There are strategies that help Glish coaches provide the best conversational environment for their clients. Here are some that we’ve found to be most helpful.
Listening is the most important part of coaching. Some clients will have heavy accents and will be discouraged if you can’t understand them. Active listening takes focus. Coaches must be fully present and paying attention. If you cannot understand a word they use, try to guess what they are saying using the context of their statement. If you cannot guess, ask them to write the word in the chat box. “Sorry to interrupt but I didn’t quite catch that word. Could you type it in the chat box?” Read the word aloud so they hear the pronunciation saying, “Oh right, (word).”
Slow down. Take a deep breath and pace yourself. A good way to do this is to practice articulating your words. Pronounce the end of a word more clearly. For example, an American might say “straight” without an emphasis on the last letter, a soft, implied “t”. Try it with a hard “T” like the British, “straighT.” This focus can help you slow your speech down and help clients understand what you are saying more easily.
Curiosity is the trick that keeps the conversation running smoothly. If we’re curious we’ll ask better questions and clients will feel encouraged by our interest. Keep an open mind to what you may learn from your client, even if you think it’s going to be boring. Here’s a good example from our founder, Dani Leis.
A younger client decided he wanted to talk about his favorite game, Minecraft. Now, I’m not a game player and my first instinct was to think it may not be the most interesting conversation. But I geared up my curiosity and began to ask questions. Why is it your favorite game? How do you play it? What can you do with the Enchantment Balls? What’s the goal of the game? You get the idea. By the end of it I was fully informed about Minecraft should I ever decide to play it. I wasn’t bored, I was engaged and curious. And my client was thrilled to spend 30 minutes explaining it to someone who was genuinely interested.
It’s human nature to hold viewpoints and to have judgements about things. The trick is to be aware that others hold different viewpoints, have different experiences and perspectives. Conversations should never become debates, or attempts to convince your client that your viewpoint is the correct one. This can be hard when we feel a cherished belief is being challenged. But as hard as it might be, it’s up to the coach to model objectivity and tolerance for other viewpoints.
I think this.
You think that.
This is the attitude coaches should strive to achieve.
Use Open-Ended Questions
Yes/no questions fall flat with their monosyllabic answers. Formulate your questions so they elicit longer responses. These are good starters:
Describe for me
Tell me more about it
What’s your opinion
Setting the Mood
Friendliness is your best attitude when Glishing. Clients respond best to a smile. Studies show that even a forced (fake) smile causes our bodies to release endorphins which make us happier. When we smile at someone they nearly always smile automatically in response. Try to start every Glish session with a welcoming smile. It sets a positive mood and helps nervous clients relax. Make connections with your clients. Find shared experiences where you can respond with a “me too!” For example, I love sci-fi movies too! (Then type into the chat window Sci-Fi is slang for science fiction.)
When speaking with people from other cultures, we may sometimes feel shocked, surprised or confused by something the client has said. Cultural norms can be very different around the world. It’s important that we recognize and respect people’s cultural diversity and individual differences. If you hear something that makes you think WTF?! Don’t respond immediately. Instead, buy yourself some time and clarity by asking ”can you tell me more about that?” Here’s a true story from Glish founder, Dani Leis.
I was speaking with a Saudi client, a retired gentlemen who used to speak English for work and doesn’t want to lose his fluency. We’d had many conversations before about his culture. There had been a protest in Saudi Arabia the week before our appointment where women had defied the rules and drove cars for a day. I asked him if he had heard about it. His response was negative, ‘Oh it’s not a good thing. It’s very dangerous for women to drive.’ Now the American-independent-feminist in me felt an immediate gut response to this statement, but I didn’t voice it. Instead I asked him questions. Why is it dangerous? What would happen if women were given the right to drive? He explained that many men in his culture would attack women driving alone in cars. He was genuinely worried about their physical safety. As we talked, I described my own relationship to driving saying, “I can’t imagine not being able to drive. I learned to drive when I was 15. Getting a driving license is a coming-of-age ritual in the USA which gives us more independence.” I shared a funny story about my driving instructor in High School. This allowed both client and coach to share their honest perspectives without making judgments about their respective cultural norms.
If you have a client that struggles to put a sentence together, there is a simple strategy, embrace their struggle and wait for them to get there. Patience and warmth is key to a successful interaction. Many clients can read and write quite fluently but have had little practice speaking. It’s important to give them a safe space, free of judgment, to gear up to the task. Once they feel safe from judgment about their perceived level of English, they’ll relax and begin to speak more easily. It just takes practice and a safe space in which to make mistakes. When your client is searching for the right word, don’t fill in the blanks. They’ll feel embarrassed about the silence, so it is up to us to smile or otherwise make them feel comfortable enough to take their time. Be patient while they struggle.
Reaching for the word and finding it, makes the word easier to find the next time they need it. We ease their stress by smiling and relaxing while they search their memories for the word. “No worries, take your time” is a good response when clients apologize for interrupting the flow. (You may have to explain “take your time” in the chat window.)
The Art of NOT Correcting
In a conversational context, correction doesn’t help, it hinders. Our clients are extremely sensitive about making mistakes and this is what inhibits them from practicing conversational English. So don’t interrupt clients to point out mistakes or fill in the gaps. Our job is to encourage clients to express themselves, in any way they can. Mistakes are natural, we all make them. What helps clients is a safe space to make mistakes without feeling self-conscious about it. Glish practice is about effective communication, not grammatically accurate communication. That being said, there are subtle techniques that help clients improve their conversational skills, like rephrasing their thoughts, sharing idioms and slang.
Rephrasing to Model Good Structure
Correction by the coach is minimal and usually shared by rephrasing a sentence in the form of a validating question. For example if a client said, “Yesterday I go to the store” the coach might occasionally interject like this, “So you went to the store yesterday?” The client may just respond with a yes or they may repeat the statement with the better structure. In either the case the conversation continues to flow. This technique appears to validate what the coach is hearing rather than correct what the client is saying. The client hears the correct structure but still continues with the conversation.
Helping Clients Find the Right Word
If they can’t remember how to say something, and give up, ask them to describe it using different vocabulary or even their hands. The coach can then guess at a relevant word that fits. This helps them develop a technique to use in future conversations with non-coaches. Clients are also encouraged to use an online dictionary when speaking with a coach, so they can look up a word that they need.
With the exception of physical comedy, humor is usually rooted in culture and needs cultural context to be funny. Avoid humor unless you want to specialize in it. Some advanced clients may focus on learning humor, such as one client who uses YouTube videos of The Daily Show or The Colbert Report (American political satire) and asks Dani to explain why the audience is laughing. In these cases it is up to the coach to explain the cultural norms and context that make something funny. (This is more difficult than you might imagine.)
Google-fu, the ability to quickly find relevant information on google. Use this skill to provide supporting information for your client. If you explain a new vocabulary word or slang, send them a link to a definition.
The Grammarist is a great place to find definitions. Find it quickly and send them the link while you are talking about it.
Urban dictionary is a fun place to find slang . Find interesting and relevant links for your client on Google.
If a client selects a talk about climate change, quickly find a recent and interesting piece on the subject for further reading. At the end of your conversation send them the link via Skype with a short message. “I found this and thought you might be interested in some further reading.” Clients LOVE this kind of support.
Using Skype Chat for Language Acquisition
Use the chat window to define new terms. Coaches should speak naturally in their own style. When you use an idiom, or a phrasal verb, check for understanding with your client. If they don’t know it, write it into the Skype chat window along with a short definition. For example, “You found a first edition book? What a score!” Type into the chat window: a score = a win or success. If a client says, “I’m boring.” You may reply “Oh, you’re bored?” Type into chat window: to be boring = to make other people to feel bored.
Keep Current on Global Issues
When you work with a global clientele it’s important to keep up on world affairs and commit to learning about cultural differences. Try to make a habit of scanning global headlines every day. Set up google news on your browser to show more global headlines. If you have a lot of clients from Russia, pay attention to what’s happening in that region. This gives you more common ground with your clients and allows you to converse about topics that are important to them.
When the client is late for their appointment.
If it was beyond their control and you don’t have an appointment immediately following, let them go overtime until they have completed 30 minutes. It builds goodwill and they’ll forgive you, the coach, the next time you’re late for an appointment.
When client cancels at last minute.
Clients are aware that cancellations must be made 24 hours in advance if they want to reschedule at no charge. Coaches may make individual judgments about offering a free rescheduled appointment. If the client has had an emergency outside of their control (stuck in traffic, medical emergency, etc.) coaches may opt to allow them to reschedule at no cost. It’s up to you.
A good policy is to say, “If it was out of your control, we can reschedule at no charge.” Let the clients determine if the situation qualifies, rather than giving you an excuse. Clients are more responsible when they hold themselves accountable. And they're more forgiving when you miss an appointment because of something out of your control.
When wifi is weak and you experience connection problems.
First try turning of the video and try an audio only conversation. This usually solves the problem. If even the audio is breaking-up, try restarting Skype and reconnecting to your internet service (both coach and client). If it’s still impossible offer a free reschedule.