Cecilia Lemos

Motivating our students – Cecilia Lemos

Show Adult Students The Light In The Tunnel

I’ve been focusing my teaching on adult students lately — the ones who don’t have extra time and try to balance English lessons with work, family and life. They’re the ones who start the term motivated to learn and improve their English. But somehow they get lost along the way as they get distracted by all of their many things and responsibilities.

At the beginning of the semester, adult students are pumped up and ready to learn – maybe motivated by a few weeks off, on holidays – who knows? All I know is that it’s hard to keep that motivation going. Why? Possible reasons include: too many things happening at the same time, the slower pace at which adult students generally learn, the sense they get of not moving forward at the speed they would like to be moving – you name it.

From my experience, though, I dare say the biggest problem adult students face is lack of time, followed by a perceived lack of progress.  Adult students usually take longer to realize how far they have come in their language learning because they usually aim big – and fast.  That comes from needing to see results immediately – like being able to do business or accomplish certain tasks after their first semester of studying English. When they can’t do these things, they don’t see their progress. With kids and teens it seems easier, but with adults it becomes more difficult to show them what they’re learning, how much they’ve improved and how much they can do.

Because they aim big and fast, I aim them at the little things.

For instance, with one A1/A2 student who felt no progress had been achieved, I suggested he read texts that were relevant to him. He is a professor at the university, so I suggested he use academic texts related to his research as reading comprehension. It worked! He started including them in his portfolio and was excited about the new terms he had learned from researching. More importantly, he was able to put to immediate use the English he was learning – and build from there. This student told me how thrilled he was to actually understand what was being said in the texts he read. Focus on that!

To help you focus, here are a few ideas I’ve tried with adult students:

• Show them they don’t need to sound native to be understood.

•  Tell them results are proportional to effort. Be honest.

•  Try to find immediate relevance and use for their English.

•Suggest extra-class activities like listening to audio books or podcasts while stuck in traffic

• Encourage them to speak English on their own.

(Ok, that last one sound weird, I know, but as a language learner I do that a lot, talking to myself in different languages – and it helps me. I have long conversations with myself in French and Spanish 😉

If you do these things, if you help adult students find their personal angle and show them what they can do with what they’ve already learned, they will see the light in the end of the tunnel. They will see a reason for attending classes and doing things. The only thing a teacher needs to do is lead the way.  I tell them, “You can do whatever we set our minds and hearts on. You just have to believe you can. I do.”

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Cecilia Lemos

Cecilia Lemos has been an English teacher in her hometown of Recife in Brazil, for 17 years. She is passionate about teaching for its power of transforming people and their future. She’s also an enthusiast about sharing and learning with other teachers around the world, especially through the use of social media. She loves books and languages.

5 thoughts on “Motivating our students – Cecilia Lemos”

  1. Hello,
    Good post. Keep it up, I enjoyed it. By reading it, I understand that you have discussed motivation in broader terms. I think that motivation is one of the most challenging aspects of language teaching and learning because it is affected by many implicit and explicit factors both outside and inside the classroom. Most of these factors are out of the teacher’s control. Language teaching and learning is affected by many social and (probably) political factors. What we teachers can do is to manipulate the factors accessible to us, and that’s the classroom.

  2. I can’t agree with you more. If students find their language learning useful and relevant they’ll be motivated intrinsically; which in the long run is far more effective. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Hi – I laughed when I read “so I suggested he use academic texts related to his research as reading comprehension. It worked! ”

    That’s exactly why it’s so easy teaching English for Special Purposes – we NEVER have to look for an interesting subject. If the TEACHER is interested in the specialist field of their students then the choice is limitless. This does turn the teacher-student relationship upside down, and needs more than average mutual respect to work . But then it’s fantastically motivating for the teacher – and I think that’s the secret; motivated teacher = motivated learners 😉

    In fact we have our beginners plunging straight into research articles – which are so much clearer than the complicated everyday English o fmagazines and newspapers – then, once they have discovered that they can understand, they feel more able move on to the far more difficult everyday language:-)

    I’m sure that an adult who did not find the lessons interesting would quickly vote with their feet. And I’m also sure that doesn’t often happen 😉

    1. That’s quite interesting and seemingly counter-intuitive: starting beginners off with academic texts because they are clearer than everyday English. Ha! I think this must be true of certain disciplines perhaps. Maybe though, I’m tainted by my exposure to both on a learner level of that discipline. I’m quite sure though it’s very motivating for discipline-specific students.

  4. ‘From my experience, though, I dare say the biggest problem adult students face is lack of time, followed by a perceived lack of progress.’

    Yes, I think this is a very realistic appraisal of the nitty-gritty of many of our students’ lives. And I think that your advice is equally realistic – don’t aim for the stars! But at the same time (as a teacher): ‘be honest’.

    Great post!

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