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Comparing Young Learners and Adult Business English Students

Comparing Young Learners and Adult Business English Students | ITTT | TEFL Blog

As an aspiring TEFL teacher, I have to be ready to teach students of all ages. While the language and lesson-planning follow frameworks that stay consistent for all students, the topics I utilize depend on who I am teaching; for example, the ESA lesson plan works for all classrooms, but different students require different engage-phase activities - a game of battleships is better suited for young learners than adults. In this report, I explore the similarities and differences between teaching young and adult learners.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Kevin Y. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.


In general, adults seeking to learn English have specific goals in mind; for example, needing to relocate abroad, or their jobs requiring English proficiency. Such goals are concrete and motivate those involved to do well. In comparison, younger learners lack such directions, as they’re likely learning English because their parents told them to do so; there is less urgency to learning the language which leads to less motivation. This means that the topics and approaches of lessons differ between the younger and older students. However, there are similarities in both classrooms; universal things such as maximizing English exposure, minimizing teacher talking time, providing instructions by example, minimizing the students’ L1 usage, and praising the students’ efforts - these actions are necessary to promote a positive learning environment no matter what type of student is present.

asian teacher and a young student

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Choice of Topics

In general, the topics used when teaching young learners are simple and generalized; colors, animals, and other objects are introduced to teach vocabulary and grammar. In comparison, Topics involved in teaching Business English are specific and context-based; for example, writing a formal letter/email, presenting in a meeting, and speaking on the telephone. These topics are less impactful towards young learners because they are likely not very interested in the topic; combine that with the lack of motivation to learn English, I risk creating a stagnate and negative learning environment. To address this, we utilize more general topics like colors, animals, and sports as younger students are more likely to connect with these topics as hobbies; I can elicit some comments on their favorite color, animal or sports team as part of the lesson. The students may have certain hobbies that relate to the teaching topics which provide additional motivation and interest.

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Teaching Aims

Despite the large variety of topics that can be used in lessons, the modes of teaching and learning remain similar. A good syllabus utilizes all types of modes, be it auditory, visual, kinesthetic, logical, or a combination of the above; different students may have preferences over how a lesson should be taught, hence it is best to incorporate many modes of teaching in a lesson, to match the preferences of as much of the class as possible. For example, the combination of audios and visuals can be used to teach the topic of animals in young learners and meetings in Business English students; I can play videos of animal cartoons in the former case and videos of business meetings in the latter case. Videos incorporate the sense of hearing and sight into the learning experience, matching the language to images and allowing students to hear the language used in realistic scenarios.

a group of university students

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Choice of Materials

Ideally, the videos should be authentic, such as documentaries, but non-authentic videos may be better to teach specific vocabulary; the decision is in the teachers’ hands based on what the class needs. Another example would be to incorporate kinesthetic and auditory learning in the form of presentations and skits; young learners can present their favorite sport while Business Students can roleplay a business negotiation. In this case, the students have to move around while speaking, which enriches the learning experience as opposed to sitting at a desk listening.

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In summary, young learners and Business English students have diverging interests and motivations as they’re at different stages in life; hence the topics in my lessons must match the interests of the students. For young learners, the topics may be related to their hobbies and likes such as animals and sports; for Business English students, the topics are more specific, such as how to write a formal business letter or email. Outside of the topics, I need to provide clear instructions, give plenty of praise, and minimize the usage of the students’ L1 in all classrooms; this is to create an ideal environment to learn English regardless of the age of the students. Within the classroom, I should incorporate as many types of teaching as possible, be it through sounds, visuals or movement. Some students may prefer videos and others may prefer presentations; I should avoid teaching the same way constantly to keep motivation high in the classroom and to match the preferences of the students. The students may have differing needs and motivations, but the fundamental styles and themes in the classroom remain consistent regardless of the student.

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