How I Stopped Being an English Teacher (So I Can Empower You)

10 Dec 2020

What would it be like?


To have near-perfect English grammar. 

To effortlessly reach into the chasms of your mind to retrieve that impressive word.

To eloquently answer your client’s question without panicking.


It would be a dream come true. I’d finally be taken seriously by my peers, team and clients. I’d stop feeling ashamed about my English. I’d feel liberated.


You visualise this clearly in your mind’s eye and take a screenshot. Armed with it, you seek me out. 


You tell me about your dream, but also about your fear that it may never come true because you’re broken. Your grammar, vocabulary and fluency don’t work. They’re in desperate need of repair. 


“Can you repair me?”


Of course. That’s what I am here for. That’s my job. To iron out those grammar mistakes, to smooth out your vocabulary rough edges, to revive your memory cells. 


That’s what I did for years. To feed you with language nutrients to make you healthy.


I got my coursebooks out searching for specially-chosen materials like ‘language of meetings’ expressions, lists of phrasal verbs, collocation gap-fill exercises, grammar tables and fluency drills. I even created a series of business idioms videos for you to watch and memorise.


We were happy, you and me. At the end of each day, we’d close our books and pat each other on the back – good job!


At the end of your course, I completed my report for your HR department. I wrote things like:

“After completing this course, the student is now able to use the past simple tense correctly. They can start their meeting with the right opening expressions. They’re able to distinguish formal and informal email styles. They’re able to reproduce the acquired vocabulary in the right context.”


Recommended further study: read newspapers/business articles, watch movies, listen to Ted Talks and podcasts. Revise grammar and vocabulary sheets. Perfectly valid suggestions.



A few months later, you returned frustrated. 


You claimed your English hadn’t improved. You kept making the same grammar mistakes. Your vocabulary was worse than before and you still struggled to answer questions. 


You really tried to revise your course notes, read more in English, watch movies but by the time you got home each day, your mental bandwidth was depleted.


You cancelled so many times that you finally decided to stop your English fluency classes. 


“Can you fix me again?” Of course, I can.


By the time we got to round 3, I realised that things weren’t working. The traditional method wasn’t getting the results you needed. Sure, you felt confident after each course, but that feeling soon diminished.

You needed to sustain that feeling of confidence and for that, I needed to rethink my strategy.



A 360 Rethink

Having worked with you I realised that, as someone who worked successfully in an international company and/or worked with international clients, your English was more than good enough. I could hear it when you explained your work to me.


You didn’t need more language. You needed to take the English you had and communicate better.


So, I put the coursebooks and language materials away and instructed you to put aside your English and focus, instead, on how you communicated.

With a pen and journal, I asked you a series of questions and listened to your answers. 


  • What exactly was happening when you communicated in your meetings? I asked for specific examples.
  • Aside from your English, what scared you the most when you communicated in your meetings?  Why?
  • What were you proudest about how you communicated in English? (For example, how you asked questions, how you engaged with your audience, how well you listened.) 
  • What did you think were the gaps? Why?
  • If you reflected long enough, were those moments of miscommunication all down to you, in other words, one-sided?
  • Were those moments language-specific or something else? Not paying attention, not listening, not clarifying, no clear messaging, no structure?



Then taking a specific past meeting, I asked you:


How would more English vocabulary have helped you get your business result?


How would perfect grammar have helped you in that negotiation? Would it have made a difference?


How would knowing business idioms have sealed the deal?



We analysed your answers and explored together what strategies you could adopt in your next meeting/presentation to get the business result you needed without worrying about how you were going to use the present perfect tense when answering the question or how many idiomatic expressions to use.


You stayed focused, relevant and present. You focused on what mattered. Your work. By reflecting on how you were going to get your message across to get what you wanted, you took ownership and responsibility about communicating in the most effective way for YOU. With the English you had.



For me, it was a eureka moment because I realised that my real job was not to ‘fix’ your language (it didn’t need fixing) but to help you discover for yourself how much English you already had and offer you strategies to use it to your advantage.


My job was to give you the confidence to be yourself: a senior business professional comfortable in your skin and with your English.


That’s how and why I stopped being your English teacher.