Gabriella Kovács is the author of A Comprehensive Language Coaching Handbook from Pavilion ELT. In this interview, she tells us more about her own experiences, how she got in to language coaching, and why she was inspired to write her own book on the topic.
Tell us about yourself and your teaching
I started out many years ago as a private language teacher, tutor and after finishing University I dedicated myself to working with teenagers and young adults in secondary school and tertiary education. I also studied mentoring and was a mentor for two third-year language teacher trainees at the university I graduated from. This then led me to working with adults through language schools. Parallel to all this I had a number of private students ranging from the age 14 to adults. I realised that I was teaching differently to my peers and colleagues and only after learning about language coaching did I understand what that difference was. I haven't looked back since and now train teachers through the International Language Coaching Association (ILCA) who want to learn more about the coaching mindset and applying coaching skills in their classes.
What would be your first piece of advice for newly qualified teachers?
I firmly believe that the most important step you need to take after completing any language teacher training is to let go as much as possible of over-planning and sticking to a step-to-step approach when using materials. It all comes down to being more fluid, flexible and enjoying the interaction that you have with your learners. Without being genuinely curious and understanding towards your learners, your work will have less impact and you may find yourself with learners who are demotivated, stressed and working towards merely grades and exams, whereas language and communication should be much more about understanding what you say and how you say it and about content, rather than specifically focusing on grammar or vocabulary pronunciation. These are obviously essential in order to master the target language, but it is equally important to be aware, as the language professional, of the fact that you are working with people and your goal is not to help people pass exams and follow books cover to cover, but to support the personal and professional goals of your learners with the skills and knowledge that you have. This is where coaching can build skills to enable and enhance these.
What is your favourite thing about being an English language teacher/teacher trainer?
One of the best things about the work I do with my clients, and I primarily focus on supporting adults in a corporate environment, is when I see they understand it is within their capacity to make better decisions, because they see more options and come to see their own resources. They will come to see the tutors, teachers, trainers, coaches, whoever they're working with as people they can collaborate with – this is a key step. The whole learning process for me is about coming to terms with your learner identity and preferences.
Combining teaching, training and coaching is a wonderful mix that can truly help learners reach their full potential and become confident language users over time. As a language coach I support clients so they feel more empowered and motivated and I help them find the goals that really mean something to them.
What has been your biggest challenge in teaching?
Around 10 or 15 years ago, I felt that the existing framework teachers were expected to work with was limiting. And although I did my best to explain, to provide a variety of activities, focus on all four skills, make sure there's enough student speaking time etc., I felt that my lessons were lacking in areas I couldn't really identify with the background that I had in teaching. I was well aware of the methodology and I saw that that is not really where I needed to upgrade myself. I did extensive research on motivation and what to do to motivate my learners, but I kept coming up against this wall, all or rather a contradiction: it's not me who needs to motivate the learners but they should be motivating themselves. I realised that motivation would have to be intrinsic, so coming from them and not from an external source. Once again, coaching skills were what enabled me to support my learners being self-motivated and focus on becoming autonomous and independent language learners.
Where do you see ELT in five years’ time?
Sooner or later - hopefully sooner - the needs and expectations of language learners will override the structures and frameworks in place in language classrooms and teachers will have more freedom, with the opportunity to enable more experimentation and have a greater focus on personalisation, while organisations will do much more to promote wellbeing for teachers and learners alike. I think the so-called 21st century skills need a larger slice of the language education pie. Of course, language coaching will not be a mere buzzword, but one of the strongest pillars of language education in the future.
What inspired you to write A Comprehensive Language Coaching Handbook?
After a couple of years of learning about coaching and seeing how I can fuse elements of language education and coaching, there was more and more interest around the work I was doing. Having started to hold talks and workshops on the topic, I felt the urge to find methodology and evidence-based research specifically for what I was doing, but I came across very little. What I found were a couple of articles and personal stories about language coaching, and activity books with ways to use language coaching in a teaching framework and some niche, workbook-style publications.
From another perspective, when I understood what an impact language coaching could have in a classroom, how it could transform the instructional language one uses, I realised I needed to dig deeper, as there is much more to learn about language coaching not only through general coaching lens. And this is where I felt stuck since there were no resources available on language coaching in the depth that I required.
Although I cite a number of sources in my own book, I felt the need to provide this emerging discipline with a kind of manual which is foundational and comprehensive (as its title suggests) which addresses the theory of coaching and language education, alongside pragmatic examples through case studies from a number of experts in the field. I wanted to provide language professionals and practitioners with an easily accessible description of this discipline and its application. My hope is that this book can be the first in line to serve as a basis for language coaching studies worldwide, and encourage further research for those willing to invest their time and energy and support language coaching through their perseverant activities.
In three sentences, what would people learn from reading your book?
First of all, readers would see the similarities and differences between teaching and coaching, which is one of the most important endeavours of my work, to provide clarity and clear distinctions between the varied disciplines. Readers will also understand the richness and diversity of language coaching and how to apply the tools, techniques and the overall framework of coaching in their own classrooms. Last but not least, my hope is that readers will be bursting with creative ideas that perhaps originate from sentences read in A Comprehensive Language Coaching Handbook.
Why should people buy your book?
Purchasing this book is a great step in the right direction for any teacher, trainer, educator, but also director of studies, or language school owner etc. who believes that there is so much more hidden in the learners that they work with on a daily basis. If you recognise yourself as this language professional or practitioner, I highly recommend this book.
If you would like to find out more about A Comprehensive Language Coaching Handbook by Gabriella Kovács or want to order your own copy, then visit www.pavpub.com/pavilion-elt/a-comprehensive-language-coaching-handbook.