How does student motivation vary between adults and children?

How does student motivation vary between adults and children? 

Reflective Diary submitted by Dominic, Madrid.

I have noted that the underlying motivation and incentive to learn are key to successful outcomes.

From my direct experience of teaching English in a Language School in Madrid, the large majority of students who attend classes are young adults with financial constraints, who generally strive to make the most of their classes because, ultimately, they want to be there.


Some children enjoy further education and are interested in learning languages. Some are naturally gifted and are eager to hone their skills. However, it was evident to me that some children are enticed – if not obliged – to attend classes by their parents and wouldn’t necessarily come of their own volition. This group of child pupils don’t devote as much time and effort as adults because they don’t directly see the bills and the expense of their tuition.

I have noted that appropriate choice of topic is important to achieving a good outcome.

It can be a simple matter of children being uninterested in, or ignorant of, a chosen topic. Certain courses of study, especially for preparation for higher level Cambridge exams, include sample topics such as warfare or logistics in which a young person may be neither knowledgeable nor interested.

Children with learning difficulties such as dyslexia or ADHD and are easily distracted and may struggle to concentrate. This needs to be taken into account by the teacher, for example in terms of breaking down the topics into manageable pieces.

Young people in their teenage years may simply want to rebel, or not study any more than absolutely necessary, and may be – or come across as – obstinate or lazy. Such attitude issues are difficult for the teacher to circumvent. The issues are related to personal development phases, and therefore subject to change, either cyclical or gradual.

Despite the challenges of teaching some groups of children, the impression that all adults are willing learners would be to misrepresent the reality. Many young adults live extremely busy lives, with the associated difficulties of balancing high pressure jobs with a multitude of other activities. It is therefore understandable they may lack time to do extra study and to actively incorporate English into their lives.  Adults can be harder to teach if they only do the course to get a qualification and aren’t sincerely passionate about learning the language. Certain students merely want to learn business English or focus on expressions and sentences that they will use in their job and get frustrated when asked to discuss texts about shopping or beauty shops.

It is therefore important to encourage students, and show them how language can be used, including making use of technology. Many televisions can be programmed to broadcast shows in original version, and the user interface language on phones or computers can be an effective learning method.


Works cited:

  • Reference: Scrivener, J (2011) Learning Teaching 3rd edition. Chapter 3: classroom management