No Overnight Miracle with Language Coaching — Gabriella Kovács
I am an Australian-born internationally certified language coach (ICF), business communication trainer, language teacher (B.Ed., M.A., P.P.C), mentor and teacher trainer. My mission is to create a more holistic, person-centred approach to language learning processes.
As co-founder of ILCA, the International Language Coaching Association, I aim to create clarity and high professional standards around language coaching through writing articles, presenting talks, and holding workshops, trainings, to share my work to empower language and communication practitioners on an international scale.
Tell us a bit about your backstory. How did you first get started teaching English?
Having moved from Australia to Hungary at the tender age of 10, I immediately found myself helping classmates with their homework. And at the age of 13, I was already a sort of teacher’s assistant at the local school where I was a student myself. Then I got asked to teach other people’s kids, and it just grew from there, and I became quite dedicated and committed to the teaching profession.
Then I attended teacher training college, and after that I completed an M.A. in English literature and Arts. At first I taught in secondary school that was a business college. Later I became freelance and worked with language schools, then I started branching out towards corporate language teaching and training. So, I have quite a wide variety and scope within teaching English.
You’ve pivoted quite a bit from those early days. What are you doing now?
You could call it a pivot. But I would say I added layers and reached out to other fields to widen my perspective. This is because started coaching, and as I specialise in language teaching, and later turned towards training.
I decided to focus the coaching on supporting learners with language learning issues through the coaching that I do. And I think it was one of the best decisions of my life to pursue this relatively niche approach to coaching. The proof of this is the feedback that I receive from my clients, and the need for the work that my colleagues and I do locally and internationally to support corporate clients which are organisations with language and communication coaching services. Teacher training has been a wonderfully rewarding addition on my professional palette.
If someone doesn’t know what language coaching is, could you tell them how you see it and why it’s a good idea?
Language coaching is a learner-led process aimed at creating optimal target language acquisition while working towards effective international communication skills in order to reach future-related goals.
Language coaching is an applied methodology incorporating coaching fundamentals into the language learning context. The role of a language coach is to support and empower the learner on their self-led learning journey. LC focuses on the learners’ communication outcomes and learning processes in their professional and personal environments, instead of working with pre-defined lesson objectives. A language coaching approach will embed the basic LC framework and specific elements into language teaching or training practices.
Ideally, it will supplement teaching and training practices to empower learners and ensure that they can build the autonomy and agency that they need to be successful language learners and communicators. So over a specific period of time a language coach will notice that their work is needed less and less because the client they’ve been working with is more and more independent or aware and knows how to reach their own learning goals — and this is a considerable difference compared to teaching or training.
As a language learner myself, that sounds wonderful! And as a language teacher, that seems so much more advanced than traditional curriculum development. You’ve spoken with dozens of independent language coaches about “what’s worked” for them to grow their own business. What trends have you found that work for most people?
I have noticed in recent years that there are three main trends within language coaching. One is to mix it with communication coaching, which I regularly do too, but it’s really important to identify what the boundaries are and what the different outcomes may be of each, i.e. language coaching and for communication coaching. So that’s one thing that I’ve noticed.
The other sort of thing that tends to happen is that people call themselves language coaches when in fact they’re just doing personalised training, so it’s all about defining and keeping the boundaries of different professions, I think.
Thirdly, is possible to niche into specific language learning and language usage related niches, for example supporting target language users in public speaking in the target language, so we might be working with a German businessperson having to pitch towards potential customers. Other big needs are presentation preparation, also pronunciation coaching, grammar coaching, and learning instruction. The topic of learning instruction is pretty broad, and that may include time management and learning strategies. A pretty big slice in terms of what it can cover, but using the right title is necessary.
You bring up some really good points here. I’ve noticed, too, the blurring of lines when it comes to coaching and personalized learning. When we first met, you said that there is “no one way” to do anything? What did you mean by this and what do you think a language coach should keep in mind as they look to grow their own business?
As with any profession, really, I think if we make big claims and state that the way I work is the only way to be a credible professional, then I think you’re going down the wrong alley and it might be a good idea to review your mindset.
I truly believe that there are a number of routes to reach your business and professional goals, but I think you need to identify with both of them and have both your professional and your business side in alignment with each other. This way they can strengthen each other and build your career.
My past is probably not your past because it’s unique to me. Take my background, my studies, my colleagues, my network, the way I use social media, the extent of my exposure in the public arena, how I balance the ratio of professional research, client work and my specialisation, which is teacher training. This is a completely unique pie chart, so to say, and that’s fine and I think you’ll have to find the strength in those.
Exactly! This is why I would say to all my business clients, when I worked as a consultant, that everything begins with your backstory. When you know where you came from, then you’ll know what is the best route to take going forward. If you could go back in time, is there anything that you wished you’d known about earlier when it comes to your language teaching career?
Start working locally, gain tonnes of experience, find weaknesses, approach them with acceptance, and tackle them at some point. I don’t believe you should only focus on strengths…, but I must say this takes years, sometimes even decades. So if you’re in this sort of thing for a quick win, then this might not be the place for you.
Have a thorough grounding in methodology and do a bit of research yourself. Soft skills and language are not in the “overnight miracle” category. I tried training soft skills at a younger age and you just need the life and professional experience, the trials and errors leading to a sort of maturity and confidence that grows over time. Nothing can replace that, in my view.
Thanks for reminding us of this. For me, I have to keep telling myself to slow down and enjoy the ride. Is there anything else that you’d like to share about yourself?
My favourite colour is blue, I love swimming in rivers and lakes, I love romantic films but am also a huge Marvel fan… Hiking and walking about in nature gives me immense pleasure as does having fun with my 3 children.
Okay, so if others want to connect with you online, how can they do that?
Email: internationallangcoach [ at ] gmail [ dot ] com