teaching English

Dos and don’ts of teaching English to adults

Teaching English to adults is way different than teaching it to young learners; Adult students are not just big size children. They have different motivations, objectives, and different learning styles. Being an adult means already knowing at least one language; they have learned their mother tongue innately and now trying to learn another one consciously and effortfully. As a teacher, to be successful in teaching English to adult learners, you should know the differences and the challenges they face while learning a second language. In this post, we’re going to talk about all a teacher should know about teaching English to adult learners.

Who’s considered an adult learner?

Scholars believe that the typical age of attaining adulthood starts at 18 when the formal education in schools is over.  But adults willing to learn English can belong to quite different ages: from those who just have finished school to gray-haired adults having concerns about the gradual decay of their cognitive skills. There are a few factors that differentiate adult learners from others: (source)

  1. Experience
    Adults come to the classroom with a lifetime of experience and they’ve already obtained their learning style.
  2. Motivation 
    One of the distinguishing features of adult learners is that they’re highly motivated. They pay for the classes out of their own pockets and have some personal reason for attending the class.
  3. Immediate goals 
    Adult learners do not have so much time and they’re looking forward to attaining immediate results.
  4. Self-concept
    Adult learners are afraid of failure and believe that they’re too old to learn.
teaching English to Adults

The merits of being an adult language learner

Although most adult learners have many doubts about their ability to learn a new language, being an adult has some merits of its own.

  1. Unlike children whose language acquisition occurs innately, adult learners’ brainpower and their ability to sensible thinking will make it easier for teachers to benefit from a variety of activities other than songs and games.
  2. Adult learners already have their learning style to depend on. There’s no need for teachers to start from scratch, they will start from experience.
  3. They’re more disciplined than children and teenagers and less frustrated to carry on.
  4. Their vast array of experiences enables teachers to choose from a broad range of classroom activities.
  5. Unlike children, adult learners have a vivid image of their purpose.


  1. Do include WordUp in your teaching activities 
    WordUp, an AI-powered vocabulary application offers a variety of advantages for teaching adult learners:
  • Using WordUp by all adult learners in a classroom enables the teacher to know each students’ proficiency level.
  • They can keep track of their learners’ progress.
  • They can assign tasks based on students’ level and their needs.
  •  Teachers will have access to infinite resources for their instructional goals.
  1. Do use a broad range of activities in your classroom.
    Adult learners bring a lifetime of experiences with them into the classroom, they can be more flexible with any kind of task.
  2. Do teach in a more indirect method
    Adult learners are afraid of being treated erroneously and they think by attending a language course, they will lose their full-grown personality.
  3. Do provide a comfortable, stress-free, and movable setting
    Classroom and seating should be arranged in a way that makes communication between peers easier.
  1. Do adjust the content of your instruction with life-coping skills 
    Relevance is the most important motivating factor for adults. Try to teach your students practical skills like filling out forms, checkbooks, writing an email, applying for a job, etc.
  2. Do keep learners motivated by helping them feel progress toward their goal
    You could encourage your adult learners by frequently assessing their gained knowledge (questioning individual students, short quizzes, homework, etc)

  1. Do set goals regarding your students’ needs and objectives
    To show your grown-up students that you’re on the same page with them, you should informally discuss with them to find out their goals. After determining the goals, classroom activities and the content of instruction should be selected relevant to those objectives
  2. Do use a variety of activities to reach all of your students of any ages
    Adult learners are from a wide range of different ages each of which has different life goals (from the freshman entering college to older retired individuals). You should group them based on their ages and then provide each group with the most appropriate activities.
  3. Do modify some of your habits in communicating with your adult students due to cultural differences
    You may unconsciously offend your students due to different cultural backgrounds; It seems reasonable that you explain some of these differences beforehand so that there will be no future misunderstandings.


  1. Don’t use the same teaching methods you use to teach young learners
    adults could be better learners, you just need a different approach.
  2. Don’t make adult learners feel failed
    Adults have serious concerns about failure; they think that they are not able to learn new material, so as a teacher you should try to assign accomplishable tasks and reduce this feeling.
  3. Don’t make your classroom unreasonably overcrowded
    Having many students in the class will result in losing control of it and may lead to confusion and the feeling of anxiety for students when they feel they’re not heard by the teacher.
  4. Don’t take your classroom too seriously
    An enjoyable, relaxed, and friendly environment will give your students the best reason to attend the classroom.
  5. Don’t forget the native language background of your students
    English learners may come from different countries and each of them has a different native language; some of these languages are very similar to English while others are too much different; A distinguished teacher should respect each language and try to comprehend the possible mismatches that could exist between two languages.