5 top tips for teaching English to adults

Anyone who’s spent time teaching English to adults will be the first to tell you that it can be a whole different beast to dealing with younger learners. That’s not to say its necessarily more difficult, but there are some nuances you should know about, and some approaches you can take to make things more effective. Let’s take a look…


5 top tips for teaching English to adults
Adults in a class with a projector presentation | thumprchgo/Pixabay


Always be aware of specific goals


It’s common for older learners to attend classes to improve specific aspects of their language skills. Unlike kids and beginners who just want to start speaking and using English generally, more mature students might be looking at zeroing in on one niche or a particular area of vocab or grammar. You might find yourself teaching business English in marketing companies, law-related terms in legal firms, or the ins and outs of tone of voice and syntax to customer-facing employees. The upshot is that you’ll always need to keep an eye on the goals and aims that are set at the start of your contract. Try not to stray into teaching English per se if you have a brief, and always plan lessons to match the skills and lingo that are required.


Try to add aspects of conversation


One of the great things about teaching English to adults is the extra level of maturity, experience, humor, and character that’s added into the mix. Remember, it’s much more likely that older classes will be a bit like you. They’ll be the sort of people that plan their own holidays, have their own hobbies, can chat about politics and art and music – you get the idea. That could be a risk to organized lesson plans, true. But it could also be an advantage. You can add elements of casual conversation English more easily, eliciting oodles of STT (Student Talk Time) without your pupils even knowing what you’re doing.


5 top tips for teaching English to adults
Adults in a seminar | Antenna/Unsplash


Be flexible with your schedule


It’s really important to remember that adult learners have extra responsibilities and commitments that might interfere with their English language journey. A full-time job, a house, pets, family engagements – there’s a whole load of things that could end up with them having to cancel a session or two during the year. It’s important not to get frustrated with this, especially as most schools and employers will still pay you for any missed hours if they aren’t cancelled in good time (hello extra 45 minutes in the pub!).


Plan activities to break down social boundaries


It can be quite easy to get the little ones chatting away in class. In fact, teachers of younger learners often have trouble getting their students to zip it! However, with adult learners, the problem can be the exact opposite. It’s strange, but older age seems to bring with it some inhibitions when it comes to talking in group situations. That’s not always the case, but if you really want to initiate effective group work, then it’s a good idea to kick-start your semester with some ice-breaking intros and fun games that will get individuals to know each other, and – crucially – confident enough to start testing out their language on a peer-to-peer basis.


5 top tips for teaching English to adults
A laptop and a notepad | Sarah Shaffer/Unsplash


Don’t stray into native languages


Immersion classes only work if immersion exists. That’s true in schools for young learners, and it’s the same in classes for older learners. Just because your pupils have a job, a car, and kids of their own, it doesn’t mean they will learn vocab and grammar more effectively if you allow them to pull their native tongue into the equation. In fact, staying true to the ideas of immersion is arguably more important with mature students precisely because you can’t hammer home the point so easily as with younger students, by issuing casual punishments and the like. Be clear when you start your term that it’s ENGLISH ONLY, and when you do hear a little Spanish, French, or Polish, be sure to nip it in the bud.



Of course, these are just a few of the handy hints out there for any TEFL grads who find themselves teaching English to adults. If you have any more, we’d love to hear them in the comments below. Alternatively, if you want to get TEFL qualified, be sure to check out our courses page

1 Comment

  • Samantha Ryan
    Posted February 26, 2020 8:16 am 0Likes

    Great read. I’ve found this useful for my classes.

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