Interview-Laura Race

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Meeting Laura Race – Founder of Espace Lingua

Founder of the training center and professional coaching firm Espace Lingua in Rennes, Laura Race is a young entrepreneur of British origin, qualified as a professional coach and Business English trainer.

During an interview in English by Sandrine Lalande, she looks back on her youth in England, her experience as a business leader, Espace Lingua and Espace Coaching and her projects, thus allowing us to get to know her more.

Hello Laura, can you tell us a bit about yourself, where you grew up?

I was born in Durham, a small city in the North East of England with a world famous university and a beautiful cathedral. I’ve been living in Rennes since 2014 with my fiancé and cat Framboise in the centre of town. When I’m not working, I love travelling, listening to music and spending time with friends and family.  

Durham Cathedral

Could tell us about the reason(s) you came to France?

I grew up in Durham and then went to university in Durham, meaning a total of 21 years in a very small city. After graduating from Durham University with a Bachelors’ degree in Classical Music, I was ready for a big life change. I’d always loved France and had done a summer internship in Laval at a travel agency, and so began my search for Masters’ degrees across the Channel. Knowing I didn’t want to pursue a career in Music, I started considering the world of business and more specifically, Human Resources; this field is very people oriented which appealed hugely. Eventually, I found Rennes School of Business and was attracted to their programmes as they were delivered in English (at this point my French was terrible) and I made the arrangements to move over to Brittany! That was the beginning of my life in France; I never thought I’d still be here 4 years later and engaged to a French man!

What are your connections to Great Britain today, professionally speaking?

It’s a very exciting time for Espace Lingua as we have just added ‘Espace Coaching’, a new division to the company, which is our professional coaching service. We are beginning to work remotely with professionals and companies in the UK, predominantly in the North East of England but also in London, and are helping them achieve their business objectives. Our bespoke, solutions-focused coaching programmes are available in French and in English, and are designed for: Small Businesses; Female Entrepreneurs; and International Companies/ Expatriates. We also do career coaching for those looking to effect positive change in their professional lives. 

Have you had a culture shock living in our country?

An interesting question… although the UK and France geographically are extremely close, there are, of course, many cultural differences. Aside from the language, which although beautiful is rather tricky to learn, I was most surprised by the fact that everything is closed on Sundays! In England, I used to go shopping almost every Sunday into Newcastle; here in Rennes, even doing food shopping is impossible after 1pm and clothes shopping is out of the question. That is something I really miss about the U.K.! Something else I’ve found very different is that in general things take longer in France than they do in Britain… Bureaucracy is definitely more embedded into the French culture and rounds of negotiations can last literally months for certain businesses. 

How was Espace Lingua born?

I never in a million years thought that I would start my own company! After I graduated from Rennes School of Business, I applied to a lot of HR roles advertised by companies here in Rennes. Sadly, I didn’t receive answers from any of these firms and, following weeks of trying, I decided to consider different possibilities. I knew I loved teaching as I’d been doing some for extra money during my studies, so contacted local language schools and picked up work. I loved the feeling I got from training and teaching; I was helping others achieve their objectives, hearing about their life experiences and discussing their future plans. This was, and still is, what I love most about my job

I decided to start Espace Lingua because although the work at the other language schools was interesting, there simply wasn’t enough of it. This lead me to thinking about the possibility of starting my own venture; naturally, the idea was scary as I was young, in a different country and had no idea where to start. With encouragement from family and friends however, in August 2016, Espace Lingua was born and the adventure began!

You were only 23 years old when you set up your training centre. Weren’t you overwhelmed by the idea of being a company director at such a young age?

Absolutely! As I explained before, the thought of starting and running a company in France and in French seemed impossible. It took a lot of perseverance and commitment to get to grips with things like the CPF Framework and how it worked, becoming Datadock certified and writing contracts. I learnt if you want something bad enough, literally anything in the world is possible; it’s not always easy and there will be bumps in the road, but with hard work and self-belief you can get there. There is no ‘right’ age to start a company or to be an entrepreneur: if you have a vision and you are bringing value to others, don’t wait. 

Which services do you offer to companies?

We offer 3 services to companies, entrepreneurs and professionals in France and in the UK:

1. Professional Coaching Programmes 

2. Business English Training 

3. Cross Cultural Workshops & International Communication Consulting

What value can coaching bring to companies?

A great question. Coaching is a relatively new discipline, originating from the United States and that has exploded in popularity across the world as people have understood its value. Top CEOs and entrepreneurs are advocating the benefits of having a coach, including Eric Schmidt who  famously declared that ‘everybody needs a coach’. The benefits of coaching for businesses and professionals are tenfold:

  1. Increased turnover and better results 
  2. Stronger leadership
  3. Increased staff motivation
  4. Improved productivity 
  5. Better relationships and more effective communication
  6. Reduced stress levels and better job satisfaction 
  7. Better work/life balance
  8. Improved efficiency: time, money and effort saved
  9. Increased self-confidence and belief
  10. Sense of certainty and confidence about the future

Espace Coaching, a division of Espace Lingua, specialises in coaching small businesses, female entrepreneurs, international companies and expatriates. We also do career coaching. I chose these areas of focus as I have personal experience in each of them; I understand the challenges of being a small business owner in a foreign country, and how important it is to find a job you love. Our coaching programmes can be delivered in-house or remotely, to individuals or in small groups. Moreover, our coaching services are tailored to the needs of each client and are organised over a duration to suit business objectives. 

Our coaching services, available in French and English, are offered face to face in Rennes (Brittany), Nantes (Loire-Atlantique) and Paris (Ile-de-France) and remotely to those living anywhere in France and the UK.

Usually, we recommend a coaching period of 6 months as this is the optimal time to see clear progress and achieve lasting results. All of our coaching sessions can be recorded to enable clients to re-listen whenever and wherever they want to each conversation; we also send notes and key ideas following sessions. The coach and client work in partnership, communicating  regularly to find solutions and to make positive changes. I’d recommend booking a free taster session with us to really see what coaching is all about and what it can do for you and your company. 

You have developed remote coaching sessions as well as E-Learning options to allow clients who are not in Rennes to benefit from your expertise. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

Our worlds are becoming more and more digital and so it’s important that training and coaching centres adapt their offers for these new trends. Both our Coaching programmes and Business English programmes can be delivered remotely to those living anywhere in France and the UK. The advantages of that are you can connect at any time and from any place in the world: at home, work or whilst travelling.  

The E-Learning platform we use for our Business English courses is English Attack. It’s a fantastic resource that uses vocabulary games, film & tv extracts to learn English in a fun and interactive way; exercises are adapted to clients’ levels and progress can be followed through regular evaluations. E-Learning can be supplemented with Business English lessons by Skype or by telephone with one of our qualified teachers. Indeed, clients also have the opportunity to create their own Blended Learning package: a mix of face to face, Skype/telephone and access to the E-Learning platform. Similarly, for our coaching service, clients also have the choice to do a mix of face to face and remote sessions, depending on their geographical location. 

Could you introduce your team of trainers?

Sandrine Lalande:  ‘I live in the South East of France, between Marseilles and Aix-en-Provence. I have been a trainer since 2001. Unlike Laura or Marina, I am French. In high school, I majored in French literature and foreign languages. After graduating I went to America to live for a year. I was an Au Pair and had English lessons. When I came back to France, I studied Tourism in Marseille and then English at the University of Provence. 

I mainly teach English but also French on some occasions. I love my job as trainer because each training is an adventure with the challenge to bring people to progress but also the enjoyment of learning.

Laura contacted me in 2017 for a contract as an English trainer in Vitrolles. We have been working together ever since. It is a pleasure for me to collaborate with her, as she is dynamic, proactive, available and attentive. I am very impressed with her maturity and her human qualities’. 

Marina Dawson: ‘My name is Marina Dawson, I’m an experienced and qualified freelance language coach (English / Italian / German) and I have worked with many language schools and training providers internationally for quite a while. I have been collaborating with Espace Lingua for several years since I moved from Australia to France. I appreciate the organisation, regular communication and exchange between all parties and the care Laura takes of both, trainees and trainer. 

The trainees come from different industries (hospitality, banking, etc) and have different needs, which makes it interesting, challenging and stimulating. It is great to work with Espace Lingua!’

I also have a pool of qualified trainers and coaches at the ready should the need arise in the future, many of whom are based in Paris. 

As an Anglophone, you certainly have a perception and an approach that are different from French teachers. In your opinion, what are the biggest difficulties for French people learning English?

The main difficulty that people have is definitely the fear of making a mistake. Of course, I did not go to school in France so I’m not speaking from first-hand experience, but many of my clients have told me that during their English lessons at school/university there was a heavy focus on grammar and theory as opposed to communication. People remember feeling anxious and stressed during sessions in case an answer was wrong which would often mean a public reproach from a teacher. At Espace Lingua, our method could not be more different. Our focus is 100% on speaking and listening, the two most important skills required to be able to communicate effectively; we use video extracts, role plays and real life simulations to improve in these areas. It’s essential to remember that the person you meet on holiday is not going to care if you use the past simple instead of the present perfect during a conversation; what’s most important is interacting, sharing and learning from each other. 

What do you suggest to remedy these difficulties? Have you got tips for us to improve our English?

Travel as much as you can and whenever you get the opportunity. This doesn’t just have to be to Anglophone countries; taking a trip, however long or short, to any part of the world will likely require you to speak English. Being in uncomfortable situations and having no choice but to just dive in and practice your language will remedy any anxiety you once had about English. I understand that travelling isn’t an option for everyone of course, but don’t worry, here are some other ideas you can explore: 

  1. Watch your favourite films & TV series in their original version! I also advise having the subtitles on in English throughout. 
  2. Read magazines, books and blogs in English and start making a list of the new words you come across.
  3. Commit to learning a new word every day. It’s helpful if this word is an object you see everyday, as it will be easier to remember. Test yourself often so you don’t forget! 

What does 2019 hold for you?

I am incredibly excited about what this year will bring. It is such a privilege to continue working with clients who have collaborated with Espace Lingua since the beginning, and I’m also looking forward to bringing value to new clients during 2019. My objectives are to continue providing quality services, to help businesses achieve their goals, to continue learning and improving and to be happy while I do it all! 

The future looks bright for Laura. Her story confirms Pierre Corneille’s quotation « la valeur n’attend point le nombre des années » from his work Le Cid: there is no ‘right’ age for an entrepreneur.  

If you have taken a Business English programme or benefited from coaching sessions with Espace Lingua / Espace Coaching, please don’t hesitate to leave a google review and talk about your experiences with family, friends and colleagues. 

To organise a free coaching taster session or to have more information about Business English training programmes, please contact the centre by phone or by email hello@espacelingua.com.

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