The Challenges of Teaching EFL to Older Adults
Teaching English as a foreign language to older adults students comes with its own unique set of challenges. These students are, more often than not, retirees whose professional lives are behind them. Unlike their younger counterparts, they do not need to learn English for educational or professional purposes. So what impels these older adults to attend EFL classes? And what are the advantages and disadvantages of having them as students?
Motivation for attending EFL classes
Personal growth, social interaction, and continued intellectual stimulation are often cited by older adult students as the main reasons they attend EFL classes.
They believe that learning, whether it is a language or skill, should be a lifelong pursuit. Time spent in the classroom isn’t just for learning English: it is also a way for them to meet new people: to forge and foster new relationships: to bridge the gap between, and to learn about, different cultures.
The classroom as a social forum
Many older adult students are socially active. They are also avid travelers. For them, English is a practical tool. It is a universal language that allows them the opportunity to connect with people near and far. The classroom serves dual purposes, as a place of learning and as a social venue, where tea, coffee, cookies, and casual conversation are incorporated into the lessons. Their EFL class can be described as a weekly social gathering that they are always happy to attend. When I took over my current class, I learned from the students that they have been attending EFL classes at the same venue, with the same teacher, for over ten years.
Continued intellectual stimulation
Most, if not all of the older adult students I teach, have what would be considered more than an intermediate grasp of the English Language. They all understand English. They all speak English, some with a greater degree of fluency than others. A few have spent part of their professional lives abroad as expats, where the business language was English. They all started learning English as a foreign language during their formative years. Their continued desire to attend EFL classes is partly fueled by their need for what they interpret as intellectual stimulation.
Advantages and Disadvantages of teaching EFL to speakers of English
Teaching English as a foreign language to adult students who are familiar with the English language and have experience speaking and reading English has its advantages and disadvantages.
Everyone is able to partake in classroom discussions. It is relatively easy to share stories with the class since everyone understands the common language being spoken. Older adult students are always willing and eager to discuss their lives, past and present.
They are not shy about voicing their opinions or asking questions.They are resourceful: They source information that is of interest to them, current events, celebrity gossip, arts and culture, historical events, and bring the articles to class for discussion and reading exercises.They know what they want out of the lessons, and this is where they place their focus.
The students I teach are not interested in grammar, writing, spelling, sentence structure, etc. Their primary focus is on being able to read and communicate in English. They place enormous value on their ability to converse in English, with anyone, on any subject, but the conversation doesn’t have to be spoken in grammatically correct English.
Older adult students can be very inflexible. My periodic attempts to introduce grammar into the lessons are usually met with friendly smiles and the words, “not too much grammar: we don’t want to be confused.”Correcting habits that have been formed over a lifetime presents a challenge for the instructor.
Mispronunciation and improper word usage are very difficult to correct: Students often revert back to the familiar, even after being corrected. The students’ primary focus is on conversation, which creates an upheaval of the traditional TEFL lesson structure.
The instructor has to be flexible; has to think outside the box, and improvise with the lesson plans.
A less experienced instructor might feel more like a participant in the classroom than the person guiding the lesson.Assessing students’ overall progress can be very difficult.
Atypical EFL Students
Older adult students aren’t the typical EFL students one encounter in classrooms across the globe. They can be considered an anomaly. Their reasons for attending EFL classes and the goals they hope to achieve are unique to them. As a result, the typical EFL lesson plan may not work for them.
Instructors will need to create lesson plans specifically designed to suit their needs. These lesson plans may not always follow the traditional EFL structure, but the objective of the lessons should always be pursued. Owing to the varied experiences and interests of the students and their willingness to partake in classroom discussions, the lessons will undoubtedly be challenging and entertaining. And the objective of conversing in English will be met.
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