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. 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 prepare you to be professional teachers with a competitive advantage in the job market.

When you already hold your certificate in your hand, you want to meet your new students and wonder if they will like you and find your classes productive and engaging. Of course, other questions will cross 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, generally 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 accept 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. Therefore, they will be asking more questions, and they will be more likely to challenge new information.

This affects motivation levels: you will struggle to make children feel interested in your activities, whereas it will be much easier with adults.

The attention span

2. The attention span

This is something vital to bear in mind when teaching English. The attention span of children and adults is very different. While smaller kids cannot focus on the same task for more than a few minutes, the older they are, the longer they can concentrate. So 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, engaging tasks to keep them interested. What’s important is not doing the same task and changing the class’s rhythm.

3. The importance of play

Play activities represent a significant part of children’s learning. Children learn everything about their environment and relate to the world and others through play. As published in a clinical report in the American Academy of Pediatrics Official Journal, play is essential to children and youth’s cognitive, social, and emotional well-being. Children NEED to play, so you must introduce fun and playful activities in your classroom. It’s also essential that you change the rhythm of the activities and frequently change the exercises; you should also change the rhythm by alternating high energy and low energy activities.

Just because play is an important factor in children’s development doesn’t mean that adults can’t play. They should, and it’s just that they play differently. Use age-appropriate activities, and 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 consciously study new vocabulary and grammatical structures, young children learn English the same way they learned their mother tongue: by experiencing and interacting. Therefore, keep your corrections natural, and if they make a mistake, try not to give them a long lecture on the correct form. Instead, you could repeat the correct sentence. For instance, if your student says: “She go to school”, you could reply: “Yes, she goes to school”.

Adults will ask more detailed questions and need specific answers for their grammatical concerns. You will have to know when to correct them. Correcting must be done appropriately and not 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 increase the difficulty as the lesson progresses.