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.”