Every English learner has unique needs. So, how do you teach English to adult students? What are the challenges? Learn from this post!
As an English language teacher, whether to local or international students, you know that one approach does not fit all. There are plenty of factors to consider. One of these is age. Teaching adult students is different to teaching children and teens. According to several studies, how people learn and acquire a language changes with age. So, what is the best way to teach a language to adults?
Read on and find out the best teaching approaches you can use for your adult students.
How Do You Teach English to Adult Students the Best Way?
Teaching adults tends to present a different set of challenges than when you have younger students. However, this doesn’t mean that it is any easier or harder, especially if you know the factors to consider beforehand. The more you know about your students learning needs, the more you will find it easy to provide them with greater attention and guidance. Ultimately, you can build a more mature connection with adults learners than with younger learners. So, here are the top challenges that you should know and tips on how to deal with them.
The decline in brain plasticity due to age
Brain plasticity refers to the ability to form new neural pathways. Unfortunately, this ability seems to decline as we age. This condition is usually associated with a weakening memory or memory loss. And when it comes to learning new things, the healthier the brain is, the more easily we can retain new information or acquire new skills. But getting older doesn’t mean you can’t learn a language, it just means the methods and skills needed are different.
In fact, as an English teacher to a class comprised of adult students, you actually help your students keep their brains healthy and active. Research shows that learning a new language has many incredible benefits. In learning a language, students nourish their brain neurons by participating in physical and mental activities.
So, how do you help adult students deal with problems with memory or adapting to new ideas? Use a variety of materials and activities. Mix the four skills of reading, writing, listening, and speaking, with skills like problem-solving and critical thinking.
And don’t forget to incorporate the element of fun! Adult students too need to be stimulated and engaged in class. Practising their English skills through role-plays and dialogues, critical discussions, and participating in games and quizzes are all vital to maintaining a level of engagement. Encourage your students to hold natural conversations and volunteer their own ideas for entertaining topics. Just because most adults may seem to prefer to sit quietly compared to young learners doesn’t mean you can’t get them talking and having fun with each other.
The struggle to establish mutual respect
When you have a class that’s full of adult students, all of them have likely acquired a set of talents and skills already. This may mean that they have a higher “affective filter.” This simply means they may be more anxious of making mistakes, or more uncomfortable speaking a new language in front of others. Demonstrating ignorance is difficult for anybody, and can be truly challenging for adults.
Language teaching today is usually student-centered, though not always. Even if you run a teacher-centered class, and consider yourself the main figure in the room, do not forget that most adults tend to get irritated if they sense they are being patronized or criticized. Be especially careful when asking about their skills, and drawing attention to the skills they lack. As an English teacher, you need to ensure that you treat your students as your respected peers. Make sure to avoid anything that could be perceived as mocking or arrogant – work with your students, not for or against them.
Furthermore, when you discuss English topics, do not assume knowledge or ignorance in general. Just as you would do for a class of young learners, you have to find out the differences between your students. Different students will have different backgrounds, and be knowledgeable in surprising areas. Conversely, what you consider “common sense” may not be so for your students. It’s vital to find the right approach for each group. Just like in business you can use the advice, “know your audience.”
Dealing with reluctant adult learners
As they say, maturity doesn’t always come with age. You will likely find one or two reluctant learners in a class, or under-motivated students. It could be that they need to learn English to get a certification for a job, or they are required to at least pass some examinations before they can move abroad. It may not be their choice to attend. Conversely, they may have started learning under the assumption that they would be able to study quickly and efficiently. Learning any language, however, is a journey that takes a lot of time. At points, the challenges and difficulties can seem insurmountable.
As mentioned before, your students will also have skills in one area but lack them in another, and they can find it hard to admit that they need some form of help. Even worse, they may feel they aren’t getting anything worthwhile out of studying with you, and rather than discuss this they may simply quit.
If you happen to have under-motivated students in your class, try to find out about their specific interests and, crucially, their goals. If they don’t have clear goals, help them make some.
Be creative and incorporate student interests into your lesson plans. One of the most-used techniques in the “show and tell” activity. Generally, adults love to talk about themselves, their accomplishments, and the things they love to do.
If your reluctant students are not comfortable sharing their interests with the rest of the class, you can make time at the end of each learning session and try to engage in an informal conversation. Try this technique a few times, and you will help them build their confidence in speaking about the things they care about even inside the classroom.
The challenge in learning pronunciation
Young learners, particularly children around seven to eight years old, are known to pick up language skills such as phonics and pronunciation with relative ease. Most of them, given the right attention and lessons, can even pick up a “native” English speaker’s accent. The problem is, this exceptional talent isn’t always possible for an adult learner. They have already acquired dominance and extreme familiarity with their mother tongue’s intonations, rhythms, and stresses. Research has shown that the physical ability to hear sounds that are not part of your first language disappears with age. It is a challenge to break the routine and gain complete fluency in English. Often, your adult students will find it hard to identify the English language’s distinctive sounds, and they may become fixated on their pronunciation.
For English teachers, pronunciation should be one of the core skills. However, remember that communication is the key. Reassure speakers who are struggling to produce certain sounds that there are hundreds, even thousands, of different Englishes and English accents worldwide, and there is no “correct” pronunciation. Instead, adult learners must ask themselves “can I be understood clearly?” This is the goal to keep in mind.
But there are things to keep in mind as a teacher. If you are well-versed with the phonology of your student’s native languages, you will find it easier to assist them. Learn their language! Also, remind them that mistakes and inaccuracies in pronouncing English is not embarrassing. Make sure you don’t neglect pronunciation skills though – build it into every lesson. There are plenty of simple activities you can use. Build a positive attitude and use engaging tools and resources designed to enhance their pronunciation skills.
Dealing with expectations
When it comes to learning a new skill, many of us believe that the older you are, the easier you will learn. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, especially when it comes to learning English. Most adults tend to set high expectations and then lose enthusiasm when they fail to meet their own standards. Other times, your students won’t take your feedback as seriously as they should simply because they treat you more as a peer than an educator. While it is a must to establish mutual respect, you must also let them know your place in the classroom. You are there to advise and guide them towards better language use. Furthermore, you are there to hold them accountable for their performance and improvement.
Impressive or not, the performances of your students should be evaluated. You are responsible for assessing their success or failure as English students regardless of age and accomplishment. However, use the right approach at all times. You can use surveys or have an informal chat with them about their progress. You can easily form casual questions that can help you determine their current level in English learning. Regular testing, and keeping records of previous tests, goals, and targets, is vital.
The struggle to commit enough time for learning
Let’s face it. When you teach a class of adult students, you’d likely to experience students with regular absences for family or work-related excuses. Adults are primarily committed to their families and jobs, as well as social engagement. It seems that 24 hours a day isn’t enough for some. However, as a teacher, you must guide your students to determine their priorities. You should help them stick to their schedule and help them become punctual. Sit down and speak to adult students who take regular absences as soon as possible.
If they can only give 2 hours of their time in a day for English lessons, make it count as much as possible. However, do not forget to remind them that if they want to acquire the skills faster and better, they have to dedicate enough time and be creative and, of course, resourceful. For instance, if a student fails to attend a class, you can send homework online. This tactic will help them remember their commitment to their responsibilities and goals.
Manage Your English Class with Ease!
For most English teachers, teaching English is an enjoyable and gratifying experience. However, do not forget that there are always challenges along the way that can test your ability, skills, and patience. Hopefully, this post has answered your question: how do you teach English to adult students? Try to implement the above tips and tricks, and you will surely become more effective than you’ve ever been!
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