К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2011
Автор: Асылбаева Асель Булатовна
At present the
English language is one of that subjects which is claimed by time and society.
Lately the need for mastering foreign languages has greatly increased nowadays
(of course, English first of all) among the specialists of different spheres.
economic cooperation of Kazakhstan on international level causes the need for
preparation of skilled specialists who know English. That is why practical knowledge
of English becomes real necessity of modern society.
The necessity in
study of foreign languages by workmen of different production spheres increases
in consequence of all more increasing trend of the close cooperation of Kazakhstan enterprises with foreign companies.
As a result of the
absence or the rather poor standard of English language teaching in Poland over the past few decades, we now have a low percentage of people who are fluent in
any foreign language. The situation is certainly going to change as our school
curricula are now strongly language-oriented. Children and teenagers learn two
or three languages at school and many pupils take additional lessons. The most
popular of foreign languages is of course English.
The group who
suffered most from the unfavorable socio-political situation was the
middle-aged group. This group also does not want to "give up." They
want to tune in to the times of change and learn English, which in many cases
they now need for their career. Their younger colleagues, people who graduated
from universities just several years ago when the educational institutions had
not yet started to see foreign language learning as a priority, also have a lot
to catch up with. They did learn some English, but one could hardly call them
fluent speakers of the language. So they too take up English courses. If we combine
the two groups, we can see that the market for teaching English to adults in Kazakhstan is a considerable one.
post-tertiary students, a teacher of English must be aware of the specifics of
this group. Adult learners differ from other age groups in respect to their
learning experience, memory type, motivation, and, most of all, in respect to
their needs and expectations. As they are a little bit "behind
schedule," they want to learn fast and see the results almost immediately.
Generally, they are a likeable age group to teach, although there are things
which simply do not work with them.
experience of teaching English to adults, I decided to write out a
questionnaire which would confirm some of my observations as to what irritates,
frustrates, and demotivates learners in this age group. Knowing about the
don'ts of teaching adults seemed as important as knowing about the do's. I
decided that knowing about the dislikes of adults should help to make the
teaching-learning process more effective and enjoyable for the learners.
asked the learners to admit to the things they dislike about learning English
or would like to eliminate from the process in general, as well as to give
reasons for both. Then it attempted to sound out more particular dislikes
concerning such things as the textbook, type of classroom activities, exercises,
materials, topics, and finally the teacher.
On the basis of
the answers received, I discovered the following seven things that adult
learners of English dislike most:
1. Textbooks in
English only. Although adult learners appreciate the textbooks available on the
Kazakhstan book market and used in most language courses for their clarity,
logical structuring of the material, and pleasant visual form, one of the
critical remarks about them is their lack of any language notes or explanations
in their native language. Without seeing a word in their native language, the
learners feel totally teacher-dependent and unable to use the textbook for
self-study or revision at home. Learning words and grammar points which the
learner did not memorize in the classroom or note down in class is difficult.
The adult learner finds browsing through dictionaries and grammar compendiums
in their native language too time-consuming and becomes discouraged from
studying on his or her own.
Most textbooks in
use are based on the communicative method which stresses the efficiency of
teaching English through English; that is, to make the students learn how to listen,
to pick out key words, and begin to think for themselves, thereby reducing the
amount of interference from L1. The learners, however, seem to find the idea of
abandoning the native language a bit too challenging, at least when it comes to
the textbooks they use.
If we think of
Suggestopedic textbooks, which in an effort to minimize the learner's stress
provide him with parallel columns of texts in the foreign and native language,
respectively, we may come to a conclusion that some explanatory notes in the
native language and bilingual glossaries may not do much harm. These notes
would not only save the learners time, but also give them the sense of security
they miss in the often new experience of learning a foreign language.
Many adult learners admit to their inhibitions when it comes to playing roles
(i.e., pretending to be someone else). The problem with this kind of classroom
activity boils down to the necessity of acting and improvising, which according
to some learners requires special talent. Here adult learners prove more
self-conscious than representatives of other age groups.
We must, however,
account for individual differences which, irrespective of their age, allow some
people to be more or less suited to dramatic activities. When asked to play a
role of a tourist abroad or a customer in a shop, some learners will behave
almost naturally, while, others, for whom the situation seems artificial, may
lack ideas to enliven the activity. On the other hand, asked to play a totally
unreal situation (e.g., "you are a police officer interviewing people for
an alibi"), some learners will let themselves be carried away by
imagination while others will just be double-stressed, having to think not only
how to say things in English, but what to say.
A solution to the
latter problem may simply be giving the more inhibited learners more detailed
briefing about their role, thus limiting the freedom of choice which seems to
be troublesome for some adult learners. Foreign language learning without using
language in situations would not be the same. As Byrne (1976) says: "We do
not need to be over concerned if there are one or two students who find
themselves unable to participate fully. Dramatic activities... involve more
than just performance: the situation has to be discussed, the characters
developed, the scene elaborated and the language to be used worked out. In
these and other matters all students can participate fully". We must use
the less inhibited or "more gifted" learners' potential and help
those less likely to "improvise".
3. Drilling. When
learning grammar, adult learners like to be given nice and clear explanations
without too much specialist terminology so that they understand the problem
fully before they start practising. With this cognitive approach to learning,
when we move from the presentation stage to practice, adult learners are not
very fond of typical drilling exercises like substitution, repetition, or transformation.
Doing these kinds
of mechanical exercises, learners do not see how this rather passive activity
could possibly improve their overall performance in the foreign language and
they easily get disinterested. Their way of thinking seems to be, "I must
first understand what it is all about and then try to use it myself in a
sentence which is not so easy to predict." Intelligent learners, a term
that includes most adults, soon realize that such exercises can be done without
even trying to understand the sentence fully, which is rather pointless. When
asked to do a drill-like exercise as their homework, adult learners can often
be found to have "cheated," that is, having done the exercise without
checking the unknown words.
As we cannot skip
the guided practice altogether, adult learners must have something instead of
habit-forming drills. They obviously prefer more involved activities, like
answering open-ended questions, describing pictures or cartoon stories, or
solving crossword puzzles. Another activity is a translation exercise in which
each sentence, even though based on the same structure, is different and the
adult learners have to build the sentence from scratch, paying attention to the
meaning of what they are saying. Attention-capturing activities in which some
thinking is required seem more suitable for adult learners of a foreign language.
In some cases, however, pronunciation practice for example, we must smuggle in
some drilling, as cognitive thinking will not be of much help here.
4. Textbooks with
no reading material or with artificial texts. Perhaps as a remnant of the
grammar-translation method with which they were once taught foreign languages,
adult learners do not appreciate textbooks that feature dialogues, pictures,
and charts, but have only a few rather short passages for reading. New
vocabulary items seem to be better remembered if they are introduced in a
context of a longer text, a structured entity devoted usually to one subject
with which the learner later associates a group of new words.
Adult learners are
not satisfied with just any reading material. They want it to be interesting
and realistic. Adult learners do not seem to enjoy reading about imaginary
characters who have just arrived from another planet. They are slightly
surprised when presented with reports about made-up countries, they frown at
texts they find far from true. If we want to discuss a text as a follow-up
activity, the text must be of interest to the learners. What triggers
discussion best are texts touching upon controversial matters (e.g., women
priests, the advantages and disadvantages of the latest technical developments,
It seems that
authentic texts, even at the elementary level, serve their purpose better than
do artificially composed texts. They give the learners a challenge as well as a
foretaste of real English. As many adult learners stress, they need to be
equally acquainted with the spoken and written form of the foreign language
they are learning. Aural-oral skills are important, but we must not forget that
adult students need some more sound reading practice, too. Choosing a textbook
with a sufficient amount of interesting, up-to-date reading material is what
adult learners will certainly appreciate.
5. Homework. What
characterizes an adult learner is his or her perennial lack of time. Adult
learners are busy enough carrying out their professional work and fulfilling family
duties; so, if on top of that they decide to take up a foreign language, this
becomes quite a burden. Adult learners do want to learn but have very little or
no time for it at home. They expect to learn as much as possible in the
classroom. Being assigned homework and not finding time to do it can be very
frustrating and may eventually lead to giving up the course.
Whether or not to
give homework is for the individual teacher to decide, once the teacher knows
the "homework capacity" of the learners in a course. When assigning
homework is pointless because the learners never do it, classroom activities
must be enough. Much revision and remedial work, effective use of time, and
some individual work (normally given as homework) in the classroom should solve
There may be
alternative homework which does not require extra time, like listening to the
radio or TV news in English and reading the press in English. A piece of advice
for an adult learner can be, "just keep your eyes and ears open to the
language you are learning and we can do without homework as such".
teachers. Adult learners respond negatively to the teacher's using the textbook
as the only teaching aid. They do not like the situation where the teacher uses
the book in an indiscriminating way, prepares no other materials, or follows
the teacher's book blindly. One of the reasons why adults are not very fond of
conscientious, uninterrupted covering of the material in the textbook may be that
they associate this kind of learning with their school years, which they
obviously would not like to go back to as grown-up, professional people.
Sticking to the
textbook material all the time sounds boring. It is necessary for the teacher
to be innovative and prepare some extra materials and organize classroom
activities in a different way from what the textbook instructions suggest. Most
textbook writers would agree that the teacher may sometimes deviate from or
supplement the author's suggestions.
expect their teacher to easily change the plans for the lesson, if such were
the need of the group. The learners may ask for more situational language
practice, or extra help in dealing with specialist language in their work. The
teacher must be ready to adapt to the learners' temporary needs. Interesting
ideas and a readiness to accommodate to the changing needs of the participants
of the course is what adult learners appreciate about their teacher.
This is one thing we cannot do without, even though some learners might hate
it. The problem with listening-based activities is that they are, for some
adult learners, the most frustrating ones. Adult learners seem to feel under
more pressure when they are supposed to understand an aural, recorded text than
when they are asked to speak. They complain about the quality of the recording
and frown at any background noises. What irritates them most is "the
impossible speed" at which the people in the recording speak.
The speed of
authentic speech, obviously higher than that of a nonnative teacher to whom the
students are accustomed; the background noises some recordings include; and the
fact that the speakers do not always use standard English (on many cassettes
there are voices of children, elderly people, people with different social and
regional accents, or a combination of these) can make the learner's life rather
difficult. There is, however, no other solution than introducing listening comprehension
as often as possible so the learners overcome the problem by getting used to
In a situation
where we cannot provide a native speaker as a teacher, we must use recorded
conversations to acquaint the learners with authentic spoken English in some
way. Transcripts of recorded texts for reference would help some learners feel
more secure. The teacher must do his or her best to sugar the pill in any
possible way, so that the adult students do not panic at the very sight of a
demanding foreign language learners. They want their learning to be an almost
stress-free activity which they can help plan. They would like to learn as much
as possible in the classroom because they have difficulties reconciling home
study with other duties. They do need some instruction and equivalents in their
native language to feel very secure. What stresses them most are role-plays and
listening to native speakers talking rapidly. Most certainly there are other
things adult learners might dislike, and it is a very useful for the teacher not
only to observe but to ask the learners openly about those things. The more you
know about your learners' likes and dislikes, the more fulfilling and
successful your classes will be.
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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2011