Published 1st April 2019

adult learners

Whether we want to admit it or not, every English as a Foreign Language teacher has their favourite class – be it kindergarten, teen exam classes, one-to-ones or adults. This is not a bad thing, it’s natural to prefer teaching a certain age, a particular class or a specific level. The thing is, each class comes with their own advantages and disadvantages so even your favourite class will give you some uphill at some point. Teaching adult learners is often a favourite for EFL teachers.

Teachers assume that teaching adults will be easy because, well, they’re adults. They’re capable of reasoning and rational thinking. There won’t be any discipline problems. They already know how to learn a language.

Unfortunately, teaching adults is not always the happy experience you think it will be.

Common scenarios you might encounter while teaching adult learners

They know everything

Of course they don’t, but they like to think they do. After all, they’ve had at least ten years of education so they should know everything, right? Pointing out to your adult students that there is a reason they are in the classroom (i.e. they don’t know everything) is not likely to score you any brownie points.

Instead, you need to allow them to figure out what they don’t know and tell you what they want to know. This way you’re not pointing out their weaknesses to them, but you’re letting them find them for themselves.

They are shy

Remarkably, even adults can be shy in the classroom. Bear in mind that even outgoing personalities may be hesitant to speak out in a foreign language in front of a room full of strangers. They may get embarrassed when they don’t know how to say what they want to say or if they make mistakes.

To encourage your adult learners to speak, the first step is to make sure they know each other. Help your students become familiar with each other and they will feel more comfortable speaking with their classmates. Also, remind them that making mistakes is how they will learn.

They don’t want to use coursebooks

Many adults feel that using a coursebook in the classroom is for younger learners. Many adults have bad memories of being in school and they have a block when it comes to doing language exercises and activities.

One way around this is to only use a coursebook for the bare essentials. Rather use authentic materials. Use newspapers, magazines, podcasts and TED talks to convey language. Use their life experience and knowledge to get them talking.

They don’t have time

Adult learners have lives and responsibilities outside the classroom. They may not be able to prioritise language learning as much as they would like to. As a result, they may be absent from class more than other students, or they may not do their homework.

There is nothing you can in this situation, so there’s no point getting upset about it. Encourage your students to come to class as often as possible but be understanding when they can’t. Give them homework which they will enjoy doing and which fits into their lifestyles.

Teaching adults can be very rewarding. For all their challenges and difficulties, adults are able to contribute a wealth of knowledge to your lessons, which makes them engaging and interesting for both students and teacher.