Teaching adults: Are you experienced? — Well, they are…
Gave my first talk on English Unlimited, the brand-new Cambridge ELT course for teaching adults, last month at the Polish English Language Teachers annual Spring PELT conference in Rzeszow in the southeast corner of Poland (near Ukraine). Spring? Well, it was a few years ago when I first presented at this conference — but this year it was…snowing! Still, I was thinking as I was walking through the old city centre to the big kino (cinema) where the conference takes place, Rzeszow is a lovely little city even under the snow. I presented to about 300 upper-secondary, university and Private Language School teachers on the second day of the conference. (Cambridge Kid’s Box co-author Michael Tomlinson gave a talk on CLIL for younger learners on the first day of the conference for primary and lower-secondary school teachers with the nice title ‘Children Love Interesting Learning’. Will have to write about CLIL in future posts.)
My theme song — and the allusion in the title of this post — was ‘Are you Experienced’ by Jimi Hendrix: Are you experienced? Have you ever been experienced / Well, I am…. And I referred to some of my experiences in teaching adults during my talk on ‘Teaching adults ‘real’ English: Core, Explore and More’.
First of all, adults — in contrast to say, teenagers — usually like talking about themselves and are a good resource as they are usually willing to share their experiences. And even though most adults may well have studied English before, they will in any case need to review the ‘core’ language (structure, lexis, pronunciation et al) so my image for the talk was an apple and its core (get it?). But they may come back to learning the language with negative previous experiences, so you may have some bruised apples (also had pictures of them) with what I call ‘stinking thinking’ who will need extra guidance which English Unlimited provides with activities to lead them to independent learning strategies to improve their individual language challenges.
And since we’re talking about adults who will probably be using their English to interact more with non-native speakers than with native speakers, they need opportunities to ‘explore’ the target language which English Unlimited gives with activities to develop their speaking skills as well as special ‘Across Cultures’ sections which exposes them to global intercultural matters.
The ‘more’ bit of the title of my PELT talk relates to the electronic components of the course, especially the DVD-ROM with the Student’s book which, in addition to extra ‘talking heads’ (and bodies) listening opportunities, also comes with an e-Portfolio in line with the Common European Framework — and indeed the goals-oriented, ‘can-do’ approach of English Unlimited is mapped to the CEF.
What about ‘real’ English? Well, I remember testing adult students at the American Center in Paris where I was pedagogical director before joining Cambridge ELT and asking them why they wanted to learn English. And they would reply ‘I want to understand real English.’ Great, I would say and then ask them what real English was. And you know what these French people would often say? ‘Woody Allen movies!’ Nice objective, I would say, but then try to persuade them that perhaps that’s not exactly real English: Not everyone tells a joke every 30 seconds and has life crises every 3 minutes. No, ‘real’ English is what real ordinary people speak in the street, in cafés, etc: disjointed, unplanned, with lots of fillers, repetition and paraphrasing — perhaps harder to understand when reading the tape script but easier to follow when actually listening because it’s, well, ‘real’. In English Unlimited (BTW: informed by the Cambridge International Corpus for a ‘real English guarantee’) you have real people with a variety of native and non-native accents speaking authentic English both on the class audio CDs and on the DVD-ROM to enable learners to better understand natural, global, international English.
What about you? What are your experiences with teaching experienced adults?
Gary Anderson, Cambridge ELT International Teacher Trainer