Is it easier to teach English to children or adults?

The basic answer to this question is No, it is not necessarily easier to teach English to any particular age group. Anyone who has spent time in different types of classrooms will know that there are many clear differences between teaching adults and teaching young learners. Different age groups have different reasons for being in the classroom, levels of motivation and discipline can vary considerably, and learning styles can also differ. Due to these differences, each age group will require a teaching style that is tailored to their needs. Below we look at some of the main differences between teaching young learners and teaching adults.

Motivation and classroom management

One of the most important factors when teaching young learners is to keep them interested and motivated in whatever the day’s lesson is focused on. It is common for school children to attend English lessons outside of their normal school day, which means they can often be tired and lacking enthusiasm. It is also true that many young learners are not particularly keen to be in your class as it wasn’t their decision to attend in the first place.

In contrast, adult students are usually in your class because they have chosen to be and are typically keen to improve their language skills as quickly as possible. Despite this self-motivation, you will still need to implement your classroom management skills in order to moderate discussions, to ensure that every member of the class gets a chance to speak, and to make sure that all instructions are clear and understood. However, in most cases it is easier and less tiring to manage and motivate a class of adult ESL students than it is young learners.

Lesson content

When teaching young learners the average lesson content is much simpler than when dealing with adults. The focus of the lesson will likely be simple concepts such as their daily routines or favorite animals, etc. As the students get older the content will naturally cover more complex concepts, but in general lesson content is simpler with young learners than adults.

With adult learners you will need to ensure that lesson content is varied and relevant to the people in your class. You also need to be prepared to teach complex ideas that can be challenging for non-native speakers and be ready to answer questions that can often be difficult for even a native speaker. It is vital that you get to know your adult students individually so it is possible to tailor the lesson content to their actual needs. An adult who is learning English in order to study an architecture degree in the USA is clearly going to require different content than someone who is only interested in general conversational English.

Games and activities

Any ESL class involving young learners will often have games and activities at the very heart of the lesson, particularly for younger age groups. A well chosen game or activity can keep everyone engaged in the lesson, provide an opportunity to unload some excess energy, and give the students a way to practice everything they have learned in a spontaneous and less controlled manner.

In contrast, your adult learners are likely to be less energetic and less keen to jump up and get stuck into a physical game. However, you certainly do not want to leave games out of your adult lessons entirely as everyone of any age tends to learn better when they are enjoying the lesson, being creative, and feeling engaged. The choice of activity is clearly important when teaching adults. Conversation-based activities, card games, crossword puzzles, etc, are all go-to activities for many teachers as they get adult students practicing what they have learned.

Student expectations

It is generally true that young learners are not that concerned about the outcomes of each lesson as long as they are enjoying being in the class. It is up to the teacher to ensure that they are getting the quality of instruction needed to make good progress with their English skills. In some cases parents might have high expectations of your lessons, but young learners are unlikely to have any complaints as long as they have a bit of fun in the process.

When it comes to adult learners things can be a bit different as many of them will have chosen to attend your lessons with real reasons for wanting to make quick progress. This is even more of an issue if they are paying for lessons out of their own pocket. Teachers of adult ESL learners always need to be prepared to answer difficult questions regarding grammar or vocabulary. Some students will also be unafraid to let you know if they are unhappy with any part of your teaching style or lesson content. The best advice is to take it on the chin and do the best you can for each individual in the class.

Getting students to talk in English

In young learners' classes it is usually not a problem getting the children to speak up and practice the English they have been taught as they are less afraid of making mistakes than adults. Unfortunately, this does mean that you will need to spend more time correcting poor grammar or pronunciation, but actual communication in English is usually not hard to achieve.

With adult students it can be a very different situation as they will have already spent years in schools that have a strong focus on getting correct answers and avoiding making mistakes. This can be particularly true in some parts of the world where culture dictates this approach to learning. However, no matter where in the world you are teaching you will normally find adults and older young learners to be less willing to speak in front of the class for fear of making mistakes and embarrassing themselves. In these situations it is down to the teacher to create an environment where students feel comfortable to practice any new language without any worries.

Teacher/student relationships

When teaching children it is usually not a problem establishing that the teacher is in charge and the students need to follow their instructions. Some individuals might test your boundaries from time to time, but most will have no problem with the necessary separation between teacher and student.

In contrast, when teaching adults many of your students might be of a similar age to you, while some might be much older. The positive of this is that you can build real relationships with them and get to know them as individuals, which can really help you to plan your lessons. On the down side, it can be a little intimidating teaching a class full of business professional who are all older than you. Also, some teachers fall into the trap of treating the class as friends rather than students and this can have a negative effect on the productivity and success of your lessons.

Register for your TEFL/TESOL Course!

  • 1The registration process is free and does not commit you in any way.
  • 2Anyone fluent in English and aged 18+ is eligible for our courses.
  • 3No previous experience or qualifications are required.
  • 4Register today and receive a free e-guide covering the basics of TEFL/TESOL.
  • 5All online courses are entirely flexible and self-paced. Work at your own pace in your own time!

Personal data
Choose your course
   Online Course
   In-Class Course
   Combined Course
The personal information we collect on this page will be treated in accordance with our privacy policy.
By submitting this form you declare to have read and agreed to the Terms & Conditions.