Who is the expert? Who knows best?

In this article, I would like to reflect on the question, who is the expert or rather who is the one that knows, in the context of language learning and English coaching? The obvious answer would seem to be the ‘teacher’, the one who knows the language best, but in the case of English coaching, this is definitely NOT the case. In fact, placing the expertise of the coachee in the foreground of the process is what makes English coaching so very different from English teaching.

It is true that an English coach may have more familiarity with the structure of the language and its grammar rules, but this has less impact on communication than one may think. A person may have a very expert grasp of the English language and yet be a poor communicator. This is because communication is about so much more than words and sentences. One of my coachees described it as building bridges with others.

When you build a bridge you have a starting point and a place where you want to go and most important of all, a gap which you can see and that needs to be filled. Only then do you think about the building materials which can be more or less sophisticated.

Real communication comes from the gap that makes the bridge building meaningful and this gap for an English coach comes from the knowledge that he or she does NOT have and the curiosity to want to fill it. When I enter into a relationship of English coaching, I feel very much in a place of not knowing. Not knowing what moves the person I am with or what is the nature of his or her world. Not knowing the quality of their experience as they speak English nor the quality of what they really long to experience in English.

My curiosity is what allows me to open up a space of questioning and deep listening as the coachee builds the bridge step by step and we become closer and deepen our understanding of the coachee’s experience. Formulating even simple sentences is an act of creation, making the speaker’s experience more real and meaningful. This is why human beings need to speak or write a diary or express their inner reality in one way or another.

One of the things that holds learners back and reduces their confidence and sense of autonomy is the belief that it is the ‘teacher’ who has the ‘right’ answer and who holds the keys to communication. What I enjoy most about English coaching is the learning that I receive through discovering the professional expertise of my coachees and the unique value of their life experiences. I often come away with a deep sense of gratitude for the bridge that they have built in order to bring me the gift of their personal wisdom. Yes, I may help them with some building materials and point out some possible weakness in the structure of their bridge but understanding the nature of the gap and the importance of the bridge for that person, is always a wonderful discovery.

So, when a coachee asks me to evaluate their English and give it a competency label, it is rather like evaluating the building materials. I guide them to understand the nature of the gap that they want to fill because then the bridge begins to be built naturally and the person’s motivation is at its highest. When a toddler begins to walk, one thing that motivates him to cross the gap of where he is and where he wants to go is the contact of another who will receive him with open arms when he arrives. The focus of this person is on the connection that will take place, not the technique of the toddler as he launches himself into the open space.

An English coach has the role of deep, genuine curiosity and co-creating with the coachee.
A guide on the side rather than a sage on the stage. One thing that can prevent a coach from taking this role, is the belief that they are selling their expertise in terms of the language. To justify their services, they need to give long grammar explanations and master all the exceptions in the language in order to feel indispensable to their client. However, when the coachee is able to express the deep sense of satisfaction and joy in building bridges and crossing the gap, the English coach has offered a service that is of great value. It is the fact that the English coach is NOT the expert, that makes this possible.

As with many themes that arise in English coaching, this can be applied to other areas of life.
The role of expert assigned to one person can be a definite obstacle to communication. It takes away the autonomy of those who begin to consider others to be the owners of the ‘right’ answer. In fact, everyone is an expert of their own experience and their own needs and no one can presume to know another’s world better than the person themselves.

If you would like to dive deeply into your own expertise through English coaching, visit my website or send me a message to talk about your particular gap and what kind of bridge you would like to build!


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