People learn new languages for a variety of reasons. They may be travelling and want more than a survival level of the lingua franca. Perhaps they have recently joined an international company that requires a better level of a certain language (probably English) than they currently have. Whatever the reason, when it comes to adult learners there is usually a higher degree of autonomy and self-direction involved than for younger learners, who are typically compelled by their parents or the education system. I have found every one of my adult students to be invested in the learning process, even if their companies are paying for their courses. They really want to improve. It certainly makes teaching in such environments less onerous on the teacher, who doesn’t have to focus additional energy on motivating his or her students to see value in the lessons. Of course, teaching younger learners is just as important. The dynamic is different, that’s all.

Something else that has been interesting to observe in the adult learning environment is how therapeutic the classroom can be for some students. One particular student springs to mind, who often tells me that his two weekly English lessons are like a tonic for him. He has a high-level management position in his company, which comes with a great deal of stress, as one can only imagine. His main goal is typical: he wants to improve his oral fluency. But the classroom is his happy place. It’s somewhere he can forget about the pressures of his job for a little while and focus on something he really enjoys doing: learning English. Somehow this cathartic process further fuels his determination to improve his language skills.

Not everyone is comfortable opening up and sharing their feelings, but if that suits their personality type, learning to do so in another language seems like a great idea to me.