ESL Training Class Or Individual Coaching

Last Updated on March 1, 2020 by Estrella

ESL training class or individual coaching
ESL training class or individual coaching? Photo by Nicole De Khors from Burst.

If your company is thinking about hiring an outside trainer for your ESL employees, there are a couple of ways to go. You can have a group class, or you can have individual coaching, or a combination of the two. Here are factors to help you decide if it’s more effective to go with ESL training class or individual coaching

ESL group class or individual coaching

When is a group class more effective?

Let’s say you have 8 or 10 employees who need be trained on the same material (let’s say assembly documents.) Find out if their listening comprehension is at a similar level. If one person has high listening skills, and another has low listening skills, one of them would get frustrated in the class. The instructor is more likely to satisfy one at the expense of the other. If she caters to the higher level person, the one with the low listening skills would get discouraged and not benefit much from the class. If she caters more to the lower level person, the higher level person would feel he is wasting his time.

An efficient way of dealing with this is finding the few employees at a similar level and train them together. If there’s only one person with high listening skills, individual sessions would be a faster way for him to master the material.

And if there’s only one person with low listening skills, individual sessions would be more effective and efficient in bringing that person up to speed with the content.

This happens frequently in companies that want their ESL electronic assemblers to read documents. Hotels that want their housekeepers to be able to answer guests’ questions. Kitchen staff that need to understand safety procedures.

When is individual coaching more effective?

When you have international employees visiting for a few months or a couple of years, it’s a good idea to offer individual sessions to them. Engineers may be assigned to the U.S. branch to work on a special project. Managers and directors may be here for a short stay. It is easy to assume that to have an international assignment, someone needs to be already fluent in English. But that’s not always the case.

Even if the visiting employee learned English in her country, it is probable that she does not use English on a daily basis.

The challenge that most international visitors face in their temporary assignments is that their American colleagues speak very fast. When you are not accustomed to using a language on a daily basis, it can take time to “decode” the message. Some people translate first in their head before they respond, which takes longer to communicate. In these situations, it helps to have an ESL coach work with them so they have an easier time expressing their ideas in English. Often, having this support helps them feel more confident using English.

Another situation that individual ESL coaching is helpful is for those who need to present in English. In some cultures, making a presentation implies formality. Perhaps it’s an expression of respect to the audience. Sometimes this may take the form of reading their speech, or at least refer to their notes often. If they were to do this, they would lose their American audience.

Gestures, visual aids, making eye contact with the audience are also areas that international presenters may need coaching. For example, one of the directors in a high tech company had to prepare for an important presentation. When she rehearsed it with me, her voice was relatively flat, no gestures, zero interactions with the audience. These are the cultural skills that could inspire or lose her audience.

So, these are my recommendations when hiring an outside ESL trainer to work with your non-native English speakers who want their English to be even better. If the English level is similar (especially listening level) it is okay to have a group class. Otherwise, it is more efficient and effective to have individual sessions.

If you find this article helpful, here is one on Tips for HR managers to better support ESL employees.

Estrella Chan coaches immigrants and international professionals in English fluency, interview skills, and public speaking.    To schedule a session with her, please email

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