What adult learners want

Sunday October 7, 2012

http://thestar.com.my/education/story.asp?file=/2012/10/7/education/11611060&sec=education
EXPLORING ENGLISH
By KEITH W. WRIGHT

Teaching the older generation to read and write is different from children as illiterate adults have different needs that must be considered.

ACCORDING to international literacy organisation ProLiteracy, the United Nations (UN) had estimated a decade ago that there were over 860 million illiterate adults in the world.

Over 570 million were women. The UN definition of illiteracy is “the inability to read and write a simple message in any language”.

Every nation has an illiteracy problem with research showing that illiteracy is a major contributor to poverty, national unemployment, child labour, infant mortality, the spread of HIV/AIDS, and the deprivation and violation of basic human rights.

Low-level literacy-skilled adults do poorly in the job market and suffer serious financial and social disadvantages.

Most cannot effectively access the health care systems with the vast majority being forced to live in sub-standard circumstances.

A key objective of the Australian International Language Academy (AILA) is to play a major remedial role in addressing what it sees as a 21st century international illiteracy crisis.

By training teachers, tutors and parents, particularly in developing countries such as in South-East Asia, AILA believes it can make a difference.

Through the Manila Bulletin “English Is Power” column, one of my personal objectives over the last year has been to present ideas and information to assist teachers, tutors, trainers and parents in the challenging and often despairing “mission” of teaching English to other adults.

The focus in part has been mature learners who have failed in or failed by the formal education system, or who have become “literacy casualties” because of a myriad of reasons, be they parental, cultural, financial, social, attitudinal, migrational or self-inflicted.

Underlying this objective is the belief that illiterate adults are very different from most other learners.

“Baggage”, “barriers” and “beliefs” usually have to be dealt with before any real progress can be made and above all, they have to believe that what they are undertaking will be of personal benefit to them.

Consider these 10 special needs of adult learners:

1. Need to be made to feel that they can do it — particularly men and male teenagers.

2. Need friendliness and acceptance — vocalised support is appreciated and often a necessity.

3. Need to be in a non-threatening environment and atmosphere.

4. Need to be told when they are correct — not just left wondering.

5. Need to be told if an answer is wrong in a way that doesn’t make them feel like an idiot.

6. Need to know they are on the right “track”.

7. Need to know regularly how they are progressing.

8. Need to be treated as an adult.

9. Need to be able to approach the tutor as an equal adult, not just as a student.

10. Need recognition of their personal worth regardless of their academic deficiencies.

While the task of teaching illiterate adults is rarely an easy one, knowing the benefits for the learner and the positive consequences for the child or family of the parent becoming “literate”, makes the effort that is required worthwhile.

Keith Wright is the author and creator of the 4S Approach To Literacy and Language (4S) – a modern, innovative and proven method of accelerating the learning of English.

The 4S methodology and the associated Accelerated English Programme (AEP) mentioned in this fortnightly column are now being used internationally to enhance the English proficiency of people with different competency levels.

E-mail
contact@4Sliteracy.com.au for a free copy of the PDF file on Teaching The 7’s To The 77’s.

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