How Can Language Education Be Adapted for Senior Language Learners?

We recently published Insights into Senior Foreign Language Education by Marek Derenowski. In this post the author explains the particularities of working with senior learners and how teachers might alter their approach accordingly.

World society is constantly aging and in the next three to four decades the number of people who are over 65 years of age is going to triple. Population aging should be considered as a story of success. However, we need to remember that the process of aging should be accompanied with security, dignity, respect, avoidance of negative stereotyping, and complete social inclusion. If these conditions are met, longer life creates a unique opportunity to pursue new activities such as further education (lifelong learning) or long neglected passions.

In some cases, seniors attend education in order to compensate for lost opportunities in their younger life, to avoid social exclusion (e.g. non-citizens, immigrants), overcome the feeling of loneliness, and prevent depression. Others see learning as a perfect way to ‘exercise’ their memory and strengthen their (cognitive) thinking abilities. Regardless of their individual motives, seniors are constantly increasing their educational activity. This in turn creates new challenges for educators who need to create sufficient learning conditions for their older learners.

Teachers who work with senior learners often find this experience exhilarating. Senior learners are wonderful partners in the educational process. They are equipped with a wealth of life experience and are willing to share it in the classroom. They come to the classroom full of positive energy. Furthermore, seniors present a mixture of increased motivation and anxiety. On the one hand, they are afraid to present their private opinions in public. On the other hand, they are extremely motivated to participate, never skip a class, or forget their homework.

Working with senior learners requires a different approach and often focuses on building their confidence and reducing potential stress. In order to do so, teachers may:

  • Create and promote a friendly and relaxed atmosphere
  • Provide senior learners with more time during activities
  • Avoid traditional testing and think of alternative forms of assessment
  • Find out more about their motivations and reasons for joining the course
  • Develop techniques based on positive psychology in order to create empathy
  • Focus on providing positive feedback
  • Cater for any problems they may have with active participation

The relationship created between teachers and learners is always unique, regardless of their age and teaching/learning experience. Senior learners appreciate teachers who are well prepared, provide their learners with clear guidelines, and use a variety of teaching techniques. Furthermore, senior learners appreciate approachable teachers who value their life experience and are sympathetic. It is important to notice that senior learners do not pay attention to the age of the teacher who is usually younger than their learners. As long as the educator pays attention to their needs, caters for their well-being in the classroom, and organizes interesting lessons, seniors are willing and ready to engage.

David Bowie once said: ‘Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you should have always been’.  We should not see the passing time as a reason to hurry up and try to make up for all the lost opportunities. We should look for new challenges, also educational, and enjoy every moment of our lives. In the words of 20th century American baseball player Satchel Paige: ‘How old would you be if you did not know how old you are?’

Marek Derenowski, Adam Mickiewicz University Poznań/State University Konin, Poland
derenosiu73@gmail.com

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Third Age Learners of Foreign Languages edited by Danuta Gabryś-Barker.