On the Road with Gary in…Belgium and the Balkans

Teaching ‘tween-agers’ and teenagers

I was in the middle of back-to-back trips to Belgium (just Brussels) and the Balkans (just Skopje in Macedonia and Podgorica in Montenegro) where I was giving various workshops, including on teaching tween-agers with More! and Messages and on teaching teenagers with English in Mind and Interactive. It got me thinking about, well, tween-agers and teenagers.

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Now first of all, if you haven’t come across the term ‘tween-agers’ before, it’s fairly self-explanatory. Tween-agers are pre-adolescent children who are ‘in between’ ages; they’re no longer infants in primary school (so language classes are no longer mainly fun and games and songs) but also not yet teenagers (with all the challenges they pose; think teenage crisis, rebellion, puberty et al) in secondary school. Tween-agers are in between the imaginative, fairy tale world of Father Christmas and unicorns and the real world, coming out of infancy and going into a different psychological — and biological — realm.

I remember — and used as examples in my talks — my kids as tween-agers: My son would still cuddle on my lap with me, but he (alas) wouldn’t do that when he became a teenager. And when she was a tween-ager, my daughter still had all her stuffed animals on her bed while at the same time had her bedroom walls full of posters of the singer Anastasia and the Spice Girls.

My daughter Googled ‘tween-agers’ and came up with this first reference from The Guardian back in March 2001: If you think teenagers are growing up quickly, take a look at their younger siblings, the 9- to 12- year-olds the marketing industry has branded as “tween-agers”. (In fact, as you probably know, ‘teenagers’ was also originally a marketing term coined in the US back in the 50s to sell to the post World War II so-called ‘baby-boomers’.)

9 to 12, 8 to 13, 10 to 14 or whatever; the ages don’t exactly really matter — it’s the principle that does. And in most countries, there is in fact an educational divide between primary school and secondary school, called different things in different countries: upper primary, middle school, junior high school, lower secondary… whatever.

Anyway, I was trying to make the point during my talks that there’s a difference between teaching tween-agers and teenagers. Because with tween-agers you can still deal with the affective side while also being effective by starting to teach them grammar rules, lexical formation, perhaps some phonetic symbols, etc. But with most teenagers, you have to be quite careful on the emotional side, while of course preparing them for their school-leaving exams and/or Cambridge English for Schools exams and for using English in their future studies and careers.

What about you? Do you teach tween-agers and/or teenagers? Do you think there’s a difference between teaching ‘tweens and ‘teens? Is the educational distinction made in your country and, if so, at what ages? Looking forward to reading — and replying to — your comments.

Gary Anderson, Cambridge ELT International Teacher Trainer

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