How do you teach general English to adult beginners?

Teaching English to adult beginners can be a challenging but rewarding process. I think the key is to take a communicative approach, making the main focus speaking and listening. They will normally have a high level of intrinsic motivation as they've chosen to study English and will probably enjoy the process. So keep it enjoyable for them, which will keep up the motivation levels.

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L1 - L2 Translation

Research has shown that a learner's first language can be effective in helping them learn a second one. You will find that beginners can be quite dependent on translations but this can be a useful tool, contrary to popular belief!


Research has shown how students record vocabulary can affect how they learn it. There are different ways of writing down language. It is a good idea to advise students to have a set format for this. For example, for a noun, they can write down the plural form, an L1 translation, verbs that collocate with it, and an example sentence, personalised if possible. Here is an example:

  • party - parties (n) - fiesta
  • have/ go to a party

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Example: I went to Ana's party.

There may be different meanings. In the case of 'party', this can also mean a political party (partido) but this is a B1 level meaning, so perhaps not necessary for a beginner (of A1 level). The Cambridge dictionary shows you the levels of words so this will help you make judgments about whether your student should learn a word or a particular meaning.

Self-Testing and Quizzing

Encourage your students to keep learning outside the classes perhaps by using a language application or reading news articles. Self-testing is an effective way of memorising language and there are websites where you can create flashcards for them. Email students quizzes on vocabulary to regularly recycle it.

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Extensive Reading

Encourage reading outside the classroom to increase your student's exposure to vocabulary. The more encounters that they have with new words, the more likely they will be to remember them.

Videos and Podcasts

There are lots of videos and podcasts out there but the difficulty is in finding ones that are interesting and authentic but relevant for an adult. Try and find ones that are not too challenging as this could demotivate beginner students. You may want to prepare them by teaching some of the vocabulary before they watch or listen.

Emotional factors

Many teachers have reported students getting nervous and stressed when trying to communicate in English, especially when they are frustrated by their lack of vocabulary at the beginner level. A good idea is to find out what topics interest them and get them involved in discussions about these.

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Quiet students

If you find it's difficult to get a student to speak, find some news articles and use the content and ideas as a prompt to get a conversation started. For the beginner level, you will have to adapt these articles so that they contain basic vocabulary and simple grammar.


Write down your student's errors as they are speaking and run through them at the end of the class. You can always email them to the student.

Encouragement and Feedback

Give your student positive encouragement and feedback. Set clear goals, preferably ones that they see as realistic. Something I like to do is to ask my students how they feel about their progress and if there is anything else they would like to cover. Teachers can benefit from feedback too!

Good luck with your clases particulares!

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