5 Difficulties Teaching Adult Learners
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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. 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 challenges of teaching adult learners
Adult learners 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.
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.
Adult learners 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. 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.
Adult learners 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.
Adult learners have the weight of the world on their shoulders
Adults bring a lot of stress into the classroom from the outside world.
The same issues that are stealing time from them are usually the culprits when it comes to stress. Just like children, when adults are stressed they can act out, lose their patience, or become distracted easily.
Encourage your students to leave the outside world outside. Create an atmosphere in the classroom which is almost a sanctuary for them. Hopefully this way they will look forward to coming to your lessons to take a break from their day-to-day lives.
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.
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