Language learning is fun for all, whatever your age! | RPI College

The main aim in studying a language is enjoyment. The adult class is mutually supportive; they get to know and accept each other well; and their confidence and language abilities improve.

Since I started to teach in the mid-70s, I have always liked taking adult language classes. The learners are there voluntarily; they are ‘ready to learn’; and they appreciate the magic of communicating with ‘the other’, a sign of respect for not only the language but the culture. And, of course, as our lives have become more global, many of the learners have in-laws or friends from other countries.  They realise that the next generation will be at least bi-lingual with the influence of the language of the country in which they live being uppermost.

Language is to be spoken, to be sung, to be listened to and enjoyed.  Language learning should be fun. And maybe it is because of the traditional way in which languages were taught, with often too great an emphasis on grammar and writing, that many older learners feel inadequate.  Now don’t get me wrong! I was taught in a fairly traditional way and I feel that there is a need for a mixture of communicative language and ‘discovering’ grammar to support the learners.

What works for me and the adult learner?

Going back to the solid training I had in teaching languages, I find that choral repetition is always a good start. It means that everyone can have a go without feeling exposed. The repetition allows for a review of vocabulary and language patterns and helps the sometimes tired brain to retain vocabulary.

Patterns of discovery

It is important for learners of whatever age to ‘discover’ grammatical patterns rather than to be given all the rules before they use the language.  A mixture of listening to the different sounds to find out, for example, the differences if we are talking about a male or a female, and of examining the written to see a pattern in the spelling lets the adult train the mind to look out for further patterns.

As soon as we start to learn a language we want to use different tenses, mainly to talk about the past. Many adults have not so fond memories of learning off by rote the paradigm of a long list of verbs and tenses, and once a rule was made there followed many exceptions. With adult learners it is useful to build up a store of useful verb constructions to which they attach the infinitives of verb phrases. In this way, they can easily talk about present, future and past.

Reading aloud

To reinforce learning and in response to the different ways in which all of us learn, the regular use of cards with verb phrases and the vocabulary or useful phrases from the given topic bridges the gap between communicative language and the more traditional way of learning. Adult students see the words and phrases and work together to build up a series of sentences. As they read out their sentences it serves as a listening test for other students, and gradually the written support is withdrawn as they memorise the set phrases.

Sentence building is a simple but effective way of extending responses. Students take a verb phrase which they remember and are asked to add on ‘where’, ‘when’ ‘with whom’. As they become more competent they make more complex sentences by adding on a ‘how’ or ‘why’ phrase.

Visuals make language learning stand out

The use of visuals from the plethora of material readily available on the Internet or the ever reliable flashcard reinforces the meaning and the sound of the words. Finally I like to develop ‘language detectives’ by providing fairly dense text and asking the learners to circle those individual words or phrase which they recognise. The text is usually associated to the topic we are covering although I find the daily weather forecast is useful.

The main aim in studying a language is enjoyment. The adult class is mutually supportive; they get to know and accept each other well; and their confidence and language abilities improve. They are able to express themselves well, sometimes hesitantly! When they are met with a torrent of fast spoken French in return ….. ah well, that’s another story!