Coaching English Learners Case Study: Importance of Listening
Posted On: February 28, 2020
Do you feel tongue tied in English (as your second or other language)?
I’d like to share a case study from a student (working professional in late 40s) I was working with just today. This is AMAZING.
A Motivational Coaching Conversation with a Language Learner
Me (Coach): What is one of the communication challenges you face?
Student: When someone talks, I am always worried about what I will say. I feel I am not listening.
Me: How would you like to see this change?
Student: I wish I did not have to worry about what I want to say. I get worried I will lose my words. Maybe that’s why I do this? I started learning English after college in my home country and have been living here ever since. I need more confidence.
Me: How can you build your confidence?
Student: The main thing is I have to listen. But I am always worried that I miss something. So when the person stops talking, I always ask them to repeat.
Me: How does that feel?
Student: I don’t feel good. I may feel that my colleagues don’t think I am good at English because I am always asking them to repeat.
Me: Can I suggest a different approach?
Me: Would you be interested to do an exercise on paraphrasing? I will tell you a story for about 3-4 minutes, and you can respond by starting, “If I understand you correctly…” then say 3-4 sentences to summarize what I have said.
Student: Yes, let’s try.
Me: (I told a story for 3-4 minutes)
Student: “If I understand you correctly….” she stopped talking and got frustrated. She was silent for a minute.
Me: Share with me what happened.
Student: I did listen to you for the first sentence, but then I went into my head and started thinking what to respond. By the time you finished, I couldn’t paraphrase because I wasn’t listening. But, also I couldn’t respond with anything because I didn’t listen to you. I got embarrassed and shut down.
Me: Your English is really good and clear. So, I think language is not your problem, but listening seems to be where you struggle. I’m paraphrasing my observation here. Is that true?
Student: Yes. I also feel I am always worried about the future, what to do or say next. I want to sound good, articulate and smart. But, since I am not in the moment, I lose the future and the response, too. I should really concentrate on my listener so that I can respond clearly and appropriately.
Me: You have answered your own question. [I paused. She looked a bit shocked and relieved.] Shall we try the same exercise again?
Me: Keep in mind after you paraphrase to ask a question or offer an observation to keep the conversation going.
[Pause – She took notes.]
Me: I will tell you a slightly different story. [I told a different story for 3-4 minutes.]
[During this time, the student really listened intently with good body language. I could tell she was really paying attention.]
Student: “If I understood you correctly….” [She paraphrased appropriately, though she did get stuck once or twice and repeated a few place names or people’s names incorrectly.] … Your story is very interesting because I experienced the same thing once… [She went on for one or two sentences…]
We debriefed the session up to this point following this. She had asked me if she paraphrased correctly. I did note there were one or two mistakes, but that would be natural even for a native speaker as I used some place names or people’s names that may not be familiar to everyone. Then, I asked:
Me: If you could compare the first try to the second try, what would you say?
Student: Well… in the second attempt, I really listened with more awareness. I feel I was in the moment.
Me: I could tell the difference. too. Your body language was different. You were leaning in to me, and your eyes were looking at me. The first time, your eyes looked as if you were worried about something.
Student: Yes, that’s right!! Wow!! I was so worried I couldn’t respond to you and what to say. My heart started racing and I actually shut down and stopped listening to you, so when I had to talk I was absolutely silent.
Me: What do you think about this?
Student: This happens to me at work here all the time. Sometimes whoever I am talking with looks at me and makes me think I don’t know English.. but I have been working in the USA for 20 years. I have earned my degree here. I have American English speaking friends. I hate it when this happens. I feel as if I lose all my progress in English in that moment. (She trails off….)
Me: What do you want to happen?
Student: Well, as in relation to our exercise today, of course the second example.
Me: How did you feel different in the second example?
Student: I actually thought I would not be successful… but I just was patient and stayed in the moment. I was so happy and relieved that I could paraphrase what you said AND continue the conversation. I felt very confident and relaxed. I want to feel like this all the time.
Me: That’s amazing! I am so happy for you and am here to support you. What would be the best way to support you? Or is there anyone else who can support you?
Student: Thank you!! I hope I can continue to do this. I need to stop telling myself I can’t do it. I just did it right now! And, it’s so amazing! I do know I know English. I can have conversations. I am not sure who can support me as I am working here onsite, alone. My family is back home. But, in the office I have to really slow down and be patient with myself. Then, when we meet for classes, we can review the situations I faced. Do you know I have taken classes like this in the past…? I keep taking these classes, but I can’t move forward. But, I know English!!
Me: Yes, your English is really good!! It sounds like you’d also like to work on being in the moment, then only formulating your thoughts when it’s time to speak which could help you feel free to listen. Have I understood you correctly?
Student: Yes!! And, I see there’s a new way to use the summary question – at the end rather than at the beginning like we practiced? Me: Yes, either way works well.
Student: Will native speakers think I am not smart if I use this technique?
Me: Well maybe I can I turn the question around on you? When you aren’t listening, you mentioned you always ask someone to repeat. How do you feel others react to this?
Student: Well….. I think they think I don’t really know English because I am asking to repeat all the time. They may also not want to talk with me thinking I will always ask to repeat. But I am able to actually understand them if I am patient and listen.
Me: You got it! Again, your insight has answered your own question. But, to answer your question from earlier, paraphrasing is a common communication technique in the US. Most good communicators in the US do it in daily conversations, meeting management and even facilitating training programs, as I remember you do this as well. This can help you to actually answer people’s questions when you don’t really know what they are trying to ask.
Student: Wow, I have learned a lot today!! I have a lot to practice until the next time we meet.
Me: I am happy to hear that!
Within weeks of this strategic conversation, asking to repeat became pretty much a thing of the past!
[We wrapped up our session and scheduled our next meeting.]
As a reader of this blog, do you resonate with this story? Do you feel the same way as this permanent resident in the US? Get in touch with us so we can help you succeed linguistically and culturally in the US to feel comfortable and confident in your daily interactions in the office with US Americans. Jennifer Kumar is based in Salt Lake City and can meet you in person if you are in Salt Lake City or Utah or the surrounding areas. If you are in India or elsewhere in the world, we can meet online for virtual coaching session. Contact me at +1 (385) 218-0947 (US number) or over Whatsapp: 91-95-393-47529 (India number). Looking forward to partnering in your success.
Jennifer Kumar is an International Coach Federation Coach (PCC Credential) with a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language Certificate) and a background of more than 10 years working and doing business in Kerala, India as an American expat.
Other case studies:
Why an Indian Manager’s Requests Were Being Met with a Cold Shoulder
Motivation and how it is culturally biased
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