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  • incognito84
  • Veteran

    • 145

    • September 01, 2008, 01:51:25 pm
    • Suwon, South Korea
Why can't my adult students advance?
« on: January 26, 2012, 07:56:56 am »
I've been teaching for a long while but I've only been teaching adults for a year or so on and off so I'm not used to them.

I have some students that learn at a fast rate, others at a medium rate and many others who seem to learn at the slowest rate possible.

Some general trends that I notice is that when I correct students on the spot, they disregard it. If I write it down and make them repeat it without the mistake, they'll do it but then go ahead and make the same mistake again immediately despite me getting on their case about it.

Many students don't try to advance, especially high level students. They become rather content with the level they are at, especially if I can understand them while talking about advanced topics. It doesn't matter how much I get on their case for making the same mistakes over and over again, it's almost as if their ability has "peaked" and they don't want to advance. I give all my students homework regularly and most don't even look at it, even if I punish them somehow the next class for not having it done.

Then there are the low level students. Some of them have been at a low level for a very, very long time, regardless of how much they study.

I have one student today who studies all the time and has been for years. He claims to do every kind of studying in his free time, including listening. He's in his mid-30s.

I played a CD audio with the line: "What time did he arrive at the office?" spoken by a native speaker. The student had to listen to it more than ten times before understanding most of it but he struggled with "the office." He wrote down "di offer? teff ice? toffice? de office?" despite me repeating it over and over again.  I had to spell it out for him to get the "AHHH! THE OFFICE!" It doesn't matter what I'm teaching, he seems to have major difficulty mastering even the simplest of grammar.

How can I improve my students rate of learning? Why do they have such a hard time with English?

It's almost like they have some kind of mental block preventing them from really learning.

Any advice is appreciated. I just needed to vent...
« Last Edit: January 29, 2012, 10:42:15 pm by incognito84 »


  • SpaceRook
  • Expert Waygook

    • 814

    • November 18, 2010, 11:54:36 am
    • South Korea
Re: Why can't my adult students advance?
« Reply #1 on: January 26, 2012, 08:28:59 am »
You can't take it personally.  They need to have self-motivation.  You can help by making it interesting, but there is only so much you can do.  If your students go home and keep watching Korean dramas and reading Korean books and hanging out with their Korean friends, then their English isn't going to improve no matter how amazing your class is. 

I know what you mean about adults repeating the same mistakes.  Several of my Korean friends still mix up "he" and "she".  Another friend always refers to his "older brother", which is confusing because a) his brother is younger and b) he only has 1 brother anyway, so why specify if he is older or younger?  (Yeah, I know that's how they do it in Korean).

Try implicit correction instead of explicit correction:


EXPLICIT CORRECTION
================
Student: I saw my mother yesterday.  He cooked me dinner.
Teacher: Don't say "he".  Say "she", because your mother is female.

IMPLICIT CORRECTION:
================
Student: I saw my mother yesterday.  He cooked me dinner.
Teacher: Oh, what did she cook for you?






Re: Why can't my adult students advance?
« Reply #2 on: January 26, 2012, 09:09:52 am »
Stop using texts with adults.  Not only are they familiar with them, they've done the same stuff for nearly their entire lives during their English education. 

During my first two months in Korea, I had tried to use the books, quickly saw that the book was not helpful and cancelled the class to develop a new curriculum.  I told my director this, my ideas and he agreed.

One week later, massive changes to the class, with some students staying over 2 years and even an additional 3 years afterwards privately in my home.  I still keep in touch with quite a few because class was not just class...it was enjoyable for everyone on both a learning and personal level.

The most common reason that people plateau quickly and dont' improve is because you are not tappign their interest (and I'm not talking about simple topic changes or rubbish like that) and they really don't care.  Adults are different, try to get to know them, learn about them and make class not just a formal class (though it has structure), but a learning experience they can all enjoy.

MC


  • teachermc
  • Super Waygook

    • 384

    • March 04, 2010, 11:47:41 am
    • Tongyeong, South Korea
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Re: Why can't my adult students advance?
« Reply #3 on: January 26, 2012, 09:18:47 am »
I know what you mean about adults repeating the same mistakes.  Several of my Korean friends still mix up "he" and "she".  Another friend always refers to his "older brother", which is confusing because a) his brother is younger and b) he only has 1 brother anyway, so why specify if he is older or younger?  (Yeah, I know that's how they do it in Korean).

In Korean you use familial terms for friends and colleagues as well.  Perhaps the 'older brother' your friend refers to is an older friend or coworker that he has.

To the OP:
I have only taught adults here in teacher's classes a couple of times a week, but I can relate to what you describe.  Your students have not only studied English for a long time, they have likely also studied with more than a dozen teachers using various methods of language instruction.  Most commonly, it seems like adult students lack experience learning a grammatical pattern and being asked to apply it immediately in their own, original sentences.  Also, although they may be familiar with a variety of grammar rules they may have not been introduced to them in a logical pattern. 

At best, your students seem like false beginners in need of some kind of comprehensive approach to grammar starting at the basics.  This can be really challenging for adults, especially when they believe that they are at a much higher level.

Have you ever listened to any Michel Thomas language courses?  I would suggest looking into his method of making connections between one's native language and a foreign language, especially since you have some proficiency in Korean.  I have applied his teaching methodology to materials I am developing for elementary school students with some great results.


  • Jozigirl
  • Hero of Waygookistan

    • 1045

    • May 03, 2011, 07:37:47 am
Re: Why can't my adult students advance?
« Reply #4 on: January 26, 2012, 09:27:23 am »
There is a hypothesis called the "Critical Age Hypothesis".  It postulates that learning a language becomes much harder with the onset of puberty because there are physical changes in our brains - particularly the region that controls language - after the age of 12.  This doesn't mean that we're not capable of learning a language at all but the hypothesis is that we will never acquire native-like competency in a language if we only start learning it after the onset of puberty. 

There are also several other theories in Second Language Acquisition studies that show that adults self-monitor a lot more than children, which thereby hinders their progress in a language.  We also reach a plateau a lot earlier than children and, the older we are when learn a language, the sooner we reach this plateau.  The plateau is different for every person though, which is why some people seem to find language learning easier than others. 

A third point to consider is the motivation for learning the target language.  If a person is internally motivated to learn a language - ex. (s)he wants to be able to communicate with people socially to avoid isolation or exclusion - language acquisition is likely to be more successful and the person will seem to advance more quickly.  If the motivation is external, such as needing English for a promotion, the progress and acquisition will be much slower.

Yes, it is entirely possible that many of your students are genuinely studying a lot but not making much visible progress in your opinion.  I have spent hours studying Korean but my limited understanding and speaking abilities don't reflect this.  Some adults will have a sub-conscious mental block too.  The amount of study time doesn't reflect how successful their acquisition is because it depends on what they're doing in that study time.  If they're just memorising grammar rules and vocab, they're not going to be very successful. 

With regard to vocab acquisition, we have productive and receptive vocabularies.  This means that the vocab that we receive doesn't automatically become the vocab that we can produce.  Think about your own Korean studies:  How many times have you had to have a word repeated and then used before you start to remember it?  This differs for everyone.  Studying vocab is one thing, using it is completely different.  If your students are studying a lot of vocab that they never really get a chance to use, they're going to take much longer to learn those words. 

Even more difficult in English is that we rely a lot on nuances when we speak.  We also use a lot of inflections, which makes speaking a lot harder for Koreans in particular because this is a crucial difference between Korean and English.  Syllable emphasis is hard for them, and something that we, as mother tongue speakers, do naturally.  You also have to allow for transference from the first language.  It is common for us to impose language structures from our first language onto a target language - i.e. direct translation - and this is one of the most difficult things to change as an adult learner.

Be careful with how you correct your students too.  Adults are more inclined to "shut down" if they feel that they are not making enough progress or if they feel that they make too many mistakes.  Don't be too direct in your corrections although it is sometimes necessary.  If it is a small mistake like a pronoun reference, do a "model correct" by emphasising the correction with a stronger accent when you say that particular word.  This is especially useful when working with higher level students.  For the lower level students, focus on communicating meaning first.  If the student can get their point across, that's great even if the grammar isn't always right.  Then focus on fluency: Can they speak without stopping every few seconds even if the grammar is incorrect.  When they can communicate their meaning in a fairly fluent manner, start to focus on the grammar structures and work your way down to the smaller errors that distinguish them from first language speakers.

Finally, remember that there are many different approaches to learning languages.  Some people prefer the grammar translation approach (which usually means that they can't speak the target language well but they can read, write and understand it) which is pretty common in Korea.  If your students are focused on memorising grammar rules and vocab, they are probably using this approach. 

Language is not stagnant.  It must be used in order to be solidified.  This means that if a student doesn't try to use the language (especially in speaking) even if they produce imperfect utterances, their language acquisition will be very, very slow.  They need to expose themselves to the language on a daily basis and for short periods of time.  For a lower level student, suggest that they read one short (300 - 500 words) news article every morning (suggest sites for them), listen to a short video clip (1 - 2 minutes max.) daily and try to speak English for 5 minutes a day (this may be the hardest part for them because they won't necessarily have someone with whom to speak English).  Increase the lengths as they improve.  If a person is not exposed to the target language on a regular basis, (s)he won't acquire it as quickly.  You are surrounded by Korean everywhere you go, which is why you are acquiring Korean more quickly than some of your students.

Adults who are learning a language are usually more motivated.  HOWEVER, their progress can be a lot slower and they are more easily discouraged than younger students.  Be patient with them.  Don't focus on speeding up their rate of learning because there is no standard for this with adult learners.  Adults tend to understand concepts fairly quickly but take a lot longer to implement them whereas it's the complete opposite with most children.  They may be making the same mistakes repeatedly when they speak but are most likely aware of the grammar rule/concept behind the error.  Instead of correcting the error, ask them if they remember the rule for that particular error.  That's when you'll probably see the results of their studying.

Unfortunately, the older your students are, the more likely they are to have reached their plateau.  This means that no matter how much they study, they are not going to improve their English any further.  However, if they stop using the English that they do have, it will fossilise (depending on how much they had acquired already and their level of proficiency) or disappear entirely. 

Listening and reading are not enough to learn a language; it has to be spoken too and that, for at least 90% of the adults I've taught and studied (including myself), is the hardest part because most of us feel self-conscious when we make an error, can't make ourselves understand or, in a classroom environment, compare ourselves to people with a higher proficiency in the target language. 


  • incognito84
  • Veteran

    • 145

    • September 01, 2008, 01:51:25 pm
    • Suwon, South Korea
Re: Why can't my adult students advance?
« Reply #5 on: January 26, 2012, 10:17:25 am »

Try implicit correction instead of explicit correction:


EXPLICIT CORRECTION
================
Student: I saw my mother yesterday.  He cooked me dinner.
Teacher: Don't say "he".  Say "she", because your mother is female.

IMPLICIT CORRECTION:
================
Student: I saw my mother yesterday.  He cooked me dinner.
Teacher: Oh, what did she cook for you?

My students make a variety of mistakes but I'd say the most common one was the dropping of prepositions and articles.

For example: "I went to movie." In all cases, I've tried both explicit and implicit forms of correction. I find that implicit correction does not work for my students.

It usually goes:

Student: I went to movie.
Teacher: So, you went to a movie?
Student: Yes. I went to movie. (Or they just say 응 and continue not realizing that I was correcting them).

I think the underlying problem is that they don't admit to themselves that they're making mistakes. They don't have any innate desire to fix their mistakes. I have a few students who do want to learn otherwise and they will listen to any kind of correction, be it implicit or explicit (I have one student who corrects himself almost obsessively).

With most students, I find I just have to stop them and write it out on the board.

Quote
Stop using texts with adults.  Not only are they familiar with them, they've done the same stuff for nearly their entire lives during their English education. 

During my first two months in Korea, I had tried to use the books, quickly saw that the book was not helpful and cancelled the class to develop a new curriculum.  I told my director this, my ideas and he agreed.

One week later, massive changes to the class, with some students staying over 2 years and even an additional 3 years afterwards privately in my home.  I still keep in touch with quite a few because class was not just class...it was enjoyable for everyone on both a learning and personal level.

The most common reason that people plateau quickly and dont' improve is because you are not tappign their interest (and I'm not talking about simple topic changes or rubbish like that) and they really don't care.  Adults are different, try to get to know them, learn about them and make class not just a formal class (though it has structure), but a learning experience they can all enjoy.

My boss insists on the texts. However, I only loosely use the textbook. I usually cover a quarter or half a page at most in a day, for the rest of the time I have them producing sentences and I correct them. I only use the textbook as a platform from which to make sentences on. I take the grammar and vocabulary from it, teach it and then use it for speak for the rest of the class. With classes that refuse to speak (I have a few classes of university kids that refuse to speak) I find myself struggling a lot with any method I try.

Jozigirl:

Your post is brilliant and insightful. I'm re-reading it a few times. I think it should be made into a separate post and made into a sticky somewhere...
« Last Edit: January 26, 2012, 10:21:40 am by incognito84 »


Re: Why can't my adult students advance?
« Reply #6 on: January 26, 2012, 12:13:18 pm »
MC facepalm's..... <sigh>

This is a perfect example of why people should have some form of understanding in regards to education.  incognito...you're still looking at grammar points.

Jozigirl has some good insight and has provided points, but it looks like you've clearly missed what she is trying to say. 

I'll give you one last hint  ----> Stop focusing on their mistakes.  There are very extensive reasons for this.  It's clear that you don't really understand what your students want from you.  Adult students are simply awesome to teach, if you understand what they want (which varies depending on their circumstances).

There is a reason your class is failing in regards to student participation and enthusiasm.  You are the teacher, explain to your boss what you'd like to do and do it.  Shifting the blame of having to use the textbook because that's what he wants you to do shows that HE does not know what he is doing in regards to education.  L2 is your field of expertise, take a proper leadership role within the class and LEAD!  What you've written down clearly shows that you have no clue what you are doing within this particular classroom context.

MC
« Last Edit: January 26, 2012, 12:16:00 pm by Mountain Crocodile »


  • incognito84
  • Veteran

    • 145

    • September 01, 2008, 01:51:25 pm
    • Suwon, South Korea
Re: Why can't my adult students advance?
« Reply #7 on: January 27, 2012, 12:01:37 pm »
MC facepalm's..... <sigh>

This is a perfect example of why people should have some form of understanding in regards to education.  incognito...you're still looking at grammar points.

Jozigirl has some good insight and has provided points, but it looks like you've clearly missed what she is trying to say. 

I'll give you one last hint  ----> Stop focusing on their mistakes.  There are very extensive reasons for this.  It's clear that you don't really understand what your students want from you.  Adult students are simply awesome to teach, if you understand what they want (which varies depending on their circumstances).

There is a reason your class is failing in regards to student participation and enthusiasm.  You are the teacher, explain to your boss what you'd like to do and do it.  Shifting the blame of having to use the textbook because that's what he wants you to do shows that HE does not know what he is doing in regards to education.

MC

...and how do I do that exactly? I do lead. I don't ask the the students what they want to do every time and no, I don't always focus on their mistakes. If they make a mistake consistently, I write it down and teach them the correct way at the end of the class or I correct them on the spot depending on who it is. I remind them if they continue making the mistake.

I didn't have time to read all of Jozigirl's post but I read it again and have got more out of it than I previously got.

Quote
L2 is your field of expertise, take a proper leadership role within the class and LEAD!  What you've written down clearly shows that you have no clue what you are doing within this particular classroom context.

What is L2? How am I not leading? Why do I have no clue what I'm doing? You're basically just yelling: "Boo! You suck!" at me.


  • JahRhythm
  • Fanatical Supporter!

    • 1122

    • May 25, 2011, 12:49:41 pm
    • Seoul
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Re: Why can't my adult students advance?
« Reply #8 on: January 27, 2012, 01:56:52 pm »
L2 is the second language of the students which they are learning, in this case English.
Their L1 is Korean.
I agree about MC. All of his posts manage to be condescending and arrogant.
He just talks himself up and puts others down.
He shows no respect for the other posters on this board and apparently only posts on here to stroke his ego and revel in some pathetic sense of superiority.
He's also on record as saying that one needs a Phd. to know what they're talking about.
Oh and he's also hurled outrageous accuations of pedophilia.

Basically he's the biggest DB on all of Waygook.org.
He's better left ignored.
We teach EFL not ESL. Hagwon and "Private School" are not synonymous. Not everyone works in either a hagwon or public school. Immigration Question? Call 1345.


  • chasmmi
  • Veteran

    • 162

    • January 21, 2012, 02:30:06 am
    • Seoul
Re: Why can't my adult students advance?
« Reply #9 on: January 27, 2012, 02:18:25 pm »
if possible i would also try to learn some of the fundamentals of sentence structure in Korean to get an understanding of why some mistakes are being made.

Your students will be thinking in Korean and as Korean is a world apart from English this will lead to mistakes that most of them won't even be aware sometimes even when corrected.

Words like he, she, a and the' are concepts that just don't compute within the literal translations students want to make. In addition there will be superfluous usage of objects and of words like thing.


If you are able to  separate the mistakes made due to a misunderstanding of the grammar/lesson and the mistakes made due to reverting to Korean using English words, it can help you decide which course of action to take with the relative mistakes.


(Saying that, I've studied Korean for years and still have to desperately fight myself not to say '너' all the time when speaking to someone.


  • incognito84
  • Veteran

    • 145

    • September 01, 2008, 01:51:25 pm
    • Suwon, South Korea
Re: Why can't my adult students advance?
« Reply #10 on: January 27, 2012, 02:46:45 pm »
if possible i would also try to learn some of the fundamentals of sentence structure in Korean to get an understanding of why some mistakes are being made.

Your students will be thinking in Korean and as Korean is a world apart from English this will lead to mistakes that most of them won't even be aware sometimes even when corrected.

Words like he, she, a and the' are concepts that just don't compute within the literal translations students want to make. In addition there will be superfluous usage of objects and of words like thing.


If you are able to  separate the mistakes made due to a misunderstanding of the grammar/lesson and the mistakes made due to reverting to Korean using English words, it can help you decide which course of action to take with the relative mistakes.


(Saying that, I've studied Korean for years and still have to desperately fight myself not to say '너' all the time when speaking to someone.

Yeah, I have done this. My Korean ability is above most of my student's English ability, however most of my students have a larger vocabulary in English than I do in Korean (this is because their education involved so much memorizing).

I have a hard time not saying 나/너 in Korean and I always mix up 에/에서, 이/가 (subject) with 을/를 (object) regardless of how much I practice.  :o I helps me to understand how hard it is for students to get the hang of English articles and prepositions.

I do have a few students that simply seem incapable of learning English on it's own. I have one student that not only insists on using Korean grammar in English but also insists on speaking English through hangul complete with the 으s and 이s.


Re: Why can't my adult students advance?
« Reply #11 on: January 27, 2012, 02:55:43 pm »
Because they (not all, but a lot) expect to be able to absorb it all passively.


  • Peekay1982
  • Expert Waygook

    • 613

    • October 04, 2010, 09:12:28 am
    • 부산
Re: Why can't my adult students advance?
« Reply #12 on: January 27, 2012, 05:52:38 pm »

(Saying that, I've studied Korean for years and still have to desperately fight myself not to say '너' all the time when speaking to someone.


I hear ya... I'm a '당신' machine myself.

I had one Korean teacher who told me "there is no word for 'you' in the Korean language". I asked about '당신' and '너' and she looked really shocked. "If you say those words people will want to fight you".