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Contrasts Between Adult and Young Learner Language Acquisition

Contrasts Between Adult and Young Learner Language Acquisition | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Many variances exist between teaching English as a Foreign Language to Young Learners vs adults. Despite these dissimilarities, the fundamentals will remain the same. Teachers should motivate their students to communicate in the target language, and utilize students’ previous knowledge while maintaining an engaging atmosphere in the classroom.

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

Teaching Practice

The classroom is not the place for superficial work. Any teacher who is gratified with superficial knowledge will not attain a high degree of proficiency. The teacher should carefully study the disposition and character of his students, to adapt his instructional methodology and techniques to satisfy their peculiar needs. “He has a garden to tend, which are plants, differing widely in nature, form, and development.” – Ellen G White

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Level of Motivation

Adults and children have a different motivation for learning. Young Learners approach learning with a high level of curiosity. This can be advantageous to the teacher as Young learners tend to be more willing to participate in the lesson. They are interested in a wide variety of subjects simply because the instruction increases their knowledge and satisfies their curiosity. This curiosity also makes it easier to gain their attention. In contrast, adult learners approach learning with a goal in mind- career advancement, traveling abroad, or passing an exam. Learning is usually not mandatory, which means they will drop classes they perceive as unhelpful in the pursuit of their goals.

In contrast, Young Learners, while curious, have a short attention span. This means they are unlikely to concentrate for long periods. The teacher has to vary the activities ensuring they are engaging, fun and exciting. An engaging lesson will further stimulate their curiosity causing them to enjoy the lesson. The teacher also needs to exercise patience and care to be aware that young learners often need affirmation and affection. It is therefore paramount to pay attention to them and show an appreciation for what they do.

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English Atmosphere

Special care has to be taken to create a rich learning environment. I can vividly recall how I felt when I entered my high school classroom on the first day. I was very much taken aback. The classroom was a far cry from what existed at primary school. The walls were drab and bare and were painted in a very dull color. I wondered then if I would learn anything in such a dull atmosphere. Learning environments for children should be attention-grabbing, stimulating, and appealing. The walls should display pictures, posters, anime, children's artwork, etc. The room could also display small plants and insects. These classes must also have a higher degree of structure than learning environments for adults. Children need to be taught to turn up for a class on time and to interact with their peers appropriately.

A learning environment for adults must be respectful of the time. Adults often attend classes after working a full day or week and expect classes to begin and end on time. They may quite often be tired. As such, they are usually appreciative of a comfortable learning environment that provides opportunities to get up, get a drink or take a break. It may also be necessary to compromise a bit and make the material less challenging.

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Communication Challenges

A language is much more than grammar and vocabulary. It’s an entire gamut of communication, from our clothes, posture, gestures, facial expression, volume, intonation, and many nonverbal cues. To be effective a teacher needs to speak in a clear, attractive manner, enunciating his words perfectly. Young learners and adults alike will become bored and uninterested if the teacher uses a monotone when speaking.

Perhaps the major difference between teaching Young Learners and teaching adults has to do with their overall experience. Young Learners bring enthusiasm, curiosity, and energy. On the contrary, while Young Learners are still learning about the world around them, adults have already had a lifetime of experiences and have their ideas and opinions. They have the advantage of already having been exposed to years of context in universal human interaction. An experienced teacher will encourage adults to share these experiences in the classroom, and discuss how they apply to the subject being studied.

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In conclusion, many variances exist between teaching English as a Foreign Language to Young Learners vs adults. An adept teacher will motivate students to communicate in the target language use by adapting his instructional methodology and techniques to satisfy their peculiar needs.

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