TEFL A comparative look at Teaching Children vs. Adults

Teaching English has become a major industry worldwide, with countless adult and child students enrolled in courses worldwide. Teaching children and teaching adults are different tasks. There are natural differences in the abilities and predispositions of adults and children that makes the methods effective in teaching them different.

One of the advantages of teaching any new language to any child is that they are closer to the state in which they learned their first language. There is debate as to how exactly an initial language is learned, and whether it is more through nature or throw nurture that children are able to undergo this process, but it seems to be universally agreed that children are at an advantage when it comes to learning languages ( There are ESL methods geared specifically towards teaching children, which are based upon a child?s natural readiness to learn, and to try to recreate the conditions under which one would learn a first language. The Helen Doran Early English method for instance, ?is based on the way a child naturally learns her mother tongue - by repeated hearing and positive reinforcement. (

This method could be applied to adults as well, but as they are not as naturally receptive to language, this process may not be as efficient. The Suggestopaedia method tries to break through the disadvantages that adults have by creating an environment in which adult students can be closer to a childlike receptive state ( Adults, however, have their own advantages in learning English. For instance, the most popular method for teaching English at this point in time is the grammar translation method. This method is based more on working with writing than oral work, making it difficult for children still developing literacy, and on sophisticated explanations of grammar, which are often difficult for a developed adult mind to comprehend (

It is also significant that adults already have a naturally stronger disposition towards using language already. Children on the other hand, have a strong disposition towards movement, so it is impossible to expect them to sit in a room and just read and write at the youngest levels, so it naturally makes sense to incorporate movement into the teaching. Having someone move their arm while saying ?arm?, rather than looking at a picture of one, or reading the translation, is an example of kinesthetic learning ( The advantage of this method is not only that it keeps children engaged, but also

Studies in neurophysiology have shown that physical experience creates especially strong neural pathways in the brain. When students participate in tactile/kinesthetic activity, the two hemispheres of the brain are simultaneously engaged. This type of learning experience helps assure that new information will be retained in long-term memory.

( Such being the case, the kinesthetic approach is also a potent tool in teaching adults, but they may find it tiring, and it may encounter difficulties teaching more sophisticated topics.

Naturally a there is no absolute rule to dictate what approach will work best in any given situation. Both children and adults are all individuals, and any given one of the methods given here may either be perfect, or almost useless depending on the individuals involved. Regardless, it is always good to have in mind what differences to expect so that one can be as prepared as possible.

Author: David Ruttinger

Date of post: 2006-10-10