How to Teach ESL to Adults

Adult learners in a classroom
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Teaching English to Adults.

Adult ESL instructors must be aware that their students’ learning styles differ slightly from those of children. According to studies, the ordinary adult is expected to be self-motivated and to have a clear goal in mind when learning a new subject or language.

These two characteristics alone suggest that adult ESL teaching methods differ slightly from those used with younger students. Furthermore, the learning environment, as well as the courses, should be more formalized and systematic.

Because the need for ESL lessons should be increasingly focused on adult learning, here are some considerations to make while teaching.

Learning can be More Challenging.

When it comes to learning a new language, adults have different needs, demands, and difficulties than younger students. The inherent ability to learn a second language begins to decline around adolescence and continues to decline as we grow older.

To attain competency or fluency, your adult pupils must actively and consciously learn a language. If you’re teaching individuals who are complete beginners with no prior English expertise or exposure, this can be a difficult task for them.

Even individuals who have had previous exposure to the language can easily forget what they’ve learned, struggle with grammatical concepts that are foreign to them, and feel self-conscious or humiliated about their abilities and development

Understand Why Your Student Wants to learn English.

First and foremost, try to understand each student’s requirements and preferences, and then do your best to inspire the student by providing demanding exercises that he or she is capable of doing.

A teacher should be able to assess a student’s ability to manage different levels of difficulty. Correctly accessing your new student is critical, as you do not want to place them in a class that is too difficult and likewise a class that is boring and not challenging for them.

Here are the different levels for adult learners as laid out by the C.E.F.R.

The Different Levels ( C.E.F.R.)

The CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) is a global standard for describing language proficiency. It uses a six-point scale to describe language proficiency, ranging from A1 for novices to C2 for those who have mastered a language.

A1 Beginners.

At the end of English level A1, you will be able to,

  • Understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases.
  • Introduce yourself and others.
  • Ask and answer questions about personal details (for example, where you live, people you know and things you have.
  • Interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.

A2 Elementary.

At the end of English level A 2, you will be able to,

  • Understand statements and terms that are commonly utilized in common places. This includes fundamental personal and family information, as well as shopping, local geography, and work opportunities.
  • Easy and everyday actions requiring a direct and simple exchange of information.
  • Describe your background and present concerns in simple terms.

B1 Pre Intermediate / Intermediate.

At the end of English level B 1, you will be able to,

  • Understand the essential points on topics that you encounter on a regular basis at work, school, or in your own time.
  • Deal with the majority of problems that may occur while traveling in an English-speaking location.
  • Create simple linked text about topics that are familiar or particular to you.
  • Describe your experiences and events, as well as your dreams, hopes, and objectives, and briefly explain your ideas and plans.

B2 Upper Intermediate.

At the end of English level B 2, you will be able to,

  • Understand the essential points of a complex text on a wide range of topics, including technical talks in your field of expertise.
  • Interact with a level of fluency and spontaneity that allows for regular interactions with native speakers without putting either side under stress.
  • Produce clear, informative literature on a variety of topics and express a point of view on a current situation, including the benefits and drawbacks of alternative options.

C1 Advanced.

At the end of English level C 1 you will be able to,

  • Understand and recognize underlying meaning in a variety of challenging, longer texts.
  • Express yourself fluently and naturally without obviously searching for expressions.
  • Use language in a flexible and effective manner for social, intellectual, and professional reasons.
  • Produce clear, well-structured, thorough text on complicated issues using organizational patterns, linkages, and cohesive devices in a controlled manner.

C 2 Proficiency.

At the end of English level C 2 you will be able to,

  • You can understand almost anything you hear or read easily.
  • Summarize information from a variety of oral and written sources, putting arguments and accounts together in a logical order.
  • Even in increasingly difficult situations, express yourself freely, fluently, and precisely, distinguishing finer shades of meaning.

You can find some great resources at British Council, including lesson plans for each level from A1 to C1.

Points to Remember.

Be Nice.

If your student is having trouble grasping a subject that you believe is straightforward, make sure you reply with patience and respect. Your attitude will be revealed through your tone, body language, and behavior. This is understood by the students, regardless of how little English they know.

Remember that learning English is only a small part of their lives, and while you may have greater skills in this area, they may have more professional and life experience. Maintain a courteous demeanor.

Make it Fun.

Everyone likes to laugh, and while your classes will be more structured than a children’s or teenagers class, don’t forget to have a bit of fun at the same time.

Some of the best social interactions I have had with my students is when we have gone out to a restaurant or even just for a coffee.

Your students are Adults and you can be a little more risque. Just make sure you are culturally appropriate and your comments or attempts at humor don’t come across as inappropriate or rude.

Make it age-appropriate.

Make sure your courses are relevant to your adult students’ life, even if they are complete beginners. While it is simple and effective to use children’s books and materials, it may appear patronizing to them.

Plan your courses instead around their current objectives, such as how to fill out a job application, study for a citizenship test, or practice interview questions for a new job.

Provide Positive Feedback.

Adults require a lot of encouragement. If they struggle or take a long time to remember something, they may become disheartened.

Get a comprehensive picture of your pupils’ language level before you start teaching, and leverage what they already know to help them gain confidence. You may start introducing new language from there, and they’ll feel more confident knowing they have a solid base.

Take it slowly and don’t try and rush, we all have different styles of learning and some may take longer than others. It is not a race, sometimes I have found the slower student becomes the most proficient in the long run.

Talk Slowly, Clearly and Directly

Quite often ESL students do not comprehend nuance, and there may be moments when you need to discuss a sensitive topic like personal manners or healthcare. In these situations,

I’ve found that role-play is one method to get the idea across in a non-threatening yet direct manner. Also, body language is something that is easily understood and should be made use of if you are having trouble getting the students to understand.

And sometimes it is even worth translating a word into the students native language if nothing else is working.


It is also critical for the teacher to remember that the lessons that the students learn will be used outside of the classroom at some point. We must keep it relevant to what the student needs, whether it is traveling or work or whatever the students needs are.

There are a slew of issues that come with studying English as a second language. The language barrier is perhaps the most difficult, which is why many teachers still struggle to correct the pronunciation of some English terms, grammatical faults, and so on.

However, it is still the teacher’s obligation to make an attempt to break down these barriers and establish a positive learning atmosphere for the students.

Learn how you can make money as an ESL teacher by visiting my post ” How to Make Money Teaching ESL

Who Am I?

My name is Stephen, and I’ve been teaching English as a second language/English as a foreign language for over 15 years and own a school in Vietnam. I am also the proprietor of this website and the author of this post.

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