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#IATEFL – Adult Learners: helping them clear the next hurdle


Businessman jumping over hurdlesRachel Appleby, co-author of two levels of the new International Express (published in January 2014), looks at how to help adult learners to maintain momentum when learning a language. Rachel will be presenting on this topic at IATEFL 2014 on Wednesday 2nd April.

Over the years, I’ve made significant efforts to learn Hungarian, and have done reasonably well; however, I can now “do” what I need to do with the language, and I’m very aware that I’m forgetting it, even though I still live in Budapest. I also go through phases of learning Spanish, and try to do a little everyday, such as reading an article I’ve come across that interests me, or putting Spanish radio on while I’m cooking. OK, so I might be keeping the little Spanish I have alive, but I’d be kidding myself if I thought that I was making any real progress in doing these things.

Many students I’ve come across tell me similar stories, but they also have other difficulties: time is always the number one hurdle; in addition, some think learning a language is all about doing grammar exercises, which of course they find boring; many claim to be able to learn long lists of words, but then resent their efforts when they find they can’t really use them in conversation.

Adults learning a language today characteristically stop and then re-start learning, each time with renewed enthusiasm, yet we all have busy lives! Does this sound like you too? Somehow we expect to make progress, often with minimal effort. Some people claim they are able to keep a language going by reading, or watching films, – perhaps even by having the occasional conversation with a native speaker in that language. But, in fact, all too often we’ve reached a plateau, or perhaps our language use is even getting worse.

So what can we do to help our students? I do actually realise that I need to engage my brain and be very focused on what I want to learn if I’m going to make any progress at all, so extensive listening while chopping onions isn’t really going to do the job! But how can we translate this into the classroom? How can we really get students involved, and ensure they make progress?

Well, I think we need to be very aware of the difficulties our students are facing, as well as what they’re aiming for; in fact the more we know about them, the better we’ll be at helping them. Adult learners bring a wealth of experiences to class, and in most cases are eager to share those, and have a chance to express their opinions. But they need to be motivated and engaged. So we need to ensure that we give them the scope and range of topics to be fully involved. But we also need to focus on language, and create opportunities to help them understand and relate to new language, and make sure that they practise the language in a meaningful way.

In my session at IATEFL Harrogate we’re going find out what it is that makes learning difficult and perhaps prevents learners from getting over the next hurdle. We’ll then be looking at topics and task-types from the new edition of International Express that will engage the learners, provide them with relevant language, and ultimately enable them to communicate effectively and make progress in areas that matter to them.

As a start, why not jot down in the comments box below what it is that makes it difficult for YOU, or YOUR learners, to get over the next language hurdle. I’d be really interested to find out, and – you never know – we just might have a solution for you! Let me know!

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9 thoughts on “#IATEFL – Adult Learners: helping them clear the next hurdle

  1. Pingback: #IATEFL – What exactly is ‘academic vocabulary’? | Oxford University Press

  2. Pingback: #IATEFL – Teaching and learning EAP: “What is EAP and how can I teach it?” | Oxford University Press

  3. Reblogged this on ELTSU Winchester and commented:
    Some excellent ideas, aimed at teachers but relevant to IATEFL candidates as well.

  4. Many thanks, ELTSUW. – much appreciated! Rachel

  5. Rachel although I read this a bit late, yet I’d like to thank you for the way you reviewed your idea. I like the fact that you personalized it through your personal experience. It made me tempted to read it to the very end. I agree with you concerning the problems that face Adults learning the language. I’d like to invite you to read my reflections on this article on my ESL Blog: teachingenglishcafe.blogspot.com/

    • Thanks, Maha, for sharing your reflections! You have some great ideas on that post. I particularly like the idea of sharing in writing, or orally, what you have learnt: I think students really benefit from this – especially because it’s recycling the vocabulary and language! it’s also very true that a wide variety of genres is important. Thank you for these reminders!

  6. I am also a learner of Hungarian. I use it every day, but I definitely belong to the category of people who collect lots of vocabulary and then never implement new words into conversations. In fact, I’d like to improve, but can’t find a meaningful goal to shoot for.

    • Mary – I missed you at IATEFL Harrogate – there were some “flippin’ good sessions” too which you would have enjoyed a lot, especially with all your techy knowledge.
      In terms of learning words, however, you’d have particulary, perhaps, enjoyed the session Herbert Puchta gave (focused on teens and memorizing vocab) which confirmed, after some research he’d done that – as we mostly know – those hooks and aide-memoire ideas and associations are the best way: focused ways to get the cog-wheels going round in the brain, and of course not forgetting to revise them regularly. Underlining words and rereading texts scored very low (to my sadness!). It was an auditorium session – http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2014/sessions/2014-04-04/remembering-new-language-strategies-work-–-and-strategies-dont one of the ones video’d! Happy viewing (and there is LOTS more to see: http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/2014/sessions/index)

  7. For me as a teacher; from all what I have gathered teachers are suffering from the systems of the organizations that they work for- I am talking about active teachers- especially old fashioned ones.
    For learners, culture, age, religion, sex and financial issues have thier great effect.

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