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Learning Modes: Young Learners vs. Adult Students

Learning Modes: Young Learners vs. Adult Students | ITTT | TEFL Blog

For people who are learning a foreign language, their lives might change a lot. They have the chance to talk to more people, get more information, and their brains get trained. As we all know, it’s much easier for a child to learn a new language than an adult. Why? What are the essential differences between adults and young learners?

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

Understanding their goals

Usually, there is a goal that motivates an adult to learn something new, whereas children are acquiring knowledge from what they are experiencing. In other words, children are learning what is provided. Unconscious learning progress plays an important role in young learners’ learning progress, which means making children experience is more important and useful than teaching them. What I said above is mainly for preschoolers. For pupils or adolescents, systematic and sustainable teaching is more necessary, and that’s why they go to school.

boy and girl

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Experience teaching older groups of students

I've been teaching adults for more than two years, and there comes with a list of challenges. From my experience, people start learning a new language for a hundred different reasons, but they want to stop only because of one obstacle. Don’t have time, forget when they learn, the self-esteem gets hurt, all become the reason people give up learning. A continuous and interesting teaching content, as well as a milestone learning system, will greatly help to maintain adult enthusiasm for learning a language. Many of my students are successful people in their industry, but English ability might be something that they wouldn’t like to be noticed. Not like children who are not afraid of making mistakes, adults sometimes are ashamed to expose their weaknesses.

As teachers, we need to understand students’ feelings and help them properly. Reasonable pairing or grouping has a good effect on releasing adult students' stress and tension. Proper encouragement will also make students more confident. For example, when I conduct a role-play activity, I always demonstrate with a strong student after my instruction. And then, pair one strong student with a weak or shy student to make sure everyone has a chance to speak and the strong student can be a model for the other. So that the weak student knows what to do when they change their roles. Of course, I would be around observing, encouraging and offering help if needed.

Also Read: What It's Like Being a Bilingual Kindergarten Teacher in China

Possible Challenges

Talking with my students, another difficulty which they mentioned a lot is that they always forget what they’ve just learned. Most adult learners have to work and they use their spare time to study. Lack of practice and distraction make it easier for them to forget what they have learned. So I recommend my students to use that new vocabulary or sentence structure purposefully. For instance, you learned the present continuous tense yesterday. And no matter what topic you are going to talk about today, and you must make some sentences using the present continuous tense. That’s not impossible but very useful. And it’s very important to put words into sentences, and put sentences into contexts. Another obvious difference between young learners and adults is that the latter is used to translate everything when they use the language. But the earlier you start to think in English, the faster you get the language.

school kids in class

Also Read: Teacher’s Motivation Strategies

Young students

Does it mean teaching young learners is a piece of cake for anyone? Not! To better understand the challenges of teaching children, I talked with some people who had taught young learners before. To sum up, teaching children requires the consideration of interest, diversity, and practicability.

Children, especially very young learners, can’t focus long. And they are not able to read articles. But pictures, songs, stories, and games are what they are interested in. These are important class materials for young learners. With a story as an example, there is an activity that involves multiple skills for small-sized class. It can start with the teacher so that you can decide the difficulty and complexity of the story according to the level of the students. You can also make some rules, such as vocabulary or grammar that must be used. And then ask students to continue the story one by one. The whole process doesn’t need to belong, but their listening and speaking abilities will be practiced.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s important to let children experience. Then they would learn naturally. Another good idea for young learners is crafting. During the crafting, they would learn the vocabulary of materials and actions with real props which make a deeper impression. And after that, they would get a piece of work made by themselves. The sense of achievement will drive them on and on.

Do you want to teach English abroad? Take a TEFL course!

I haven’t had a chance to teach young learners, but I’d like to try one day with my more than two-year’s adults' teaching experience. Thanks for the training and I look forward to testing and improving the ideas I’ve learned in the course in practice.

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