Hello there TEFL teachers! If you have been teaching English to speakers of other languages for a long time, you may be already be aware of the different target audiences. You may have already experienced what it’s like to teach English to groups of different ages.
If that is not your case and you are new in the business, you may think that you will probably be teaching kids, teens or adults…but there is more! The elderly learns other languages too, and they do so with such fierce motivation and steadiness that will blow your mind. Like any other group, they have their own idiosyncrasies we need to consider when teaching EFL.
1. Be patient, my friend
When teaching EFL, you will need to be first a human, then a teacher. This becomes especially relevant with senior learners. You may find that their memory does not allow them to absorb things as quickly as the younger students or that they need more time to learn new and complex grammatical structures. You may also find that their eyesight and hearing are not that sharp. You will need to take this into account, so you don’t rush them.
Progress will come but you will have to adapt to their pace and rhythm and give them as much time as necessary. If you do so, they will be most grateful. What is important is that you get to listen to their needs and don’t underestimate them. A 60-year-old student will not have the same capacities as the one who is 75 but on the whole older people will surprise you beyond your woildest imagination. They will also know more about life so there will be a two-way learning.
2. Take into account their motivation levels
This is something spectacular. While teaching EFL to kids will have you struggling at times to keep them motivated and satisfied, senior students have high motivation levels. They are self-directed learners, that is, they come to English classes with a clear purpose in mind. You will not need to remind them about homework, incomplete projects, uncorrected vocabulary, they will just do it. They will take classes very seriously, and if they are not happy with something, they will tell you straight away. When we are young, we may be more guarded with our feelings, our likes, dislikes but senior learners will tell you exactly as they see it.
3. Listen… always listen
You will find out that many seniors like talking about themselves, their personal experiences, their stories, and their families. Try to be more flexible with your lesson plans. Leave some room for just talking, your senior students just sharing something interesting. Of course, you might find that your student is a lonely senior citizen with no one to speak to the whole day. In cases like this, weigh your objectives and preferences. You are an EFL teacher, not a shrink so you are not obligated to come to class to teach English and end up listening to the student’s woes for an hour or so. Bear in mind as well as all students, regardless of age are different so you may have to focus on tasks personally relevant to them.
4. Beware of new technologies
New technologies are cool, and they are, undoubtedly, a powerful tool to incorporate into our EFL classes. However, remember that senior students are not millennials and they are not that used to smartphones, educational apps and such. So, if expect your elderly students to do a PowerPoint presentation on a book that they have read, think again, it’s not going to work. They might think of you as nothing less than an alien expecting them to achieve superhuman goals. Maybe you can stick to the tried and tested methods of handouts, work sheets, visuals, nothing too complex.
Finally, teaching senior learners is an extremely rewarding experience you will learn a lot from. Their willingness to learn, gratitude, high motivation, and affection will make you grow as a person and as a teacher in ways you could have never imagine.