I first came across people offering English training via Skype years ago. But I was never really convinced and certainly didn’t think it was for me. Experiences I made last year have changed my mind.

My doubts and reservations in the past

First and foremost I believed that I needed to be in the same room in order to pick up on all the nuances of the participant’s emotional state (nervous, frustrated, bored, …) and then react accordingly. I thought that in a virtual setting I wouldn’t be able to notice when the participant was no longer fully engaged and pick up the pace or make the contents more challenging. Or I wouldn’t be able to see that a participant was a little overwhelmed and slow down or reassure.

I was also concerned that it would be much more difficult to build up a relationship with someone if the only contact was online.

And I was worried that the technology would add to the stress of what is for some people already a very stressful situation – at least to begin with.

Then there were the practical aspects. Would the sound quality would be good enough? Would I be able to hear exactly what the participant was saying – Was that ‘s’ really there? Did he just use the present or the past tense? Would participants be able to understand me – or would there be a lot of confusion, misheard words, etc. And, on top of all that, would the internet connection be stable enough?

So with all these reservations and worries it’s not surprising that although I did sometimes offer clients the possibility of having their training session via Skype, I was secretly relieved when they preferred to meet face-to-face.

The reality check

But then I realized that many of my participants face the same or similar challenges on a regular basis. They sometimes have to clarify very tricky points in a video conference. They have to build a relationship to colleagues via video conferences and emails. They have to deal with some dodgy internet connections. And, what’s more, they often have to speak to several people at once – with all the problems of everyone speaking at the same time, interrupting each other, not being able to make themselves heard.

So how difficult could one-to-one lessons via Skype actually be?

I decided it was definitely worth a try.

What can I say? It works!

I don’t have the feeling that the participant is any further away than in the classroom. I’m still able to pick up all the signals.

It’s completely natural to take a few minutes for small talk at the beginning and end of the session – just like in a face-to-face lesson.

The sound quality is fine. Sometimes one of us doesn’t understand what the other said and has to ask. But no more so than when we are sitting in the same room. Yes, the screen does freeze occasionally and we have to backtrack a little, but it’s no big deal.

And it has clear benefits

Shorter sessions become viable. For face-to-face sessions 60 minutes is the minimum for me, because of the travelling time involved for me and/or the client. Yet shorter 45-minute sessions at more regular intervals have big advantages. Participants often focus on just one or two aspects in the training session and then follow up on their own – saving money and avoiding ‘overload’.

Concentration is better. I often experience clients as being more focused when we work online. I don’t know exactly why that is, but provided all other screens are closed and email notifications are switched off, concentration seems to be significantly higher.

It’s very flexible. Because neither of us has to make any travel arrangements, sessions can be arranged at short notice.

Glitches can be dealt with effectively. In one case my client realized 15 minutes into the session that he didn’t have all the information he needed to discuss what he had intended to. It was no big deal to adjourn the session and reschedule for later in the day. That doesn’t always work out, of course, but it’s a lot more likely to in Skype sessions than in face-to-face ones.

 

A few months ago I was asked to coach in English. As I love speaking English, I was so proud to have the opportunity to work in my favourite foreign language. But I was also a little intimidated by this new challenge. I use complex language in German and didn’t know if I would be able to find the right words in English. So I decided to prepare by having frequent English lessons with a native speaker. I knew that I would like to work with Nicola. She’s a native speaker, but also speaks German very well. So she gets exactly what I want to say.

Skype allows me to work with Nicola without having to travel to Münster for a short lesson and I’m really flexible concerning the appointments. I can see Nicola, so it’s very personal. At the same time I can type idiomatic expressions or improvements directly in the documents I’m working with.

As a result of the training, I’ve become more confident in speaking English and lost my fear of making too many mistakes. I feel I can do my job more professionally. Working with Nicola via Skype has increased the fun of coaching in English a lot and I will certainly go on with the training in 2019!

In a sentence: My experience is that training via Skype has maximum results with a minimum of time, costs and effort.

Christiane Jakobus
Managing Partner
WeberJakobus Personalberatung, Düsseldorf

Posted by on Jan 15, 2019 in getting ahead
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Porträt Nicola Bartlett
Nicola Bartlett
I’ve been an English trainer for over 25 years, helping adults to get their message across in English – clearly and appropriately. Successful communication in English requires more than just a good knowledge of the language. An understanding of different mentalities and a feeling for the best approach are vital, too.