Teaching English to senior learners: The best tips

It is very likely that you have heard the saying of “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, but that’s not true at all. Teaching English has become increasingly popular in senior learners these last few years, and English courses have even been made specifically for them. For this reason, in this article we will talk about the best tips for teaching seniors to speak English

1. Be patient.

It seems very obvious advice, but you must remember that it is very likely that these people have many years without being in a classroom and have forgotten the dynamics a bit. Second, they have certain limitations. For example, needing a little more time to understand complex grammar structures and idiomatic phrases, in addition to the memory factor. The memory of a young student takes less time to absorb knowledge. Nonetheless, older learners have a lot of internal motivation and eagerness to learn. Don’t rush things and make this an enjoyable experience for both you and your students.

2. Learning styles.

Be flexible with the learning patterns of your senior students. More often than not, they prefer an analytical and formal grammar, accompanied with controlled practice before moving into fluent communication activities. Seniors might also request more (detailed) explanations of grammar. Try to accommodate your English lessons to what works best with them, that way, you’ll keep them motivated and making progress. Let them ask questions (but not several, to prevent the class from becoming tedious) and let them take all the notes they need.

3. Build confidence and reduce stress.

Older students are prone to have perfectionist tendencies, so they can be too hard on themselves, especially when trying to learn a foreign language. Let them know that it’s ok to make mistakes here and there and that it’s not necessary to obsess over details such as very minor grammar errors. Senior learners need to feel comfortable before participating in the language classroom. Focus on the learning process instead of academic achievement. Here are some things you can do to build their confidence:

  • Promote a friendly atmosphere.
  • Adjust your methodology to your student’s motivations.
  • Build empathy between you and your students.
  • Don’t do (short framed) timed tests. Give them a bit more time than younger students to prevent them from becoming anxious.

4. Help them hear.

Hearing is an important part of English classes. You learn the correct pronunciation of the words by listening. You can help your students to listen a lot better by:

  • Speaking clearly and high enough.
  • Adjusting the volume for videos and to listen.
  • Repeating listening texts more frequently.
  • Using classrooms with little to no background noise.

5. Help them see

Remember that eyesight can get worse as you get older. Teaching older people means doing some adjustments to make things easier for them, and that includes seeing.

  • Write clearly on the board.
  • Use larger print types for printed texts.
  • Have your students sit as close as possible to the board.
  • Make sure that your classrooms have proper lighting.

6. Help them remember

Just like eyesight, cognitive development also declines with aging, which can make learning English (or any other language) more difficult. In order to help your seniors to maintain (and develop) their cognitive ability you can do the following:

  • Repeat grammar, vocabulary and expressions systematically.
  • Use memory exercises during your classes.
  • Use visuals to associate with phrases, idioms and expressions.
  • Get to know the cognitive strategies they have used before to integrate them in your methodology.

7. They have great motivation, so use that advantage.

Most of the time, older students are not seeking certificates or university credits. They have more intrinsic motivations to learn a language. They study English language to socialise with their peers, or for sheer enjoyment of doing something they always wanted to do. Motivation is a key factor to successful language learning, and they most likely won’t miss class and always do their homework. You won’t find yourself having to plan methods and activities to motivate your students, so you can use time in more productive activities for them. They also are very polite, respectful and considerate, so you won’t have to worry about dealing with problematic students.

Teaching English to senior learners

We have the homestay learnenglish1-2-1’s English Language Course for Seniors (55+). This course offers beginner to intermediate levels that combine learning with short breaks in the UK or South Africa, making language learning a very unique and pleasant experience that allows the students to practice in informal and friendly environments while they experience a different culture.  The Course has 20 hours of English a week.  Fifteen hours in a formal environment, and five hours of informal conversation delivered whilst out with your Tutor.

With this course, you can refresh your command of English (or get an excellent start) or live complete and traditional experiences: Visiting England or South Africa’s Cape town and places that are historic or of interest to you. You can even arrange your lessons in particular places you’d like to visit!

This course also offers many other benefits:

  • The social element.

Older people are more prone to be isolated or feel lonely, especially those who have a hard time socializing or making friends. This course offers a two-to-one package: you can come with a friend or someone from your family. Both students stay with the same tutor and share lessons and activities.

  • Tutors of similar ages

Mature students might have an easier time getting along with a teacher who is of similar age and who has similar interests, making this experience much more enjoyable. They also have a course with tailor-made lessons according to your own requirements, English Homestay Plus Culture program.

  • Culture and learning

The English Homestay Plus Culture program includes a General 15 hour English program with 4 guaranteed visits to local places of interest depending on the area you choose.

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Learn English and Experince Language and Cultural Immersion

Homestay courses offer seniors a unique and intensive opportunity to refine their English skills.

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