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  • Teaching Young Learners

    By: Shelia A. PeaceDecember, 2008

  • Teaching Young Learners

    To answer the question: How are the needs of 8-13-year old learners different from adult learners needs? I took into consideration motivation, temperament, and reasons for learning a second language, consulting Jeremy Harmers How to Teach English. (England. Oxford University Press, 1997.)


    Many 8-13-year olds are learning a second language because they are being told to by either school systems (as in required English study) or their parents (through school or extra-curricular study: private academy or private lessons). So, if most of these 8 13- year olds are studying English because they have to, they may be assumed to be obedient or reluctant learners nonetheless, in English class at the will of either parents or governing educational institution. Such students need great efforts on the part of teachers to facilitate learning English in a way that facilitates input and output: learning to understand and use the language.

    Whereas adult English learners are highly motivated for reasons of perceived economic/social advantage results (with better job and better pay) getting and keeping their attention is not as large a task as with 8 -13-year olds, because adults need to communicate in the English they are learning. (Harmer).

    Motivation ranks high as a prediction of second language success (Ellis, SLA research and Teaching. England. Oxford University Press, 1997) Yet, if motivation is not there, positive experience in the classroom may change the students attitude for the better. (Harmer)

    To engage a Young Learners group, I would recommend developing a multi-media scheme because they need to have their attention attended to: encouraging productive participation. Also, young learners need classroom exposure to the language and opportunity to use it (Harmer) in an age-appropriate context; that is study contexts have to be graded/tailored to younger learners social realities (such as L1-relative language requirements) and abilities. Activities and materials will be more successful if an element of fun can be added in, without distracting from the need for productive reading, writing, and speaking task of the younger age group.

    Adults may appreciate a fun element every now and then, but the seriousness of their English learning efforts requires more focused study as they need productive results in the form of increased ability to communicate in English for business or social reasons. Adults dont need the learning to be camoflouged though games and play, as do young learners.(Harmer)

    Young learners (8 -13 years) are easily distracted by peers and/or unexpected events in the classroom. They need great attention paid to keeping them on-Track in an English class: studying English vs. using the period as a play-date with their friends. A task requiring pairwork, with young learners, could easily turn into visiting time in L1 if the teacher is not aware of the tone of exchange necessary to

  • negotiate meaning and develop English language output for written/spoken task requirement.

    Adults rarely need to be kept on-task. Their attention spans are greater that that of children and adolescents (Harmer).

    Pre-adolescent/adolescent temperaments are predisposed(Harmer) toward failure or success. That is, each failure increases the fear of more failure, and each success provokes the hope of more success.(Harmer) So, they need and atmosphere that encourages success in order to keep them interested participants in an English class.

    Adults need an atmosphere that encourages reduced stress as they try to use the English classroom to learn. As well adults fear losing face, and have greater anxiety about the learning process itself than do Young Learners. (Harmer)

    Adult life experience may make them stick with the L2 study in a cooperative fashion. Young learners have a greater need for teacher discipline and guidance to stay focused and learning in the classroom.

    I recall one class which included two very bright boys of 11 and 13 . . . who took every conversation exchange as an opportunity to play- first repeating the phrase in [L1(native language)], then telling the teacher how to say the [L1] expression after the English language target, then chasing one another around the room, ending up on the floor tickling and tussling while speaking English and [L1] in response to teacher-request to speak in English. When separated, each produced written and spoken English adequately and responsibly. Together in class, intervention of [L1] teacher- explaining (in L1) that parents would be consulted, resulted in (temporary-for-them) proper class behavior. This encouraged my move [toward employment] where students behavior reflected the [Authority figures] commitment to English learning, above the presence of paying parents darlings as reward enough for the English language provider . . . Adults, in this same [learning] environment, were disciplined, and eager to learn English, expecting steady improvement for their business and social needs. Nearly all of the Younger Learners needed constant attention from Teacher(s) regarding motivation, temperament and reason for learning. Adults constantly exhibited strong motivation, cooperative temperaments and expected English language skills improvement as reason for learning.

    One of these Adult students still is a personal friend, with whom I have shared visits, text messages and phone calls in English language. She is a private school teacher, who needed English for work and travel: happy with the results of her lessons, and continued skills enhancement, through communications with a Native English speaker. Proving, adults need English for communication needs, and children need English to pass required English classes, or to please their parents for the most part.