. I use the same strategies that you mentioned to plug into it. I also don’t consume any educational content or music when I’m hiking, but I listen to the sounds of nature. Okay, changing the subject a bit, if you could go back in time, is there anything you wished you’d known about earlier in your language teaching career? Why?

I would have owned my worth much earlier. To some extent, I bought into the trap of getting paid unacceptable wages from various institutions over the years because “that’s just how the market is” for language teachers. I broke with that to start my own company — it became clear to me that the private market was the only place to earn a professional salary in English language teaching, at least in the U.S., and that clarity helped me resist getting sucked back into the university adjunct hiring system — but for years I still struggled with setting prices that actually met my needs and were more aligned with the value I was offering.

It became clear to me that the private market was the only place to earn a professional salary in English language teaching.

I was solving my clients’ problems right and left and helping them get better jobs and positions and salaries while driving a beat-up old Toyota and wondering if I could generate enough money by the end of the month to cover my rent. There was often a huge discrepancy between my clients’ earning potential and my own. This creates an uncomfortable dynamic.

I know it’s repeated so often that it sounds cliche, but you really do have to love yourself first. So the short answer to your question is that I would have done a better job of loving myself first instead of giving all of my love to others in service to them with nothing left over for myself.

The problem that you described is common in language education in most places that I’ve looked at — around the world. That’s the strongest reason why I started Make A Leap. Is there anything else that you’d like to share about yourself?

Since the pandemic, I really miss both dancing and playing live music! I am a drummer and a tap dancer. I try to take my virtual tap classes to keep up my skills but I don’t want to make an enemy of our downstairs neighbors. I can’t wait for the weather to break so I can at least dance outside again. The few times in the summer when I dragged my portable tap board outside and took a class while wearing my shoes, people responded in hilarious ways as they were passing by. I don’t normally like drawing attention to myself, but it seemed to make people happy and it was a good exercise in spreading positivity during a really stressful time.

Thanks for sharing that, I can imagine that your tap-dancing makes a lot of people happy. Okay, so if others want to connect with you online, how can they do that?

Website: https://www.englishwithpurpose.com

Email: julie [ at ] englishwithpurpose [ dot ] com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EngWithPurpose

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/englishwithpurpose (best option for social media)

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/english_with_purpose/

Clubhouse: I’m increasingly excited about the possibilities of Clubhouse! Find me there [ at ] ewpenglishcoach

Originally published at https://makealeap.co/ on April 6, 2021.

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