Tips for Teaching Older Learners in ESL Classes

Image courtesy of Witthaya Phonsawat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Witthaya Phonsawat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A small but significant number of immigrants who arrive to this country are elderly. Older learners can be defined chronologically, as between the ages 40-65, or by status, as midlife career changers, retirees returning to the labor force, displaced workers, and homemakers. While, contrary to popular belief, adults can learn language in the early stages more quickly than children due to more highly developed cognitive strategies for processing information, many older learners still have different learning needs from younger adult learners that should be addressed in ESL programs. Below are some factors that can affect their English language learning in the classroom, as well as strategies for working with these factors.

  • Visual and hearing disabilities: Aging tends to affect sight and hearing, which can make it difficult for older learners to hear the language as it’s spoken or read their lessons. Create a more comfortable classroom environment for older learners by keeping the room well-lit, using textbooks and other reading materials with large print, and reducing any background noises as much as possible.
  • Learning styles: Older learners have often become set in their ways with regard to the different learning styles they have developed over the years, so it would be beneficial to use a more flexible teaching approach. Observe how your students learn best, draw on their life experiences, and use these tools to further engage them in learning English language and literacy.
  • Personal and professional needs: Many older learners are not learning English as part of the goal of earning a degree or certification. Instead they’re learning it to gain access to information and services, for work, to interact more fully with other English speakers, or to communicate with family members who do not speak the learner’s native language. Focus the lessons around practical everyday tasks like making a doctor’s appointment, or on interactions with family, friends, and their communities.

Our full solutions for Welcome to Computers for ESL Students, 4th Edition, coming August 12, includes large print, picture dictionaries, and a variety of activities and assignments to engage many different learning styles. Contact Labyrinth Learning to learn more.