Published 21st April 2016

Learning your first language is not a conscious decision.

As a baby, you are exposed to language from all different sources and you are able to acquire language skills in your mother tongue without much effort on your part – you’re too busy learning to walk!

As an adult, on the other hand, learning a language requires a lot of thought, attention and dedication.

If you have ever tried to learn a foreign language after the age of 16, you will know what we are talking about when we say it’s not as easy as it looks.

While it is by no means impossible to learn another language when you are older – and in fact the majority of adult learners are extremely successful – it does mean that the learning process is more difficult and requires more effort.

As a baby the part of your brain which is involved with learning language is the same which is used for motor control, but adults make use of the part of the brain in charge of higher cognitive functioning when dealing with a foreign language.  In other words, as a baby learning language really is a natural process but as an adult it is an intellectual quest which requires conscious thought.

What does this mean for your EFL classrooms of adult learners?

When teaching English as a Foreign Language to adults, remember that it is not a simple process. Bear in mind the factors that make adult learners different from younger learners and remember these important points about how adults learn:

    • Listening is an integral part of the learning process.
    • Adults are able to apply complex grammatical rules to create new language.
    • Allowing time to process new information is important.
    • Motivation and frustration can prove to be obstacles to learning.
    • Previous learning experiences and knowledge can be a help or a hindrance to learning.

On the other hand, there are many benefits to teaching adults.

Adults are able to participate in class and bring their life experiences with them. They have ideas and opinions and are usually not shy to share them. In this way teachers can let their adult students take control of the lessons, to a certain extent, and of their learning. They enjoy having conversations with each other and can handle complex activities in the classroom.

Of course there are benefits and challenges to teaching English as a Foreign Language to any age group. Bear these in mind and it will make your teaching process easier.