Is there an inherently simpler age group to teach English? The straightforward answer is no. Anyone who has navigated through varying classroom environments understands the stark differences between teaching adults and young learners. Each age group has their unique motives for being in the classroom, the levels of motivation and discipline fluctuate considerably, and even the learning styles can greatly differ. These disparities demand a teaching style that is specifically tailored to each group's needs. Let's delve into some of these key differences.
Table of Contents
Also read: What are the best books for teaching ESL?
When engaging with young learners, it is essential to keep them intrigued and motivated, regardless of the day's lesson focus. It is a common occurrence for school children to attend English lessons outside their regular school hours, which may leave them exhausted and lacking enthusiasm. Moreover, many young learners might not be particularly eager to be in your class since they didn't choose to attend in the first place.
Adult students, on the other hand, are typically present in your class of their own free will and are often eager to improve their language skills quickly. Even though these adult learners have self-motivation, you still have to execute your classroom management skills to moderate discussions, ensure all class members get their speaking turns, and ascertain that every instruction is fully understood. However, in most instances, managing and motivating a class of adult English students tends to be less exhausting than dealing with young learners.
For young learners, the core lesson content is generally simpler compared to adults. The focus might revolve around basic concepts such as daily routines or favorite animals. As students age, the content naturally evolves to encapsulate more intricate concepts, but overall, lesson content for young learners tends to be less complex than for adults.
For adult learners, you must ensure the lesson content is diverse and relevant to the individuals in your class. Be prepared to teach complex concepts that may challenge your students and be ready to tackle questions that may stump even native speakers. It is important that you understand your adult students individually to customize the lesson content to their specific needs. For example, an adult studying English for an architecture degree in the USA will certainly require different content than someone interested in conversational English only.
An English class targeting young learners often centers around games and activities, particularly for younger age groups. A well-selected game or activity can retain everyone's engagement, allow an opportunity to expend some energy, and provide a platform for the students to practice their learnt skills in an unrestricted and fun manner.
Conversely, adult learners might be less energetic and less enthusiastic about engaging in physical games. Nonetheless, games should not be entirely omitted from adult lessons as students of all ages tend to learn better when the lesson is enjoyable, creative, and engaging. The choice of activity is crucial when dealing with adults. Conversation-based activities, card games, crossword puzzles, etc., are common picks for many teachers as they enable adult students to practice their learned skills.
Generally, young learners are not overly concerned about the outcomes of each lesson, provided they enjoy being in class. The teacher is responsible for ensuring they receive quality instruction essential for their English skills progress. While some parents might have high expectations from your lessons, young learners are unlikely to complain as long as they have fun.
For adult learners, the dynamics change as many of them attend your lessons with tangible reasons for wanting quick progress. This becomes an even more significant concern if they are paying for the lessons themselves. Teachers of adult learners need to be prepared to answer challenging questions about grammar or vocabulary. Some students will not hesitate to voice their dissatisfaction with any aspect of your teaching style or lesson content. The best advice is to accept the criticism and strive to meet each individual's needs in the class.
Getting children to speak up and practice English is usually not a problem since they are less afraid of making mistakes compared to adults. However, this means you will have to spend more time correcting poor grammar or pronunciation, but achieving actual communication in English is typically not challenging.
With adult learners, the scenario is often different as they might have spent years in schools emphasizing the importance of correct answers and avoidance of mistakes. This can be particularly true in some cultures. However, irrespective of where you teach, you will likely find that adults and older young learners are less willing to speak in class for fear of embarrassment from mistakes. In these situations, it is the teacher's responsibility to create a comfortable environment where students can practice new language skills without worry.
Establishing the teacher's authority and the students' need to follow instructions is usually straightforward when teaching children. Although some might test your boundaries occasionally, most will accept the necessary teacher-student separation.
When teaching adults, many of your students might be around your age or even older. The positive side of this is that you can build genuine relationships with them and understand them as individuals, which can assist in lesson planning. However, teaching a class full of older business professionals can be intimidating. Also, some teachers may treat the class more like friends than students, which can negatively impact the productivity and success of your lessons.
Also read: What are specialized TEFL courses?