Teaching a second language is hard enough. But teaching a second language to adults? Well, that’s a whole different animal! It has been proven that as we age our brain decreases it’s ability to form new neural pathways. For children, learning a language is as easy, exciting, and fun as playing on the playground. Teaching English to adults takes time, patience, and an understanding of applicable methods. Here are some helpful tools:
1) Establishing Respect
Adult ESL students are not just students — they are adults, and should be regarded as such. Each student has a world of personal and professional experiences outside of the classroom. In order to be successful, you must first gain their respect. Begin class by welcoming each student and sharing something about yourself.
2) Personal Connectivity
Build on respect by creating personal connections with individuals. Avoid grouping different levels of students together into mental boxes. Everyone has a unique background and will learn better if they feel connected to you.
3) Slower, Not Dumber
Adults must be introduced slowly to new vocabulary. But they will not enjoy being dumbed down either. Plan ahead to keep new lessons short, repetitive and professional. A complete understanding of smaller pieces attributes to a fuller long-term puzzle.
4) Halfway Home
The language learning process is a difficult journey and adults are more willing to learn from someone willing to join them. Learn a new word from their language every day, practice it the next, and bridge the intimidating process. Plus, it never hurts to add to your own speaking repertoire.
5) Group Advantage
As a teacher, you will be confronted with students of all different learning levels. You will not have immediate success teaching everyone, but you do have a group advantage. A class of students fluent in their own native language can help each other. Advanced ESL students may be able to better explain concepts to those struggling than you are able to. This is an indirect teaching tool to absolutely utilize!
6) Animation for Concentration
Sounds and expressions are universal languages. Add entertainment to get the neurons firing and maintain attention spans. Use sound effects to enunciate words, claps to articulate grammar, and role-playing to engage students in lessons. Adults will learn much faster this way than from staring blankly at a white board.
7) Repetition Means Longer Retention
To teach adults vocabulary, repetition is essential. Their brains are slower to absorb words and concepts, so instead of skipping ahead, keep teaching a concept until everyone has a grasp on it. Be repetitive but not redundant — use the universal senses to teach the same concept in different ways.
8) Adaptable Environments
Adults have professional lives and interruptions will be commonplace. Utilize them instead of letting them negatively affect your classroom. If someone arrives late due to a doctor’s appointment, incorporate basic medical vocabulary into your lesson plan that day.
9) Physical Engagement
The decrease of brain plasticity in adult learners can be offset with physical involvement. Engaging the body in the learning process of the mind is an effective teaching method. Employ movement in your lessons.
10) Homework Hound
Most professional adults have busy lives outside of the classroom. Accomplishing more in class and assigning less homework is key. Instead, encourage students to use English in their everyday environments.