O'Connell Advanced Training Solutions

flexibles und individuelles Englischtraining in Sachsen

Crossing the line: how to transition from ESL training to skills coaching

When does an ESL trainer transition to soft skills coach and mentor? When does the fuzzy line get crossed, and how can you best prepare both yourself and your learner?

Some weeks ago I was approached by a freshly-minted ESL trainer interested in work opportunities with my organisation, in joining my network. She was delightful, intelligent, warm. We spoke about her education and certification but hit a wall when it came to "real world" business experience. She had none. And as much as I wanted to help her, give her a start in her training career, she wasn't a fit for my clients or the direction we're taking.

In considering her options and other ways in which I can assist, it became clear to me how far from my origins I've come and prompted me to examine when ESL became a sideline and coaching the main game. In fact, they're both stops on the same learning journey.

Take EK, for example. HR manager for a large German-based company, subsidiary for a north American firm. While we commenced with advanced English training, I now provide intercultural communication and business writing coaching. There's barely a grammar correction in sight.

And AL, whose business partners stretch from Germany through Poland, the UK, USA and China. Our coaching sessions consist of business writing for emails, reports and reviews, discussions about protocol and gift-giving, and appropriate tone and style in verbal communication. Nary a new piece of vocabulary to be found.

And NH, who regularly gives presentations to international audiences across Europe. I think you can see where I'm going with this one.

So how does this link in with the delightful new ESL trainer I mentioned earlier? With clients demanding coaching from experienced trainers, I couldn't offer her to them: empirical knowledge doesn't cut it in today's competitive training market. Indeed, under Australia's VET system a coach needs to have direct, recent experience in the topic they teach. Wouldn't you also like to know your trainer or coach knows what they're talking about because they've been there before?

My clients trust me in ESL training because I've trudged through the same linguistic trenches as them in learning German (with often hilarious results... "kosten" and "kotzen" is a classic example, as is "geraucht" and "gerochen"...). They trust me to coach them in business skills because of my background in both public and private sectors. I've been at the coalface. This is what my clients need.

The delightful young ESL trainer needs real-world business experience before she can legitimately call herself a business ESL trainer, and before she can transition herself and clients to coaching. Where to obtain that experience is a matter for a latter blog post.

As for how that transition takes place, it's important to have coaching or mentoring as your end goal. And in my experience the arrival at that end goal is rather a gentle process, devoid of fanfare. Linguistic corrections taper off and there's an increased focus on the subtleties and nuances of communication, body language and tone. It's incredibly rewarding, both professionally and personally: a German client conducts a negotiation with Chinese counterparts; another presents a project proposal to an American firm, which is subsequently accepted; a contract is saved after written correspondence is improved and misunderstandings cleared up.

Start from a position of expertise, have the end goal in mind, structure your sessions appropriately, be patient, be professional and always be warm and supportive. That's the key to transitioning from ESL training to business and soft skills coaching.

And now - to break this news to the enthusiastic, delightful newly-minted trainer.


What are your experiences of transitioning to coaching? How have your learners reacted when they realise they've taken this step? I'd be very happy to hear your stories!