WHO IS AN ADULT LEARNER?
When planning for a year, plant corn. When planning for a decade, plant trees. When planning for life, train and educate people (a Chinese proverb).
Age is one of the factors that influence the process of language learning but it is by no means a deciding factor when it comes to successful learning. Adult learners require teaching methods and techniques different from those used with children or adolescents. They use different learning strategies, have different attitudes towards the foreign language, different goals, preferences and beliefs about the language learning process.
Adult and senior language learners are people who have completed compulsory education and wish to learn a modern language but additionally to their normal duties. It means that cannot abandon their work or other occupation and devote all their time to studying a foreign language. The term ‘adult learners’ describes a very heterogeneous group – people of different age, background and education, who can work in a variety of fields and may have problems of different kinds. What they often have in common is little time that can be devoted to studying a language due to professional and family responsibilities. But adult/senior learners have some characteristics that distinguishes them from children and teenagers. This is their maturity and experience, a variety of knowledge in certain areas, and very often it is their decision to strat learning a language. They want to learn a language for their own sake, for their self development and for keeping them active and participating in lifelong learning.
One of the basic features of adult learners is that they are characterised by abstract thinking. They are able to deal with difficult matters without any visual aids. Some adult students may prefer to use games or songs during lessons, but, generally, they prefer concrete knowledge. Adults, on the whole, tend to be more disciplined than other age groups. What is important, they are often prepared to struggle on despite boredom. Moreover, they have a whole range of life experiences to draw on. They come into the classroom with their problems, their opinions and ideas. It can be difficult to influence their opinions, especially when teaching techniques are concerned (cf. Harmer 2007: 84, Harmer, J. 2007. The practice of English language teaching. Essex: Pearson Education).
The proces of acquiring a foreign language by adult/senior learners is influenced by a variety of factors such as intelligence and learning styles and startegies but also personality, self-esteem, introversion or extraversion. Taking all these facets into account it seams that making a well balanced language course designed aspecially for that group of learners remains a challenge.