Learning Modes: Young learners vs Adults Teaching english to adults and children

Teaching english to adults and children may be very different in some ways but are they similar in others' When teaching these different age groups, there are many factors to consider before we start to plan and teach. Adults may have previous knowledge of the english language compared to an eight year old. Adult learners may have fixed views on teaching due to past experiences of education.

The teaching of adults and young learners fall into several categories. Adult learners tend to be anyone over the age of 18 years, where as young learners fall into 3 categories; i) Teenagers, ii) 8 ' 12, iii) ages 7 and under. Adult learners usually attend on their own terms or due to the pressures of work. Young learners however have their decisions made for them, they have to attend school or may have extra tuition arranged by their carers. The reasons for attending may have a profound effect their learning. Those who do not wish to learn English or not really that interested may lack the motivation and desire or willingness to learn.

It is important when planning your lessons for young learners to focus on the age group. If teaching a group of teenagers, find out their interests, what they want out of the lessons and how they want to learn. Teenagers can be unmotivated and self conscious unwilling to participate in role-play, songs and experimenting with words, but the lesson still needs to be fun with a comfortable and relaxed environment for learning, to reduce boredom and behaviour problems. This may also be the case for some adult learners. They may be nervous about losing face, anxious about making a mistake and embarassed about participating in role-play or experimenting with new words. These are major factors to consider with adults and teenagers.

Young learners under twelve appear to be more receptive to new sounds and new words because they are still learning their own language and are more amenable to fun and games such as stories, songs and role-play but they have a short attention span. Learning in a fun way by having a colourful classroom and playing games with short and varied activities helps to reduce behaviour problems in the classroom and keeps the children on task. An article by John Hughes suggests that children learn better in a non-educational environment. When teaching English to a boy on a one to one basis, he found the child to be more motivated when out playing football or at a shop (naming 10 items and remembering them) and turning the tasks into a learning game, ('I bet you can't count backwards'). Hughes (2006) suggested that more words were spoken in fun activities than sat at the childs house.

Children respond to the excitement and positive responses offered by teachers for something they have achieved. It builds their confidence and self-esteem, motivating the child for the next task and making them less self-conscious about making mistakes. Adults are very similar. If an adult arrives at the lesson after a bad day or a long day at work, they are less likely to be motivated. The last thing they want to do is sit and listen to a teacher for an hour or do endless worksheets. The thought appears bleak and rather boring. The student is more likely to be thinking about the day they've had rather than listening to the teacher. They want some fun. Fun activities which are challenging, varied and interesting with an happy, energetic teacher will help encourage motivation and students are more likely to attend and learn. Adults also need praise and encourgement to build self-esteem and confidence.

This article suggests that when planning for teaching children and adults, there are many different factors to consider but similarities with learning such as fun, challenging and varied activities help to encourage motivation, self-esteem and confidence for all age groups, which is important for learning. However not all students may want to participate, so the teacher needs to use gentle encouraement and confidence building tasks.


Hughes John (2006) Guardian Weekly.