At the present time, the composition of the school classrooms today is vastly different in the sense that teachers can find not only young students and adolescents but also adult students who return in record numbers to educative institutions or B.S.P.A for a variety of personal or professional reasons.
Firstly, it is essential to determine that an "adult learner is someone mature, serious and hard working or a homemaker with strong motivation, desires, and interest to learn and who is willing to make sacrifices to obtain a qualified education at a school or university".
There are many characteristics to take into consideration about the adult learner when they face the learning of a foreign language. The purpose of this study is to describe the adult cognitive and social characteristics in learning L2 with their pros and cons. This study is the result of observations and active practice in a classroom with older people from thirty and fifty years old.
Naturally, an adult feels uncomfortable since their earlier learning is different from the new one specially those who are starting again the secondary studies. Even more, most of them are anxious and worried because they consider that their intellectual powers could decrease with age. But later they and I agreed that all people can acquire a second language, no matter the age.
To show the important features of an adult learner of L2 according to their cognitive and social characteristics in L2 learning in the classroom.
Identify the Pros and Cons of studying English at an older age.
Define the features of and adult learner of L2 according to their cognitive and social aspects.
Establish the basic advantages and disadvantages for adults when it comes learning L2.
Adult learners are notable for a number of special characteristics in educative institutions for adult people. They start with a concrete experience, they formulate abstract concepts and generalizations, and they deduce what to do next. Then, with the help of material and human resources they focus those concepts and generalizations in new situations or experiences. Moreover adult learners are more disciplined in group work or individually than the children.
On the other hand, adult learners also have other characteristics which can make learning and teaching problematic: can be critical of teaching methods, anxious and under-confident because of previous failure and worry about reducing learning power with age. They often face certain linguistic problems like mistakes or errors which come from the mother tongue.
How is acquired ESL? Is there a significant advantage between adults and young students in learning L2?
What are "Cognitive and Social" characteristics of and adult when learning L2?
What are the advantages and disadvantages according to these characteristics?
Acquiring English as a second language is a complex learning process, involving various and numerous mental processes and activities, such as : learning new information itself, memorization, recognition (identifying) the learnt material, its application , etc. Each of these represents the combination of both physical and mental skills and actions, dependant on such characteristics as age, intellectual potential and general knowledge. (1)
The acquisition of the second language by adult learners can be slow, discouraging and often frustrating. All learners want to use a foreign language with confidence and spontaneity in the same way as they use their mother tongue. The major complaint that teachers hear is that none of learners can talk about topics without a constant hesitation. The major purpose of a teacher is to persuade and encourage them to break the barriers of prejudices and stereotypes in order to learn the L2 despite of their age. (1)
Noam Chomsky's theory of "Universal Grammar" is based on the notion that the grammar of all human languages is based on a "set of innate principles". One distinction between very young learners and older learners is that the older ones already fully possess a "Universal Grammar."
As a result, an adult and young learner has a clear advantage - the innate framework for grammar has already been developed and will be adaptable for use in learning a second language. So it will be a useful for adults to take advantage of this innate knowledge. (1)
Cognitive and social characteristics
"Self-esteem is the jet fuel of motivation"
Generally speaking, most adults share some of the following Cognitive features (2):
Tend to be Self-Directed or Autonomous over their learning.
Motivation makes them getting involved in learning.
Interpretation of the new learning in context of old learning experience (mother tongue).
To be very concerned about the effective use of their time.
To learn at a slower rhythm than the youth.
Social features (2):
Sees teachers as peers' partners in the learning process.
Demand flexibility and patience.
Enjoy communication and peer group with classmates.
To use the multimedia as an innovative tool for learning and for communicating without fear.
Advantages and Disadvantages (3)
The first advantage is that adult learners have some degree of external motivation. They may study English for a variety of reasons. Generally speaking for some students, the motivation may be integrative because they wish to take part themselves into the culture of an English-speaking country. But in this specific case, their motivation is an instrument that can bring them a better job or position or just for continuing their studies. When these adult students go to class with some motivation they are easier to teach and they are strongly involved.
Second, adult students' life experience is contributive into their learning. It helps them a lot when they have to read about or discuss complex or controversial topics in English. So the English teacher will engage adult learners if he or she knows how to catch their attention and interests according to the knowledge they have gained over time. In addition adult learners have extensive experience of using a language, which is their mother tongue. So it is not uncommon to see learners comparing and contrasting their first language with the foreign language they are learning. In other words, use of the translation is rather positive for them to digest the information and to communicate effectively among them.
Then, from social point of view adults enjoy the peer group communicative activities since they are self-directed and also they need to be guided by the teacher and they need to interact with their classmates.
On the other hand, there are some disadvantages of learning English for adult students. The first disadvantage is that English learning makes a strong demand of time. As a matter of fact, it is really difficult for adult students to make much time to learn English as they should. The simple reason is that they all have their own lives to live outside the classroom with many other responsibilities to do such as attending their homes and jobs' duties. As a result, some students fail in attending classes or miss important classes. Of course, teachers will have difficulty in monitoring the performance and progress of those students who cannot attend class regularly.
Another factor that weakens or even limits adult students' learning is their fear of failure and frustration with lack of progress. Take into account that some adult students are very successful professionals or want to have status at their work place .They may feel under stress if they do not give themselves enough time to achieve their goals. In this case, the teacher has more work to do: helping and guiding these students to get the level of challenge and to avoid emotional or physical obstacles during the process of learning the foreign language.
In addition, the lack of well-qualified teachers and the poor physical conditions of the classrooms at some English language schools and centers can be damaging to student motivation. If the teacher is untrained or inexperienced, it will deliver boring or uninteresting lessons.
To conclude, such characteristics of this group of learners in particular partly reflects the increasing need for English language learning and mainly shows the advantages and disadvantages that adult students have in their English study and learning . Both teachers and students need to be aware to find ways to maximize the advantages and minimize the disadvantages. Only in this way can teachers deliver quality English language.
"If the education is life, then the life is also education." Linderman
Despite the learning of the L2 in adulthood can occur with some advantages and disadvantages, there always will be a place to learn with educators for people from all ages.
The type of research is a descriptive research focusing the pros and cons of learning English during adulthood. Its purpose is to show how adults learn from the cognitive and social point of view.
The instruments of collecting data are:
Observation and active practices of classes in the institution for adults' education. Data compilation selected from books, Internet and daily field observations.
Data compilation from books, internet and daily field observations in the classroom.
The population of this research is based from the level EGB1 at Centro N° 7065 B.S.P.A Prof. Oscar Montenegro, Salta Capital. (2009). the students are between 35 to 50 years old who belong to middle economic class.
The period of time designated for this work took around 3 months during the Practice Residency in the year 2009.
According to my observations and teaching practices I found that adult learners in ESL classes learn at different times and in different ways with strengths and weaknesses into their learning for L2.
Â No doubt that this project made me grow personally and professionally during my time with students. Despite of the short period of practice I could appreciate, understand, compare and improvise the arduous job of teaching.
What is more important for these learners? The answer is clear: "teachers need to use a variety of methods and strategies to improve learners' strengths and help them reach their language learning goals meanwhile they help reducing factors that interfere in the process of learning, such as underestimation, hesitation, stress, slow-paced learning situations, fear of failure, anxietyâ€¦
As I have had the chance to teach for a short period of time to adult people and I have noticed that most adult students carry a sort of heavy luggage full of responsibilities or economic preoccupations into the classroom. However, adult students have strong desires to learn and purposes in common to complete the academic studies. They have been more interested in group work than working alone.
Unfortunately, the adult students of the B.S.P.A have presented more disadvantages than strengths. For instance, the textbook chosen by their teacher was completely outdated and out of context. As teachers we know that it is highly important that the assimilation of a new material in order to grow motivation and to get interest. For example contrary to young learners, adults disliked role-plays and made-up stories out of a meaningful context, probably because of their practicality and life experience. Adults demand something relevant and applicable to real life probably the most important for adult learners is to be able to apply their learning to their work or personal life - immediately.
Second, they demand grammatical exercises than reading long textbooks because tend to concentrate more on the grammatical structure of the sentence, trying to make it correct and coherent from the grammatical point of view. The translation's techniques are used regularly among them. It is not recommendable let them translate word for word.
Finally, adult students only used the class textbook and photocopies provided by the teacher, most of them do not surf on the Internet, much less to explore web sites. Today internet is an essential tool with several web pages to practice writing, reading and pronunciation. According to their comments they think that if learning English is difficult to learn at their age, Internet should be even more difficult for them.