Teaching adults? Practical insights to be
By María de la Lama Eggerstedt
If you are teaching adults you may probably
find yourself in the situation in which despite all the effort you put into
preparing a lesson, your methodology does not seem to match your students’
expectations.What’s going on? Why is
it that teaching adults may not be that easy after all?
When teaching an adult group of students
the difficulties do not come from an apparently lack of training, but from the
teacher’s unawareness of some practical insights about how adults learn.
To begin with, always bear in mind that adults
love grammar! This doesn’t mean that they do not want to develop their oral
skills. But whether we want it or not, they want “their grammar” since grammar
for this group of students becomes their “security blanket”, something that
they can have a good grasp on when struggling with the development of listening
comprehension skills, speaking, pronunciation or other areas of the language. Somehow
they have the idea that by studying grammatical structures they will control the
language. However, we need to consider that the heavy emphasis that they place
on grammar may be inherited from previous methodologies that used to focus on the
analysis of a language but not on its use.
So, here are some ideas to put into
practice to succeed teaching adults:
1.Always teach grammar communicatively. That is, make your students put
into real practice the new structure and vocabulary they have just learned. With
this group of students never skip a genuine communicative activity.
2.Constantly provide them with good and positive feedback, especially
after a communicative active is done.
3.Teach them how to learn by themselves. They are grown-ups who do things
on their own. Thus, make them think
about which learning strategies work better for them and which ones are not that
effective. Give them lots of learning strategies. Better yet, make them
discover their own.
4.If you really want to make a difference as a teacher, teach
pronunciation. Especially, make your students aware of the phonological
differences between English and Spanish.
5.Develop their self-confidence when speaking English. Unlike children or
teenagers, adults are sensitive to how they may sound when speaking English.
6.In class, make the most effective use of time. Consider that most of
your students come to class with an instrumental motivation and the last thing
they want to do is their waste time on an ineffective lesson.
7.Welcome mistakes! Adults know that by making mistakes they learn. More
importantly, never say anything sarcastic, improper or discouraging. Believe
me, they will never forget it!
8.Make sure that your written tests or exams do not measure just grammar
or vocabulary. Test their ability to interact in different situations. Dialog
completions are good for this.
9.Finally, for adults, learning a foreign language means acquiring
relevant cultural information. Teach English in such a way that your students
are not only learning a language, but also increasing their knowledge of the
world. Who knows? Maybe one day in a social gathering they will say something
like: I know that! I learned it in my English class”.
TEACHING LANGUAGE IN CONTEXT. Omaggio.
DE LA LAMA, MARIA, holds a Master´s Degree in Applied Linguistics and
Bachelor´s Degree in Theoretical Linguistics from the University of California;
MBA Universidad del Pacífico. Current Director at Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad del Pacifico.
What most novice English teachers dream of becoming
skilled at are things such as how to begin the lesson in a diverse motivating manner
every time, how to act when something unexpected occurs, what to do when pupils
do not understand their explanations, along with how to react when they act up
or misbehave, among various other awkward situations. The solution to these
unavoidable circumstances perhaps could be found in a high-quality training
course given by a cream of the crop educational institution.
However, after an uncertain period of time, the
feeling surfaces over again. Once more, they may experience a strong sensation
of shortage of strategies to deal with the new classes and groups of students. Probably
then, they realize they need to improve their methods, techniques and so on.
Hopefully, this constant change of necessity could be
compared with the types of needs in Maslow´s theory (1). According to this,
needs are arranged in a hierarchical order which goes from the most basic
(deficiency needs) to the highest ones (growth needs). The next level of
necessity appears when the previous level has been satisfied.
Then, educators look for new methods to teach, in
accordance to the expertise gained in the number of years they have spent at
work as teachers, plus their studies and knowledge acquired in one way or
another. If he is an apprentice instructor, he will search for the basics; for
example, how to transmit some knowledge (“the child”). If he has more experience,
he will try to improve his teaching methods (“the adolescent”). A few years
later, he will try to support his practice with theory (“the young adult”).
Later, he will easily find ways of applying the theory in different conditions
(“the middle-aged”). Finally, the highest category will be the self-provider of
knowledge who does research and who very likely creates new knowledge for
himself and others (“the mature adult”).
How can we go from covering survival needs to
producing new knowledge?
Picture this scene: You have been given a new computer
with the latest programs. You feel extremely enthusiastic with your brand new
tool precisely because it is innovative. However, the true is that the only
program you know is Word, so you can only use your PC to write letters or draw different
types of documents. Since you do not know how to use other programs, you are
deprived of the possibilities to exploit the potential your computer holds.
Let’s imagine you are looking for formulas to teach
the four skills, for instance. You go to different training courses, seminars,
lectures and so on, but you are still trying to learn a novel touch to use the “Word”
program. Thus, you end up saying: “there´s nothing different; it is always the
same things”. It would be valid to say that one must be creative and curious
and avoid looking for the same program; the same ready-to-use program. Instead,
one must try to exploit the potential of those training courses and eventually
become self-providers of knowledge. It might be time to little by little change
into a “mature adult”.
It would be good to ask ourselves
the following questions:
Do I teach the same way I used to
teach a year ago?
How much of what I am using in my
classes is MY OWN STUFF?
Am I still trying to learn what a
novice teacher (the child) will?
(1) McLeod, S. A. (2016). Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.
M.A. in Cognition,
Learning and Development from PUCP, B.A. in Education with a major in
English Teaching. Ms. Vila is currently Pedagogic Advisor and Member of the
Research Team at Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad del Pacífico and Academic
Director of International Contacts (test training & foreign applications
advisory). She is official Examiner for several University of Cambridge tests,
freelance consultant with Universidad ESAN, experienced speaker on diverse
English teaching issues for prestigious institutions, and senior international
examinations trainer (GMAT, GRE, TOEFL).