Teaching Approaches for Adult and Adolescent EFL Learners One of the starkest contrasts in ESL


One of the starkest contrasts in ESL instruction is the difference between the adult and the adolescent class. Teachers must become versed in the very different motivational factors, learning styles, and pitfalls associated with each group to effectively instruct English.

First, the kids. The most important thing to remember when working with adolescents (and by adolescent let's consider anyone of secondary school age) is that the student would probably rather be doing something else. This is not always the case, but teenagers are assaulted by myriad social, familial, and societal influences. Their attention and priorities vary on a daily basis. Whether in a one-to-one or group class setting, the student(s) is/are probably being required to attend by their parents or school. No one, least of all adolescents, likes being forced to give up hours of their time for something they might only half-want to do. Yet they know if they fail to learn there will be grave academic or familial consequences--usually far more serious than failure in an adult context.

Teachers need to have a firm sense of discipline mixed with abundant encouragement when working with kids. He or she must come to class with a well-planned lesson every time; there is not a lot of room for improvisation as there is with adults. Adolescents may capitalize upon teacher disorganization with unruly or apathetic behavior. With struggling students, a teacher should be ready to slow down and try different tactics. If a tape recording proves to be totally confusing, they should use their own voice. If collocations do not help the student organize the language, try a writing exercise. They should give ample encouragement even for what may seem like minimal progress, and no single type of activity should be used for too long.

Now the adults. One of the immediate advantages over adolescents is that both student and teacher are fully mature human beings who have gone through the same cognitive development process via their formative education. Cultural differences aside, they can both, more or less, think and process information on an equal level. In the scope of power dynamics in the classroom, this means there is far less of a potential power struggle with two adults than with one adult and one adolescent.

But adults do present their own set of challenges. Often they have been out of an educational context for quite some time and will take awhile to get back into the swing of classwork, self-study, and homework. They may seem to lack confidence at first or may come to class exhausted after a long day at work. As with adolescents giving encouragement and staying flexible can help. If an adult is too stressed or distracted for serious grammar then offer a half-class of conversation first. Also, adults often come with a specific menu of the kind of English they want to learn--medical English for hospital workers, for example. Though this may be a perfectly attainable goal, the teacher needs to identify the learner's specific foundational need areas first before jumping into an ESP situation.

With either population, the golden rule it to keep students motivated. Too often as teachers we relax too far into our positions as information messengers. We present the language through whatever format, and the students either absorb it, or they don't. But teachers have an equally important role as motivators and maintainers of students' often mercurial emotional involvement in the language.(http://iteslj.org/ Articles/ Thanasoulas- Motivation.html) Luckily, humans, especially adolescents, are naturally curious. Teachers only need to maintain this curiosity through a combination of well-planned and appropriate lessons in a comfortable environment of respect for learning to thrive.