Language learners are used to working with others. These tend to be language specialists: teachers, conversation exchange partners or fellow students. But support in learning languages does not have to be in the target language. Not convinced? Well recently, I’ve been lucky enough to work with a coach on achieving my self-set language goals. Through coaching, I’ve been able to focus on improving how I learn, rather than just cramming content. And I’m completely sold on the usefulness of it to your learning toolkit.
It helps to know that I’m in good company. Multilingual mogul Benny Lewis has sung the praises of coaching repeatedly. In particular, he recommends the free app Coach.me, and is an active member of the platform’s forum and goal-sharing community. I’ve used the app myself, and it is wonderfully simple. Even if you only take advantage of the daily goal reminders, it can be an incredibly powerful motivator.
You can take this a step further, though, and seek out a real-life, human coach to work with. This can be face-to-face, or, more likely these days, online via Skype or similar. For the past month, I’ve been scheduling weekly slots with a coach online. The experience has been nothing but positive, and I’m excited to share how the process can unstick even the stickiest, most disorganised linguist!
Search for the hero inside yourself
Coaching builds on the principle that, in many cases, the answers are already inside ourselves. They just need coaxing out. Avril, my coach, puts this succinctly: she is my tour guide. She shows me around and points things out that I might miss. But the landscape is one of my own making.
How can we not know ourselves, and how can a coach help bridge the gap? The problem is that we are all embedded in busy, often chaotic lives of overlapping priorities.
Coaching in the eyes of a coach
Maybe it’s best to let a coaching expert do the talking here. Cameron Murdoch, experienced coach and mentor at Coaching Studio, puts it like this:
Coaching is often about being challenged by the coach by them using powerful questions. Quite often you have the answer yourself, but it needs another person to draw it out.
The coach also acts as an accountability partner type figure so you set targets but they make sure you achieve them. They help you also if you hit a brick wall and help you tackle issues that develop that could stop you. They also help celebrate achievement as well as walk through problems.
It’s a way of opening up the mind to push you out of your comfort zone and into the learning zone – but making sure you don’t step into the panic zone. They push you just enough to learn, but not to panic.
Quite simply, a coaching partner can push you where you won’t push yourself, and help you see things when you are too close to the issues to see them yourself.
Talking with Avril recently, we likened this to a pile of tangled wool of difference colours. A coach can help you to pick out strands of the same colour, and place them neatly on their own to analyse and optimise. Instantly, you then see what needs doing. In this way, a coach lifts your goal-oriented activity out of the chaos and makes it visible; and that makes it so much more manageable.
Plan of action
For me, a key ‘obvious’ was simply organising my time better.
I instinctively knew that one key to making my learning more systematic would be to use calendar blocking. In fact, it was so ‘obvious’, that I’d even written an article about it. But, somehow, your own advice can be the hardest to put into practice.
Instead of learning bits and pieces here and there, I agreed with my coach to allocate half- or full-hour slots of time where I could sit down and focus entirely on a chapter of a course book, or active reading of a news article.
What helps keep you on the straight and narrow is a sense of accountability. These are not empty promises I’ve made myself. Rather, every week, I have to report how I’m getting on to someone who is following me along the road. The effect is surprisingly motivating!
Finding a coaching partner
Apps like Coach.me include an option to contract with a human coach through the app. You can do a simple Google search for coaches too, although be aware that the kind of coaching I’m talking about here is not life coaching, and it seems that Google tends to favour those results above other goal-oriented coaching services.
On a personal level, I can recommend checking out Cameron Murdoch as a coach or source of pointers and other coach recommendations. He’s quite an inspirational guy for many reasons; you’ll see some of these on his LinkedIn profile.
Be a guinea pig
However, you might well know somebody working towards a coaching qualification. If you’re lucky enough to be offered a set of sessions as their guinea pig, that’s a superb opportunity.
Even if that’s not an option, I believe that the standard hourly rate (anything from £75 upwards depending on the coach’s experience) is well worth it if it unlocks a higher tier of learning.
Typically, you will also specify a finite block of coaching time – say, ten sessions – so, unlike fitness training, for example, there is an end point in sight. This helps in budgeting, especially if you’re not keen on the idea of another outgoing bill / subscription ad infinitum. Of course, you might choose to carry on a coaching relationship if you think you need the helping hand!
I’m still travelling my coaching journey, and have a number of sessions to go. But already, I can see its huge value as a language learner. Whether through an app service, or with a real-life human being, give coaching a try: it might just set you right back on track with your languages.