Teaching Children Vs. Teaching Adults

Teaching Children Vs. Teaching Adults

One of the biggest questions that someone has to ask themselves when choosing to go teach English in a foreign country is: Do I want to teach children or adults? As someone who has experience teaching children and adults abroad, and in Canada, I'll do my best to weigh these two choices for potential TEFL teachers.

Before I start weighing these options, one thing I wanted to quickly address is this notion that children learn languages quicker and easier than adults. While in the past this was thought to be a fact, in recent years many studies have come out that suggest otherwise. Younger students do have better memory retention than their older counterparts, but factors like an individual's motivation, patience, perseverance  and their instructor's abilities and expertise also play a huge role in language development. Many researchers now believe that these variants may have a larger influence on second language acquisition than age. So, what does this mean: If you are going to choose to teach English to children because it will be easier to teach them and they will learn English quicker, think again.

Teaching Children / Adolescents
I have had the opportunity to teach English to children in Ghana, Korea and in Canada and one thing I have found, regardless of where I'm teaching, is how similar children are all around the world.

- Children have much different motivation for learning than adults. Children are driven by curiosity. Engaging and keeping children's interest is key to teaching them any subject

-Likewise, children love to have fun. If you can make learning fun, then you have got it made. Children are much more willing to engage in learning games, play, songs, and are less self-conscious than adults. They are also more restless and lose focus much quicker

-Classroom management is a major part of your teaching role. While children are fun, cute, and often enthusiastic about learning, they can also be difficult to manage. Establishing your classroom rules and yourself as the teacher will be key to your success when teaching children

-Children have much different expectations than adult learners. Children don't really think about what they are supposed to be getting out of their classes. They are told to go to school by parents, so they do this. That being said, they do need to be engaged in classes.

-Movement is key. Students need to move around to be kept engaged. In many countries students go to school from morning to evening, and sit for most of that time. As a result by the time they get to their evening English classes, they are tired. By getting them to move around in class, you'll wake them up and keep them interested in your lessons.

-You will definitely have more discipline issues when teaching kids or young adults. I said earlier that kids are kids no matter where you are, the same holds true for teenagers. Teenagers rebel; that's what they do. The push the limits of authority and are constantly seeking to come to grips with who they really are. Be prepared for this. I always felt when teaching teenagers that creating a good rapport was essential. You'll be surprised how having professional individual connections with your students will eliminate behavioral problems in your classes

Teaching Adults
For me, teaching adults was a better fit than teaching children. I've never really been a kid person, so maybe this is why. I know lots of people who have taught English to adults and to children, and they strongly prefer teaching children; I am not one of those people

- Adults are motivated to learn, and have much different expectations than children. Most adults that you teach will have very specific reasons for learning English. They need English to get better jobs, or to get into a better university or to travel abroad. Therefore they are very interested in learning a new language. To do this, they spend their hard-earned money (our their parents hard-earned money) and expect to learn English (sometimes at an unrealistic pace). If they are not happy with your class, you will know this. Adults are very outspoken about their concerns, so you may feel more pressure to teach well.

-There are fewer disciplinary problems. No zero, because lateness, absenteeism, and homework not being completed are still fairly common when teaching adults.

-You can build relationships with adult students that will last a lifetime. Since you may be new to the country you are teaching in, you can learn so much from your students. They will often be willing to help you out in adjusting to your new country, and often be willing to show you around or to take you out for coffee or meals. You may also be able to relate to your adult students more than children. You can have everyday conversations with them, which may not be possible with small children. *It is very important to keep your relationships professional with adult students though.* You are still their teacher, which requires you to play a certain role in their academic lives.

-Obviously the lessons you teach will need to be different than the ones you would teach children. With adults lessons should be age appropriate and relevant. Although you'll find adults also like games, dramas and music in the classroom, you have to learn who your students are and what they expect before engaging in less conventional teaching practices.

So, there are a few of the big differences between teaching adults and children. It's important that look into these differences before choosing which age to teach. Ultimately though, it may depend on personal preference. Some people love being around children and young adults and teaching them, while others don't. Some people think that teaching adults is dull and that they complain too much, while others enjoy the maturity and motivation that adult learners have. I think to make the right choice it takes a little self-reflection and some good research prior to making the final decision. And you can always change the group you want teach later on. I first taught children in Korea, and then taught adults later on. Good luck in your choices and please let me know what you think about this blog entry.


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