Adult Education: Why Adults Are Learning English (and How You Can Help Them)

Adult Education
Why Adults Are Learning English (and How You Can Help Them)

Susan Verner
by Susan Verner 36,347 views

Adult English as a second language learners are a unique collection of students.

They do not take English simply to meet an institutional requirement or check something off their transcripts. They study English for their own purposes, to meet their own goals, and for personal reasons which influence what they expect from their teachers. For the most part, adults study ESL for one of three general reasons, and for each reason there are ways you can tailor your classes to help your students have the best ESL experience possible. Therefore, whether the purpose your students study is academic, business or personal, you can design your class to meet their specific needs.

Why Adults Are Learning English &How You Can Help Them

  1. 1

    Preparation for Academic Environments

    The majority of adult ESL students come to the United States in pursuit of higher education. Whether they are planning on simply attending university or plan to move onto more complex academic pursuits, like law school or medical school, students of English for academic purposes have specific needs. They are looking to language as a means to an end. Sometimes schools require them to take ESL classes. Other times, they study the language in hopes of a higher TOEFL score. If your students fall into this population, make sure you design a class that will prepare them for future academic requirements. Test taking will be an important topic to cover in class. You should give them experience with different types of testing and assessment as well as different instructional styles. The more often you bring guest speakers into the classroom, the more it will benefit your students since they will be exposed to many different educators in their futures. As for your relationship with them, keep it personal and encouraging. Help them understand appropriate interaction between a student and teacher in the U.S. Be a mentor to these students as many of them will return to you for encouragement or advice in future semesters. Be realistic when assigning homework, but be serious when you grade. You will not help these students by allowing them to sail through English classes. In fact, you will actually hurt them and may cause them to lose money if they have to retake required courses later in their studies!

  2. 2

    For Use in Business

    Less common than students learning English for academic purposes but still quite common are ESL students who study for business reasons. Whether they work for an international company or are looking to do future business in the U.S., business English students will want real, practical and purposeful English language instruction. While there is always benefit to be gained from traditional teaching methods and materials, business English students will appreciate hands on and practical uses for English. You should use as many authentic materials as your students can handle, and put them in realistic situations to practice language. Rather than staging a debate, for example, ask students to negotiate a contract. Instead of reading a novel, read a simple but fun business book (Who Moved My Cheese for example). Assign a business letter to your writing class rather than an essay. These practical assignments will prepare students for how they will be expected to use their language skills. In your language instruction, do not neglect to teach cultural expectations and appropriate behavior for business settings. You may need to teach your students how to give a good handshake and what is considered appropriate business dress. By using English in real settings with typical expectations, your students will be ready to put their language skills to the test in the real world. Keep your relationship with your students professional, thinking of them as colleagues rather than students. Make sure that everything you do in class has a purpose and a practical application in the real world.

  3. 3

    For Personal Reasons

    Even though most of your students will be studying English for academic or business purposes, there are sure to be a few who are studying for purely personal reasons. For some, overseas English classes will be like a vacation, a way to see the world and learn something in the process. Others may be studying to keep a visa current or to stay in the country legally. They may even already have superior language skills. For these students, a casual class with fun as a main ingredient will be most engaging. Keep homework on the low side and make sure class includes lots of discussion and creative activities. This does not meant that you should fail to take class seriously, but putting too strenuous expectations on this minority group will only frustrate them as well as you. Get out of the classroom whenever you can to take a field trip or learn in real life settings. If you plan social activities, include day trips and short travels that will be fun for your students. Nurture a friendship with your students and have fun together. Some of these students may just turn out to be your lifelong friends!

As you can see, there is a great variety in the reasons adults study English as a second language. Each population has specific goals and desires, and the best teachers will want to teach to their students’ purposes.

For classes where you have all three kinds of students, and that often happens, do your best to meet the specific needs of each student and try not to get frustrated if some students tend to disengage. You can only do so much in one class, but keeping your students’ needs and intentions in mind will help you reach all of them the best way you can.

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