Teaching EFL to children vs adults: what are the differences?

Teaching EFL to children vs adults

Let’s say you are a recently certified TEFL teacher. After completing your TEFL course, you feel motivated and ready to take on the world. The teaching profession entails a lot of responsibilities that have far reaching effects on our society. EFL teachers need to be perfectly bilingual in the language they are teaching, and they need to have all the necessary tools to deliver successful lessons in multilingual and multicultural environments. As in all professions, an EFL teacher needs to be prepared and have the correct qualifications. Courses such as the EBC Trinity College CertTESOL prepares you to be professional teachers with a competitive advantage in the job market.

When you already hold your certificate in your hand, you are surely wishing to meet your new students and, at the same time, wondering if they will like you and if they will find your classes productive and interesting. There will be other questions crossing your mind such as: will I be teaching kids or adults? Which target audience do I like teaching the most? What are the differences between them?

There are many differences in teaching English to children and adults. Keep reading and discover some!

Children and adults learn differently

1. Children and adults learn differently

Whereas young students are adult-dependent learners, adults are self-directed learners. That means that children usually sign up for English classes due to the decision made by their parents, normally regarding professional and academic concerns. Since children do not have a clear sense of direction when learning English, the younger they are the more they will be just accepting the incoming information.

On the other hand, adults attend English classes with a clear purpose in mind. Whether for professional, academic or personal reasons, they know what they are looking for and, therefore, they will be asking more questions and they will be more likely to challenge new information.

This has clear effects on motivation levels: you will find yourself struggling to make children feel interested in your activities, whereas with adults it will be much easier.

2. The attention span

This is something very important to bear in mind when teaching English. The attention span of children and adults is very different. While the smaller kids are not able to focus on the same task more than some minutes, the older they are, the longer they will be able to focus. Do not stress out if you feel that the children are getting bored or not paying enough attention, it’s part of human nature.

You will have to adapt your lessons and propose shorter, interesting tasks to keep them interested. What’s important is not to be doing the same task all the time and change the rhythm of the class.

The attention span

3. The importance of playing

Play represents a major pillar in children learning. Children learn everything about their environment and relate to the world and others through play. As it was published in a clinical report in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, play is essential to the cognitive, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Children NEED to play, so you must introduce fun and playful activities in your classroom. It’s also important that you change the rhythm of the activities, as well as changing frequently the exercises you shall also change the rhythm, by alternating active activities with relaxed ones.

The fact that play is such an important factor in children’s development doesn’t mean that adults can’t play. In fact, they should and it’s just that they play differently. Use age-appropriate activities and you need to engage them in interesting activities personally relevant to their lives!

4. Beware of over-correcting

As we explained earlier, adults and children learn differently. Whereas adults are consciously studying new vocabulary and grammatical structures, young children learn English the same way they learned their mother tongue: by experiencing and interacting. Keep your corrections natural and if they make a mistake try not to give them a long lecture on the correct form. You could just repeat the correct sentence. For instance, if your student says: “She go to school” you could reply: “Yes, she goes to school”.

Adults will be asking more detailed questions and will need specific answers for their grammatical concerns. You will have to know when to correct them. Correcting must be done in the appropriate way so not to impede their learning. Overcorrection can sometimes prompt the opposite effect.

Beware of over-correcting

5. Lesson planning

Though there are many differences in teaching English to children and adults, there is something you will need to master for both: lesson planning. Your lessons will have to be carefully planned, motivating and pitched to the right level of your class. You should start with the easier tasks and you can increase the difficulty as the lesson progresses.

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