What Adult Learners Want: Know Them To Teach Them Better
Adult learners can be a pleasure to teach because they are usually more self-motivated than other ESL students.
They often choose to study English to help them in their careers or with other personal goals such as obtaining student visas for English speaking countries. These learners may be more eager than primary and secondary school students because they view English as a global language and are aware of what they can gain by improving their communication skills.
Get To Know Your Adult Learners Better
Know What They Want For adult students, you can often plan your lessons based on what your students’ goals are. If students need to learn English for work, you can introduce business related vocabulary and talk about various work situations. Related topics could include travel, numbers and currency, and casual conversation because these are relevant for business people who use English at work. If students are studying English in order to obtain a particular visa, be aware of what test or tests they will be required to take or what skills they need to demonstrate. This information can be found online and students may already know what their weaknesses are based on previous scores. Advanced adult learners may simply want some regular speaking practice so that they can increase their fluency and range of vocabulary. With beginners, the content of your classes will obviously be more similar to those for younger learners but you can still include specific material to better tailor lessons to fit your students’ needs. The goals of your adult students will dramatically affect your curriculum.
Know How They Behave
Adult learners are often eager to improve their speaking skills. Unlike with younger students, discipline is not a major concern. Some learners may try to shift the course of lessons from the material you have prepared to free discussion. This could happen when students are uninterested in the lesson material so develop creative lesson plans (that’s exactly what BusyTeacher.org is here for!) and talk with students at the beginning of the course about free discussion sessions. Perhaps one class a week or the first ten minutes of class can be devoted to this. Once this is established students may be more willing to focus on the lesson material during other periods.
Know What to Focus On
As with any other ESL course, the focus needs to be on communication. While encouraging students to speak may be the most important part of classes with younger learners, adult learners are often really enthusiastic about speaking activities so developing their listening skills becomes more important. Especially at the advanced level, students need to be able to introduce their opinions, give advice, and politely agree or disagree so that regular discussions flow smoothly and students do not come across as being inconsiderate or rude in social situations. This is very different from the basic question-and-answer structure that students start off learning as beginners and requires both good speaking skills and active listening skills. Unlike when students read, listening and responding to people requires rapid comprehension of material after only one repetition. It takes a lot of practice for students to do this so be sure to teach them phrases such as “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that.” or “Can you please repeat the question?” too.
Help Them Build Self-Confidence
Beginning adult learners may feel self conscious about their speaking abilities so it is important to build their self confidence through encouragement and by starting out with simple exercises. They will be much less willing than children to sing silly songs or engage in certain activities so plan exercises that appeal to them. A class full of adults may be reluctant to sing “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” but if you are working with beginning level adult students, you can find an alternative method of practicing the same material. Singing songs and other activities may not seem like studying to your adult students so your approach to these classes will have to be different. Create exercises that have a serious, rather than fun, approach based on topics that students are interested in; the content rather than the format of lessons will keep them engaged.
With adult learners you are able to address a much wider range of topics but ultimately the content of your course will depend a lot on why your students are studying English and what their goals are. Without having to worry about discipline, you will have more class time to devote to important things like learning English.
Tara Arntsen has worked with English Language Learners of all ages for many years and has taught in Japan, Cambodia, and China as well as online. When she is not teaching, she enjoys cooking, traveling around the world, and scuba diving. She is a member of the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Teaching-TESOL at the University of Southern California.
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Sharing the aims of each lesson helps them a lot. I found it useful to organize their learning clearly, doing it myself, at first, and then having them do it. They feel less dependent and more 'in charge' of their learning.
I make sure that the adult learners know before hand what to expect and that they have realistic goals. I also tell them that how much they learn is up to them. Coming to class once or twice a week will not teach you English. You have to invest time and effort into learning. Most adults want to improve their speaking, but I do find that occasional student that wants to improve his/her reading and writing. My lessons with are conducted in a visiting style. As if they have come to visit and we are having a chat. I correct the English once or twice and then tell the student to stop and say it again. We talk about everything, and I have learned so much from my students. I think the name of the game is: If you have fun the student will have fun.
Sometimes adult learnes wants to speak fluently in 3 months when they hardly speak or know the language, so this is quiet a barrer for us as teachers, because we cannot teach them them everything as they want in such a few time. I use a lot of magazines in english, articles, interactive games and videos for listenings. Another useful tool or resource is the internet., this tool is very important since many adults are in their offices or travelling and if they have free time, they can easily surf the internet or do some online exercises I provide.I really love internet, because it is more fun to learn for the students.
I agree that adult learners are not so keen on singing silly songs, but such songs are in fact designed for young learners. I do find though, that many adult learners, and particularly beginners, get a lot out of rhymes, poems and camp-style chants. I think that the format the of the lessons is more important than this article suggests. Even with adults it's important to use games, movement, visual resources and to make sure lessons are kinesthetic. I'm not sure exercises should be as serious as this article suggests!
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