18 Jan 2022



A student’s Journey from Impossible to Possible

My experience of teaching has mainly been as a teacher in a classroom with foreign language students where English is the second or foreign language. It has always been a challenge but immensely rewarding to follow the development of my students’ language skills from beginner to advanced.

However, I am going to reflect on my experiences of coaching a Chinese International student who was attending a high school in Canada.

When I first met him, Adam (his adopted English name) was studying in Canada at a small Chinese run private language school in a mixed ability class where he looked lost. Adam’s language skills were low-level intermediate, with the desire to enter the Canadian school system at grade nine in five months. Adam was in Canada and his family were back in China, so besides having culture shock, he was on his own and feeling totally overwhelmed.

I began tutoring him for a few hours at the weekend, concentrating on developing his confidence in speaking and understanding spoken English. The school was pushing him to learn reams of vocabulary and to read and write above his level, and Adam was beginning to panic, losing hope of ever learning English. 

I felt it was necessary to encourage him to feel comfortable speaking and in expressing himself in English. I learnt that coming to Canada was his own idea and he felt he could never be successful in the Chinese education system where rote learning was paramount. Adam had an intrinsic motivational factor: the desire to study in English and attend a Canadian University, but he couldn’t see his way forward. 

The most important aspect of his development was that he wanted to learn, but he needed to learn from someone he could trust. I praised him honestly for his progress, as he lacked self-confidence. Over time, we developed trust and respect for each other. He accepted my language advice, but I respected the fact that he had life skills that were valuable that he could access to help him become a fully functioning English speaker and to mature as a young adult.

The term coaching used in sports is all about motivating ‘coachees’ to improve

their own skill sets, to achieve their own goals. This meaning resonates more with what

academic coaching is today. You cannot impose your goals, they must be internal and intrinsic, then nourished and developed.

For Adam, the goal of reaching university needed to be broken down into smaller steps that we negotiated together, so that he became involved in and responsible for his own development.

For both of us the experience was rewarding and mutually beneficial, and that, I think, is what all coaches and their ‘coachees’ should strive for.


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Written by:
Keith Costello

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