How do younger teachers teach older (40yrs+) students?

For general discussion between ESL teachers.

Moderator: Joe

How do middle-aged and elderly learners compare to younger adults?

Poll ended at Tue Jul 03, 2007 2:51 pm

Easier to teach
Harder to teach
No votes
No difference
No votes
Total votes: 2

Posts: 2
Joined: Fri Jun 29, 2007 2:36 pm

How do younger teachers teach older (40yrs+) students?

Unread post by hannah1985 » Fri Jun 29, 2007 2:51 pm

I am seeking out the opinions of other teachers about how to teach older learners (middle-aged or older. As a young person, I sometimes find teaching older people difficult. Although I am currently studying for my Masters in TESOL, I have found that most teacher training courses/books still talk all people over 18 as if they were exactly the same. So I decided to do some research to find out how I can better teach older learners. I am interested in hearing the experiences of all other teachers. Have you taught learners in this age group? Did you find it was different to learners in other age groups? How was it different? What did you do that worked/didn't work? I look forward to hearing from you all

Prolific Member
Prolific Member
Posts: 46
Joined: Tue Jun 05, 2007 5:49 am

Unread post by Lynn » Sun Jul 01, 2007 9:26 am

Hannah, this is good question. I hope you get a lot of feedback on it.

I am now old enough to qualify as an oldie myself, but when I started teaching, I was only 28. I have always found older students easier to teach than children. Adults have specific reasons for studying, and are more focused on their tasks. Sometimes it is more difficult for an adult to actually learn, but that is a different problem. As a young teacher, it is helpful to treat older students with the same respect that you would accord parents or aunts and uncles. Work together with them to determine exactly what their goals are in studying English, so that you can design a study approach that will help them accomplish their goals.

You will teach different groups quite differently. For example, a group of housewives who need to do the daily marketing, parents who need to communicate with their children's teachers, or businessmen who have to participate in board room discussions all require quite different vocabulary and communication skills. If you have any control over class organization, do your best to group learners according to age and goals. That will simplify your life and keep you sane.

I am a private tutor, so I am not a good candidate to help you with classroom questions. I hope my very general observations will be helpful to you.

Prolific Member
Prolific Member
Posts: 34
Joined: Sat Jun 02, 2007 8:26 pm

Teaching adults depends on their lifstyle

Unread post by Mr.Libyan » Sun Jul 01, 2007 10:05 am

I think there is a huge difference between teaching young students and adult, because there's the same difference in their thinking.
The adult need to learn english to solve their problems in their life e.g nurses wanna learn about medical issues , engineers wanna deal with technical languages .....etc
So when we teach adults we should give each student the chance to achieve what he wanna.we could say that language for adults depends on their lifestyle, and this is what is not found in the younger.
And about the material and the way we teach I thing we shouldn't use the same ways, e.g some games might not suit adults and the orders from the teacher to adults shouldn't be the same as it to young students.
Adults' brains are completely formatted so when they wanna speak they more likely to translate the sentence before speak it, but youngs may learn the new english word before learn it in their own native language, so they may not need to translate in some situations.
Finally, we should say for our student in the classroom room for all ages, that, we are here to learn English . Let's do whatever we need to do. it'll work.
I used to be ESL student and now preparing to be ESL teacher.
For any need contact me on :

Posts: 2
Joined: Fri Jun 29, 2007 2:36 pm

Thankyou for your posts

Unread post by hannah1985 » Sun Jul 01, 2007 2:55 pm

Thank you very much for making the effort to reply to my posts. I think that Mr. Libyan may have misinterpreted my question. I was asking about the difference between older adults and younger adults, not adults and children. But perhaps as people grow older they gain more specific goals for learning language. For example, as a young person I am learning language for an undefined future career but and an older adult has their career already, or perhaps their career is finished, if they are retired. This would be something to think about.
But how do I "work with" and "respect" a student with whom communicaiton is limited and cultural barriers are high? For example, with beginner students, direct commands are the only option, there are no subtleties like "Would you mind doing....". Do you have any specific experiences of overcoming this problem? Any practical suggestions?

Once again, thank you so much for your replies. It is GREATLY appreciated.

Posts: 1
Joined: Thu Jul 05, 2007 10:22 am

Unread post by Old_Liz » Thu Jul 05, 2007 10:51 am

I am in my mid 50's. Don't assume that older people are learning language solely for leisure, shopping or sightseeing. Many older people nowadays plan for a second career or other activity in their forties or fifties or even older, thus there may be far more purpose in their learning than merely a desire to buy veggies or order a coffee. I know a 54 yo lady who, brought over to Australia by her daughter on an "aged parent" sponsorship, will soon be starting enrolled nurse training. She certainly needed to learn far more than shopping and sightseeing vocabulary for this.

The words "please" and "thank you" offer the respect needed when teaching ALL beginners, without being a verbal encumbrance for them to cope with.

eg Open your books at page 44 PLEASE.
Give your homework to me PLEASE. Acknowledge each student with THANK YOU as they do so.
Stop now! ...Thank you.

Simple and courteous.


Unread post by Ben » Thu Jul 05, 2007 10:57 am

Hi Hannah,

You seem to be worried about older students respecting you. One thing you should always try to do (whether or not you're teaching adults) is to look professional. Many cultures place great emphasis on professional wardrobe and appearance, and if you don't look the part you won't get their full respect. I'm a very casual dresser, but I always step up to business casual when I'm teaching. If I wasn't in Ireland, I might go business formal depending on the culture.

Another area I believe you are concerned about is how to relate to someone who is older than you. I can only advise you to be yourself. Authenticity is essential to a healthy student-teacher relationship and people will be able to spot any charades on your part. Remember that they're in a new uncomfortable place as well, so you both may be nervous. When you're giving direct commands, make eye contact and smile. Relax! Basic commands are necessary for communication at this point, but you don't have to be deathly serious. You have authority by virtue of being the teacher, show them that you are confident and approachable and treat them like you would anyone else.

The ageist barrier is purely cultural (all cultures) and once you get past it, people are just people. There's plenty of people over 45 who party all night, get wasted in clubs and can barely hold down a job just as there's plenty of people under 20 who never drink or smoke, spend hours each day worrying about their career and go to bed every night by 10. Just get to know people and you'll be surprised again and again.

Post Reply