BLOG: Never too late to start with English

THIS term I got a new beginner – senior group, composed of ladies who are mostly retired and therefore have a lot of spare time for learning something new. We have just completed our fifth week together.

(Source: Michala Kamhalová)

At the beginning I was told that my new students are scared to death. They knew nothing at all (not a word in fact), they were demotivated and, to be honest, most of them were “forced” to attend this course, as it was their families’ Christmas gift for them.

I have never taught any “tabula rasa” adult beginners who did not even know how to say “Hello” previously, so this was a great challenge for me as well. And I said to myself: “Fine, I will be able to check and see how they improved and what amount of work I did.”

And I’ll tell you… they are perfect. I love them, I admire them, and our classes are full of energy, laughter and fun.

I teach ladies aged 60 – 78 who learn faster than some of my younger students.

The ladies do their homework and bonus tasks so dutifully before we meet at the lesson they usually have it checked by their children and grandchildren.

They raise their hands and race one another in shouting the correct answers. There never was any silent break when no one knew the answer to my question. I usually hear three voices answering at a time.

Some of them fill in the extra exercises with stuff that we have not learned yet.

Oh yes, and every lesson we spend the first 10 minutes emphasizing our aims and all the positives which we can gain from learning English at an advanced age. Most of the lessons I emphasize that there is no one who would push us to any limits.

We do not write tests, we do not shout, we do not grade and there is no one in the class speaking the language better than the rest. They support and truly admire each other.

With these charming ladies, we only have one goal – to be able to speak in common situations, to be able to communicate, to do something new, to use English on holidays…let’s not let our brains fall asleep!

When I teach some new stuff (and we are slowly going to start with Present Simple this week which is a big thing for them) and I see that it needs more time and revision, we can stop and go through it once again.

Last week we did “family” topic. You know, the basic family-members-vocabulary and sentence construction “This is my…” I told them to bring their family photos to the next lesson and to describe them using the new vocabulary and the possessive pronouns.

All of them had prepared an A4 full of text and were talking for 5 minutes – many of them without reading their notes. After eight lessons of English! I was really proud.

They are pleased and surprised with themselves. Two of them had a phase of giving it up. I forbade it. Now we are a “steady” group of six hard-working students who decided they can and will make it. As one of them recently said: “It’s a great feeling to find out that at my age I still can learn something new, and…remember it!”

By Michala Kamhalová

The author is a lecturer at an English language school 

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