Teaching adult private ESL students

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As every ESL teacher knows, teaching mature students (adults) is different to teaching minors. Here are a few tips to help you, the trainee or novice ESL teacher, with teaching adult private ESL students.

Before you actually start teaching, have a friendly chat in English with your student: try to discover the student’s strengths and weaknesses; this will help you develop a teaching strategy. In developing your teaching strategy, you will have to take the student’s profession into account as well as their CEFR level of English. When you are teaching adults you should bear the following five points in mind:

  1. Unlike minors, adults need to know why something has to be learnt before they fully commit themselves to learn it. For example, it is pointless teaching vocabulary that may have little or no practical value for the student: unless, of course, you are preparing students for an ESL exam. Always bear in mind that adult students will resist work that is not relevant to their ESL requirements and goals: they will be more motivated if ESL lessons are relevant to their lives and work. Indeed, many mature ESL students will probably require English for Specific Purposes (ESP) private lessons.
  2. You won’t usually have to chase after them for homework or assignments because adults are more motivated to learn than minors: no one has forced them to do ESL private lessons. Additionally, adult students prepare for their work a lot better than minors do.
  3. Adults become resentful if their self-image and their life experiences are not valued. It is absolutely crucial that you show respect for the way in which adult students view themselves, and their experiences. By not valuing the student’s self-image and experiences, you are effectively ignoring the individual: this will produce a negative attitude in the lesson which will eventually become an obstacle for both you and the student; this is particularly true in the case of poorly educated students: their self-dignity is usually based on their life experiences. Be a good listener, and show interest when they talk about themselves.
  4. Adults should be treated as equals: do not act as a classroom teacher; you should be friendly and encouraging. You should also avoid acting as the student’s intellectual superior; after all, your student could be a doctor or scientist.
  5. Adults are very sensitive when it comes to anything that can embarrass them intellectually; they will often justify their academic weaknesses with excuses such as ‘I’m too tired’; ‘I’m out of practice; ‘I’m too old to learn’, and so forth. You should be patient and encouraging in such situations. Whatever you do – don’t make an adult feel academically inadequate.

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