Friday, October 11, 2013

Language learning - Making adults communicative learners


Making adults communicative learners

Adults are meta-learners. In an age in which how we learn is probably as important as or more important than what we learn, adults have many characteristics in their favor:
·         They are self-driven
·         They possess a reservoir of life experiences - achievements and failures
·         They are problem-oriented
·         They are eager to plan and design how they can be evaluated

Adult learning therefore is often grounded in two areas of theory: Andragogy and Heutagogy; in short, self-directed learning and self-determined learning. More reading on the topic can be found here and here.


With the extensive use of social media for learning, peer learning has also grown in popularity, despite being around all along. But now we talk of a determined and negotiated effort of a group of learners to acquire knowledge together, to share what they know and add more to that previous knowledge. The term peeragogy now features in online learning for students of any age.

To a certain extent, these terms have already permeated ELT under the guise of LEARNER TRAINING and LEARNER AUTONOMY. The first is directly dependent on the second, as we cannot become independent without being guided to do just that.

The tenets of the Communicative Approach to language teaching and learning cater for learner training that leads to learner autonomy:

·      The teacher is facilitator, coach, guide and more competent user
·      Language is presented in the diverse social settings in which it is used
·      Human communication is driven by the need to fill an INFORMATION GAP through INTERACTION.
·      Language is not an end but an ADAPTABLE tool by which we achieve our COMMUNICATVE GOALS.
·      Interaction with our peers enhances communicative skills (a set of combining elements, of which LANGUAGE is just one ingredient)
·      Error correction works towards either ACCURACY or FLUENCY, not both at the same time.
·      Learning is acquired through experience, which in turn is comprised of successful and unsuccessful attempts at something.

Perhaps the most basic lesson we can learn from this approach is that we adjust our language to effectively communicate in the social context we are in. Effective communication, then involves mastering the linguistic, social and pragmatic codes regarded as conventions by a community of speakers.

The awareness our adult students have of all of this is often very low and this results in their reluctance to 
·     Engage in pair and group work
·     Act out role plays
·     Sit in non-traditional seating arrangements (in which the teacher is no longer the center)
·     Infer meaning from context
·     See language through the MUF (Meaning, Use and Form) triad.
·     Make mistakes and be WILLING to learn from them.

Most surprisingly, this unawareness seems to flourish only in a language learning context for reasons that will not be explored here.

What can professionals who adopt a communicative approach to language teaching do in light of these considerations? There is no golden rule or magic spell, but here are twelve tips that might help. To read them, click here and let communication flow.

What makes a good language learner? Check this list and see if your adult learners are up to mark.

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