A Comprehensive Language Coaching Handbook: Theory and Practice

Gabriella Kovács

Pavilion Publishing and Media (2022)

In the course of our careers as language teachers we have all met them and felt compassion for the anguish and frustration that they shared with us (after all, we’ve been there, too). The false starts and the dead ends. Reasonable exam results, but stuttering when needed to perform and communicate. The feeling of inadequacy and the mismatch between the eloquent and expert first language output and the stumbling over simple communicative tasks in our second. Meet the adult learner whose language skills need to be kickstarted by diving down to a deeper level. And meet Gabriella Kovács, the author who has an answer (shared in a massive volume of more than 300 pages): language coaching.

Gabriella is keen to explain that language coaching is not here to substitute language teaching, the aim is rather to complement its practices. The definition provided by the International Language Coaching Association founded in 2019 by Gabriella and Carrie McKinnon is comprehensive: ‘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’ (p.21). What, thereby, stands out is ‘learner-led’, ‘international communication skills’ and ‘future-related’. These aspects, to some extent, define the ‘clientele’ as well. They are often highly-trained, ambitious and motivated professionals who are stuck around B2 level, or educators who are eager to introduce the concept of critical thinking and metacognition into their teaching practice. But language coaching goes beyond cognitive skills; it also encourages language learners to become autonomous agents of their own learning while simultaneously applying the tenets of positive psychology with the aim of enhancing intrinsic motivation and reducing anxiety. Learner well-being (involving resilience and optimism) is key, just as the language coach’s belief that learners, when systematically asked to reflect, are able to decide what their best language-learning strategies might be and how they should go about reaching the goals that they set for themselves.

After laying down the theoretical foundations, the volume provides a rich tapestry of language-coaching processes and tools. Subsequent chapters describe the skills, competencies and standards of this emerging field in language education. Gabriella pays special attention to how listening skills need to be sharpened by any successful (language) coach and reminds us of what Simon Sinek has to say about this often underestimated skill: ‘hearing is listening to what is said. Listening is hearing what is not said’ (p.104). The specific speaking skills focus on how a coach would need to interact verbally (pp.105–106). These skills remind me of my own practice as a teacher research mentor: the mentoring dialogues follow the same pattern and aim at accompanying my mentees on their journey to autonomy through the creation of ‘agentic learning environments’ (p.43).

The learner case studies (Chapter 5) provide an insight into the work Gabriella has carried out with her adult language learners and demonstrate the widely different contexts in which language coaching can impact performance and effectiveness. It is followed by the chapter on language coaching case studies, in which international language coaches and instructors talk about the contexts in which they function, often in a high-stake business environment. To me, these case studies bring home the extraordinary personal perspectives that the language coaches describe in engaging and colourful detail. Polyglots, who immerse themselves in foreign cultures, innovators in education, business communication coaches and ‘edupreneurs’ share their experiences. Even though they might have come to language coaching from different directions, there are some basic characteristics that permeate their practice, such as creating rapport, encouraging their clients to become more confident, and allowing the learners to begin to ‘notice that the skills and knowledge they acquire through the coaching process is applicable in other areas of their lives’ (p.164).

Later chapters include the description of an inquiry (with Zoltán Előd) on how language coaching is perceived by language teaching professionals internationally, a learning log on how Gabriella herself developed as a professional coach, and how language coaching might expand in the near future. The chapter on the merits of coaching provides further accounts on why the demand for language coaching is getting stronger, how it is a philosophy rather than a conversational practice, and what meta-skills are needed so that the coach (who is often also the language teacher of their clients) becomes more than a linguistically well-versed instructor.

Part 2 of the book (titled ‘Practice’) showcases language coaching tools that are often primarily used in business or corporate settings. However, some of the general language coaching tools presented can be used in ordinary classrooms and in different modalities. The language coaching wheels (p.241) appeal to me a lot, because the segments and the scaling allow attaching values to important aspects of language learning, which often reveal attitudes and approaches far beyond language learning. Finally, the appendices offer an opportunity to the reader (a beginning or a more experienced language teaching professional) to reflect on their learning, delve into the definitions of key terms and concepts, and peruse the extensive bibliography.

Altogether, A Comprehensive Language Coaching Handbook: Theory and Practice is a groundbreaking effort to bring together what is worth knowing about language coaching as an emerging practice which, as the author emphasises, is not to replace teaching but to complement language teaching practices with a philosophy whose ultimate goal is to prepare learners (adults or otherwise) to fulfil their potential under the seismic changes that are taking place in the 21st century.

Erzsébet Ágnes Békés
Erzsébet Ágnes Békés is a retired Hungarian English teacher and teacher trainer currently residing in Ecuador. In recent years, she has been acting as a volunteer mentor for teacher-researchers in their classroom research projects.







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A Comprehensive Language Coaching Handbook: Theory and Practice


Gabriella Kovács

Pavilion Publishing and Media Ltd



Future issues

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