On Saturday 2nd July 2022, I attended The First International Language Coaching Conference in London organised by my dear friends Gabriella Kovacs and Carrie McKinnon. I decided to write about it here to share some of my key takeaways from the workshops and conversations, with links to the speakers’ websites in case you’d like to follow their work more closely. When I say ‘you’, I’m assuming you’re a fellow language teacher, trainer or coach. If that’s the case, this post is for you.
Gabriella Kovacs and Carrie McKinnon founded ILCA, the International Language Coaching Association in 2019 with the aim to bring proven coaching tools and techniques closer to the language teaching and training community, in a democratised way.
The core idea about language coaching – as I see it, is the following:
Language teachers and trainers who use coaching tools in their practices can significantly enhance the learning experience of their clients. Language coaches support and empower the learners to gain control of their language learning journey, to take ownership for their own learning and development. A language coach creates an optimal learning environment for their client, supports the client to overcome the inevitable hurdles that arise in the process, by helping them develop an awareness of the language learning journey, building on intrinsic motivation.
ILCA explain this in a much more professional way on their website if you want to explore this further. I highly encourage you to check out their Language Coaching Markers to compare your current practices against ILCA’s language coaching standards. Oh – and Gabriella Kovacs’ brand new book sets the standards of what language coaching is all about perfectly, with definitions, descriptions of processes, case studies and ready-to-use tools. Comprehensive Language Coaching Handbook, 2022 is now available on Amazon – and I’m a proud contributor with a case study on a client who studied German with me and had to overcome some rather challenging difficulties that went beyond what I could help with as a language teacher/trainer. I needed to bring out the coach in me to help solve the puzzle. More in the book!
Back to the conference, and to my key takeaways. Some of them in words, others in photos.
Gabriella Kovacs set the tone perfectly, with her opening plenary on the alignment of language coaching with the learners:
Then came the highly anticipated roundtable discussion on money, with Judy Thompson, Julie Yoder and myself in the panel.
Judy Thompson is a Language Coach, Subject Matter Expert, Author and Innovator and runs a language centre in Canada. She shared her approach to charging premium. Her message: Think of the value that you deliver and charge accordingly.
She shared the story of a client who needed his English ‘fixed’ 5 days before leading a meeting in New York. As Judy explained: First the guy needed context. School places too much value on accent and grammar. His intelligibility was excellent, all he needed were strategies, eg. what to do if / when someone doesn’t understand him? There are loads of techniques for clarification and validation. Once he knew how to use them, he was good to go. Two sessions – $500. Happy customer. Judy asked us to think of the value he got from $500. It will last him all his life – a bargain. The message: Fix what you say you can fix and charge for it.
Julie Yoder flew over to the conference from Washington DC where she runs English With Purpose, helping international professionals to communicate in English with confidence and unlock their career potential.
Julie talked about the international differences with regards to pricing and pointed out that Spain and Italy have been among the worst for the race-to-the-bottom with pricing in language services. As she put it: “as a self-employed American, I pay $400/month minimum for healthcare and I have to build that into my pricing.”
Julie also talked about the importance of selling packages rather than hours. She mentioned that many people still equate 1:1 services with straightforward tutoring and have a price structure in mind for that. As such, she said that people who approach her when searching for ‘tutors’ would never actually become clients. She mentioned that one of her best decisions when it comes to marketing her business has been to invest in SEO to make sure that potential clients find her business when searching on Google. (Not sure what SEO is? This link takes you to a podcast episode I recorded for language professionals where I explain it in a non-techy way.)
When it was my turn at the roundtable discussion, I decided to focus on two ideas: niching and packaging our services in a way that we can confidently charge that premium price that we as language coaches deserve. I explain about niching in this blog. And I’ll write about my ideas on packaging and presenting ourselves professionally and confidently in a future blog as I believe it deserves more time and attention than I could give to it in my short ‘speech’.
We then went on to speed networking where I met many lovely colleagues like Eva from Germany, Filip Salomon from Iceland or Irina from Romania. I’m a networker and always enjoy connecting with colleagues and following up with them on social.
The afternoon sessions were dedicated to workshops. As 2 workshops were scheduled at the same time, that ultimately meant I had to say no to one that I would have loved to attend too. The choice was difficult to make. All the speakers and workshops were truly exceptional.
The brilliant Ian King delivered a workshop on language coaching across cultures. That’s the one I decided to skip but I’m told it was brilliant. Ian is based in Paris and runs his company Apples and Pears where he is an International Communication Coach. In his talk, Ian focused on how we can help our clients develop their intercultural maturity, or in other words, as he explains: “how they can integrate fine-tuned perceptions of otherness into their communications.” A brilliant subject that I’m super passionate about.
But I opted for Sam Moinet’s workshop entitled How to Coach Students to Thrive, Succeed and Achieve. The reason why I thought this could be the right choice this time is because last year, I started to teach marketing at Kingston University, and thought I could use Sam’s tips in my university teaching too, not just in my language coaching sessions. And boy, I was spot on!
Sam Moinet is the founder of Student Breakthrough and The Educators Coaching Academy (ECA). He is on a mission to transform mental health support in UK schools – as he puts it, not just for children but for school leaders and educators too.
To kick off his workshop, he shared his very personal background story that was truly moving. He founded ECA to develop resilient mental health amongst students and educators in the UK. As part of the workshop he did for ILCA, Sam gave us some very practical tools to use when working with students. One example was the TIRED model:
When a student struggles with limiting beliefs, take them through the TIRED coaching questions.
Example: I’m never going to get everything done.
T: True. Is this belief 100% true?
I: Impact. What is the impact of having this belief? How does it make you feel?
R: Remove. What would be different if you removed that belief? Who would you be?
E: Evidence. Find 3 examples in your life when you did do your best. To support the above question.
D: Do. What are you going to do now that you have this awareness?
Some of my key takeaways from his session:
- The teacher is often like a machine gun: firing questions after questions after questions. Instead: ask one good question and then listen. Be comfortable when there’s silence. Resist the urge to break the silence.
- The 4As to move from pain to pleasure: Agenda. Awareness. Action steps. Accountability.
- Connecting the dots backwards. As Steve Jobs put it:
You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.Steve Jobs
After Sam’s workshop, another difficult decision was to be made. The brilliant Ruth Hughes delivered an amazing workshop on the psychological impact of language coaching on wellbeing and engagement. That’s the one I had to sadly skip. Ruth works at the University of Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education and as she puts it, she helps internationally-minded professionals to achieve, connect and thrive, using evidence-based coaching psychology and positive psychology. Do follow her work on LinkedIn if you’d like to learn more about positive psychology, coaching and student wellbeing.
I opted to attend Anesh Daya’s workshop on ‘Outside-In” Language coaching, and I left buzzing with energy and ideas.
Anesh Daya is the founder of On The Spot Language. He’s based in Toronto, Canada where he runs this innovative experiential English language immersion program, which he developed to address the needs of his students, so that they can effectively use their English in real-life situations. Anesh is a force of nature and the concept he shared on his award-winning approach to working with students was truly inspiring.
My key takeaways:
- A stranger is just a friend you haven’t yet met.
- Task-based goals + cultural intelligence + focus sentences = confident and resilient global citizens.
- We don’t learn language from grammar. We extract grammar from language.
I see Anesh’ ‘Make the city your classroom’ model as a brilliant opportunity for learners of English to get more hands-on experiences with the language in real-life situations, with the help and support of a language coach. And it’s also a great opportunity for English training providers who would like to offer their students an additional hands-on experience as part of the package they’re offering.
Anesh is looking for partners in the UK and across the world. Check out his website and do follow him on LinkedIn or Youtube.
Decision time 3: The third and final workshop of the afternoon was a choice between Vicki Plant and Olga Kalita’s joint workshop on Takeaways from a Language Coaching Initiative vs Lesley Hossner’s Stepping back into the Learner’s Shoes.
Vicki Plant is a France-based English language trainer and Certified Erickson Coach. She and Olga Kalita both attended one of ILCA’s coaching training programmes and they shared how they’re practicing and developing their coaching skills with each other, encouraging us to collaborate, help and support each other on the coaching journey. They also shared how they’re marketing themselves as their coaching skills develop. They’re one of the kindest and most helpful language professionals I’ve had a chance to meet. Do connect with Vicki and with Olga on LinkedIn, I’m sure they’ll be pleased to e-meet other language professionals who’re also interested in coaching.
I’m gutted that I missed their session, but I’m so glad that I joined Lesley Hossner to discuss what it’s like to learn something new.
Lesley Hossner is a language coach based in the UK. She’s been on a mission to simplify language learning and has worked with corporate clients and private individuals for over 25 years. She is now specialised in teaching German and French. Her wealth of knowledge and wisdom is endless. I really enjoy following her on LinkedIn where she always shares exciting ideas on languages, cultures and teaching/coaching, from a very unique perspective.
Lesley invited us to take a step back and think of a time we learnt something new. (I instantly thought of the time when I started my yoga journey as a complete newbie in November 2021.) What was really challenging about it? What emotions did you experience? What was it that moved you forwards? (I’ll write about my yoga journey at a later stage where I’ll answer these questions.)
Lesley then shared her journey of starting to learn Ukrainian and what a profound experience it’s been for her, observing herself as a learner. She explained how surprised she was about the amount of repetition she needed to finally remember words and phrases. She reminded us how frustrating it was when you don’t get something right, and of course, the flip side of the coin is that feeling of buzz when you do get things right.
It was very rewarding to have this conversation with Lesley and other participants to remind ourselves as teachers what it feels like when we start to learn something from scratch. My key takeaways:
- DuoLingo is actually really good!
- Why tracking your progress is really important.
- The ‘hook’ that helps you create those new neuropathways.
- To get the reward, one needs to get through the steps.
- Positive feedback spurs you on to carry on.
- Consistency: give learners a small task to do each day.
- Atomic Habits (I need to get the book).
- Harvard Business Review / Marcie Reynolds
The conference was ace. Carrie McKinnon was a brilliant host who created a great atmosphere in which we all opened up to each other and felt truly welcome. All the attendees I talked to mentioned that this was the exact place they needed to be in, the right place and the right time to meet and connect with each other. In her opening plenary, Carrie set the tone perfectly and provided context on the driving vision and mission behind ILCA: to train, advocate for, and bring language coaches together, and to encourage and enhance thought leadership in language coaching.
To learn more about the International Language Coaching Association and the work they do, visit and follow https://internationallanguagecoaching.com/
Hope to see you too at one of their events in 2023.
Until next time.