My experience in teaching English to adults
I hope you all had a great beginning of the new academic year. I realized that this year I’m gonna be teaching English to more adults than before. Some of them I know from the previous years and some of them are new. Since I’ve been working with all ages and groups of students that you can possibly imagine in my 5 years of teaching experience I’ve come to some conclusions about teaching adults, as I find it the most interesting for me as a teacher. By adults, I mean people who are more than 20 years old. So when you decide to take over a class with adults and teach English to them you may encounter some problems.
This time I would like to share 3 points that you, ESL teachers, should take into consideration when teaching adults. I called them “the 3 lacks”
Lack of focus
It may seem weird, but I’ve taught the adults who have had some problems on focusing on the topic of the lesson. I think it could be due to the busy lifestyles adults have nowadays. Therefore you need to keep in mind that your adult students come to your classes instead of doing something else, like being with their families, earning money or just relaxing after a long day at work.
If you think about it, you can look at them in a different way and appreciate more the fact that they’ve attended your class. But what to do with lack of focus? Well, it’s quite simple actually. Give your students more time to think, ask them to work with a partner; in other words add variety to your lesson. Sometimes this means improvisation, but it’s worth it.
I used to have a student who came to my classes during her lunch break. Sometimes she was very worried about some issues at work and seemed to be very tired, but she was still coming to my classes and doing her best. I let her know that I appreciated the fact that she had come and tried to make our 50-minutes-classes a time for her to relax during her busy day. I stopped using the course book that I was supposed to use just to give a little bit of lighter touch to the classes and I always made sure that she left the lesson with a big smile on her face and absolutely energized thanks for the job we’d done in the lesson.
Lack of time
You might expect your adult students to be more devoted and more motivated to attend, participate and do their part of work at home than teenagers. The problem of today’s rhythm of the life is being busy all day with work, family life etc. this leads to a significant lack of time.
The majority of adult students know that the homework is important and that going regularly through the subjects covered in their notebooks is crucial. They know that so the last thing they want is to be told off by their teacher for not doing their homework. In order to avoid this sort of things, firstly, on the very first lesson I ask my adults if they want the homework to be given, if yes – how often?, if no – nevermind. Even if they say yes, it doesn’t really mean that they will do it.
What I do is give them some sort of choice; it’s something I spoke about in my previous blog on having a good lesson (http://madridlanguages.com/good-lesson.html). I tell them to do the exercise or activity at home OR if they like, we’ll do it next time in class. The trick is that they’re gonna do it either way. But if you put it this way it doesn’t seem to be an obligation of any sort and adults don’t like to be obliged, at least not in English class. They’ve got plenty of obligations and responsibilities in life already.
Lack of participation
I’ve discovered that many adults tend to be more shy and self-conscious than some of adolescent students. It is clear that you cannot deal with this problem the same way in both cases because the reasons may be different. I’ve realized that there are basically two causes of self-consciousness;
• students aren’t confident with their English and/or have had a bad past experience in using the foreign language.
• self-consciousness is a part of their personality
I can tell you for sure that to change the first case can be done by us in no time, if we make an effort and do the right thing, however, the second one is more complicated and should be done by professionals in psychology, because it has nothing to do with the ability to use English. All you need to do is try to distinguish between them.
Means of encouragement
These are three very useful tools I’ve used with my students:
• establishing trusting relationship between you as a teacher and your students. Even using their native language so that they know that in case of emergency they can explain themselves in the language they know the best;
• giving a chance to speak in the target language as much as your lesson allows to and let you students notice that they are being understood;
• emphasize the correct, ignore the wrong. In other words don’t correct your students at this point.
Another very important thing is that you need to know exactly what and why they need English, a little of their background (to fit the topics to their interests) and ask them to set a goal or a set of objectives before you start. This will help you and them to keep the track of their own progress.
Good luck and enjoy your teaching!