Teaching Adults vs Children: How Does It Compare?
How does teaching ESL to adults compare with teaching children? Prior to this past year, I had never taught adults before whether it was in an ESL situation or a traditional classroom. Truthfully, I was never even that interested in teaching adults; my passion has always been for teaching children and teenagers. But, let me tell you, now having experienced teaching adult learners, I love it! I am so glad I got this opportunity.
Over the years, I have taught in many different types of classrooms: B&M, online, and abroad. For eight years, I was a high school English teacher. Then, for the past year and a half, I taught Chinese students English through an online platform called VIPKID. Most recently, for five months, I taught adult and teenage ESL students in Meknés, Morocco.
As I mentioned about a million times before, I spent five months in Morocco with my husband while he completed an Arabic study abroad program. I was lucky enough to be able to tag along because I had the flexibility to work online with VIPKID. When my husband got to Morocco a few weeks before I arrived, he let it slip at the language institute, called the Arabic American Language Institute in Morocco or the AAILM Center, where he was studying, that I was a certified English teacher with ESL experience. Without really even talking to me beforehand, my husband ended up getting me a job teaching adult and teenage ESL students at the center. I was now Professor Caryn, an ESL teacher extraordinaire.
Prior to this experience, I had never taught adults before, and I had never taught ESL in a regular classroom. My previous experience had been limited to teaching 25 minute online lessons with VIPKID as well as teaching high school English. I was really nervous, and I felt like I was a novice teacher all over again. I was also the only professor who was also a native English speaker. Talk about pressure. Luckily, my students were wonderful, and I quickly became comfortable teaching these classes.
Teaching at the AALIM Center
Each week, I taught four classes which were an hour and a half long each. Two classes were with intermediate-advanced (level 4/5 in VIPKID levels) students, and then two classes were with beginning students (level 2 in VIPKID levels). Both classes were amazing in their own way.
In my intermediate level class, I only had two students, who couldn’t have been more different. One student was in high school and the other student was a lawyer, who also happened to be a law professor at the university in Fés. I think one of the biggest challenges was teaching more advanced English grammar to these students. I had to teach aspects of English grammar that I never explicitly learned and, of course, my lawyer student was always questioning the “why” behind the rule.
Teaching the Beginners
Along with teaching intermediate-advanced students, I also taught two classes a week with beginning English speakers. I had eight students, who had a wide range of English abilities. There were three teenagers who had studied some English in school as well as adults with varying abilities. Most of the students knew how to read the English alphabet because they were able to read and speak French, but I had one student who never learned French and was trying to learn how to read English. This was really challenging for her because the Arabic writing system is completely different come English, but she never gave up.
Despite these challenges, the best word to describe this class was fun. Since these students spoke very little English, and I knew almost no Arabic, I had to rely on my best VIPKID teaching strategies:
It was great to see that so many of the strategies I used in the digital ESL classroom could transfer to the traditional classroom and even worked great with adults. I was honestly worried my adults would think they were “too cool” for many of the activities, but they enthusiastically participated in all the activities.
Many of the topics I had taught in the VIPKID curriculum like days of the week, weather, present continuous, and present tense were covered in this class. I was able to use many of the sentence patterns and phrases from VIPKID to teach these students.
Another way I made my students feel comfortable with learning English was by trying to learn some Arabic. The students loved it when I would try to use an Arabic word in class, and I think it made them feel better about making mistakes in English when they saw me making mistakes in Arabic. It also reminded me to go slow and use lots of repetition. As a native speaker, you never realize how hard it is to learn your language until you have to learn a foreign one.
Teacher Charlie speaks about online teaching: How to teach adults vs kids
Something that really amazed me was how motivated my students were. Most of my students already spoke at least two or three languages. In Morocco, the majority of people speak Arabic, French, and Tamazight, which is the native Berber language. A couple of my students in my beginning class even kept asking me how long it would take them “to learn English good.”
They wanted to learn because it would better their lives. Morocco is a very poor country. For example, the minimum wage is about $1 an hour, but most people don’t even make that. Unemployment is rampant. By learning English, it opens up some many more opportunities for them to be able to provide for their families and better their lives.
One of my beginning students, Oumaima, told me she dreams of becoming a flight attendant. But, in order to do so, she needs to speak at least Arabic and English.
I think one of the hardest parts of my trip to Morocco was saying goodbye to my students. Even as I type this, I am trying to not cry because I miss my Moroccan students so much. During my last week teaching, they gave me a going away party. There was much laughter, tears, and cake with a mixture of Arabic and English. I can truly say that they taught me as much as I taught them.
Luckily, I am able to talk to many of my students through Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp; I can’t wait to someday go back to Morocco and see them again.
If you ever get the opportunity to teach ESL abroad, I would urge you to go for it. Even though teaching adults is different in some ways from teaching children, many of the same strategies still apply. Now, having experienced teaching adults, I actually think it’s way easier.
I will forever cherish the experiences and friendships I made while living abroad. I think a part of my heart will always be missing because I left it there in Morocco. I hope this post was helpful. You can also check out Teacher vs. Student: How we both won
Teacher Caryn EU