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Elektronisch platform voor volwasseneneducatie in Europa



EPALE Discussion on European Day of Languages 2016

by EPALE Moderator


In honour of European Day of Languages, we’ll be hosting a day-long discussion which will be moderated by language teacher and polyglot Alex Rawlings and EPALE’s thematic coordinator for Quality, Andrew McCoshan. Don’t miss your chance to share your experience in teaching languages to adults, any tips or challenges you’ve faced, learn about best practices from your peers across Europe, and discuss various topics with the EPALE community! We have also gathered interesting case studies, thought-provoking blog posts and helpful resources on the topic of languages and adult education – click here to check them out.

The discussion will start on 26 September at 10:30 CET and it will be divided in two parts:

  • Morning session (10:30am– 1:00pm CET) – How do we make language learning the best it can be?

  • Afternoon session (1:00pm–4:00pm CET) – How do we best meet the needs of different groups for language learning?

**Please note that comments may be over serveral pages. Please refresh the page and scroll to the bottom to click through to comments on other pages.

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  • afbeelding van EPALE Moderator

    Good morning everyone and welcome to EPALE’s discussion on language teaching in adult education.


    Today we'll be talking about how we can make langauge learning the best it can be and how we can best meet the needs of different learner groups. Here are some top tips for taking part in discussions on EPALE:

    • Please introduce yourself when you write your first contribution
    • To reply to a comment, just hit reply!  If you want to start a new thread, go to the very bottom of the page and write your contribution on the space entitled 'Write a new comment'
    • Log in to see comments in real time (refresh the page to see new comments).
    • If you need help with understanding the site or how to get involved - or you're having trouble logging in - the EPALE team are ready to help. Just email sends e-mail)


    Some important rules on how to interact:

    • We want to make sure everybody feels comfortable on EPALE. You will meet some high-level researchers and experts here, but all thoughts are welcome - just jump in and write, all contributions are valuable
    • If you have a lot to say, please divide your contribution in digestable segments
    • And finally, please respect others' views and be polite (even if you disagree!)
  • afbeelding van Andrew McCoshan

    Hello I’m Andrew McCoshan. I’m the coordinator responsible for the theme of quality in adult learning on EPALE and I will be helping the discussion along today.  We’ve structured the day into 2 parts: in the morning we will be discussing how to make language learning the best it can be; in the afternoon we will zoom in on how we can meet the needs of different groups who want to learn languages, whether that be for professional purposes, leisure or for migrant communities for example.  We’re looking forward to an interesting and stimulating day!

  • afbeelding van Alex Rawlings

    Hello everyone! My name is Alex Rawlings, and I am from the UK. In 2012 I was named Britain's most multilingual student after being tested for fluency in 11 languages in a competition by Harper Collins. I have also written a book called "How To Speak Any Language You Want" which will be published in June next year. I love languages, I couldn't imagine my life without speaking and learning them, and I believe passionately that we should be working towards as multilingual society as we can across Europe. I will be moderating the discussions today and am looking forward to a day full of really interesting discussions about learning languages!

  • afbeelding van EPALE Moderator

    Here's our morning session topic:

  • afbeelding van Andrew McCoshan

    To get things started, it would be good to know what users have found to be the most effective ways of teaching languages to adults…?

  • afbeelding van Wendy Newman

    Hi, I'm Wendy Newman - I'm currently working at the Association for Language Learning, but have been a language teacher in adult education for a number of years.

    I have always found that using authentic materials really motivates students, so building activities around these works well. Authentic materials on the web (facilitated by technology) work even better, and there's a huge amount out there! These make the subject come alive for the student and provide skills and experiences which they can build on in their lives outside the classroom.

    For example - when teaching about travel, I used various hotel websites and asked students to plan a trip to that city (for example: I asked them to find out which hotel they would use for a business / leisure trip and why; which hotels have special deals available; what tourist attractions are close to the hotel and what they would like to visit. Then students role played booking a room for their dates and asking about facilities.

    This involved some discovery learning which students enjoy, but needs a lot of preparation beforehand to make sure that the resources are suitable for the students' level of language, and monitoring throughout to make sure that the students are supported through the process.

  • afbeelding van Alex Rawlings

    Authentic resources are an excellent way to show your students that languages are relevant and real. Especially because you're showing them how they could actually end up using those languages in the real world, like when planning a family holiday or a trip with friends. It does require some creativity to locate those resources, and think up ways in which to create exercises around them, but they are so much more powerful than working just out of a textbook.

    I find a great way to learn vocabulary is to search through 'hashtags' of words on Instagram or Twitter and see what comes up. Instagram is great because you get all of the visual imagery to help you learn a word, but Twitter can be a nice, concise way to concentrate on the language itself.

  • afbeelding van Andrew McCoshan

    In general we know that people can learn languages, not only their mother tongue but “foreign languages” as well. And people can learn languages with and without being taught them. We don’t even really know whether it is possible to “teach” languages. It seems that succeeding in “language learning” is most succesful when there is a need to communicate with people who are used to speaking in “another” language than our mother tongue. (As conventional experiences validate: Two people in love with different mother tongues learn the languages of each other the easiest.)

    One of my favorite explanations (and a critical judgement as well) of this allegation is fixed in the aphorism of the Italian Poet, living in Germany: 

    Mit mir willst du reden, und ich soll deine Sprache sprechen.

    [You want to talk with me and I shall use your language.]

  • afbeelding van Andrew McCoshan

    As mentioned in my other comment, in my opinion the most effective ways of LEARNING languages is the need to communicate. So I assume that the most effective way of TEACHING languages is getting to know and accepting the “language needs” of those who want to learn. This includes the “teacher” being interested in those needs and also being interested to learn about the situation the learner lives in, and being willing to accept what kind of person he or she is (e.g. which way is he or she expressing himself or herself in their mother tongue). For example, if somebody is not interested in talking about himself or herself, a teacher should know (and consider) that he or she won’t very eagerly talk about his or her life experiences in a “foreign” language.

  • afbeelding van Rumen HALACHEV

    Hi Andrew,

    I think one of the ways to make language learning effective for adults can be gamification:

  • afbeelding van Andrew McCoshan

    The CEFR is widely used but what lay behind it challenged some of the conventional norms.  Read Brian North's reflections today in a vlog especially made for the EPALE discussion. Click here to learn more about Brian's thoughts on the CEFR.


  • afbeelding van Jonny Lear

    Hi Andrew, Alex and everyone joining today’s discussion.

    My name is Jonny Lear; I am the Content Coordinator for the UK National Support Service for EPALE. Really looking forward to today’s discussion; gaining insight into some of the barriers faced by adult learners from across Europe and beyond who find it difficult learning a second language and hearing case studies and experiences. I will also be sharing some of the UK case studies submitted by guest bloggers for the purpose of this discussion.

    Looking forward to hearing from you all!

  • afbeelding van Andrea Ghezzi

    Hello Andrew and Alex,

    my name is Andrea Ghezzi and I work at Edizioni La Linea, an italian publisher wich produces learning materials to teach adults (especially migrants) italian language. I work either on text-books or digital tools, such apps. I was a former italian teacher to adult migrants, and I think that motivation is the key to any group of students, especially adults who sometimes find it hard to find time to study. Working on textbooks, we try to give students intersting inputs, but I think that motivation is a something wich sprouts from a face to face learning enviroment, so it would be interesting to know how other paricipants deal with motivation issue.

  • afbeelding van Alex Rawlings

    Hi Andrea,

    Thanks for your contribution! Very interesting to hear your experience that motivation is key. That is certainly my experience! From observing your students, have you noticed what seems to make some more motivated than others? I find that in general, if the student needs to learn the language rather than just wants to, then they're far more likely to get results.

  • afbeelding van Inga Jagelavičiūtė

    Hello Andrea, Alex and everybody,

    My name's Inga Jagelaviciute and I'm the member of Lithuanian EPALE team. Also I am the English language teacher for adults. I have to agree that motivation is the key to successful language learning. In my working experience I've met different people with different reasons, which encouraged them to study English. Some of them come because they need the English language for job, others to improve their knowledge or to learn it because of the need to communicate with theii new family members from foreign countries. Usually, such people have enough motivation to study. Sometimes  it is a challenge to maintain this motivation.

  • afbeelding van Mahira Spiteri

    Corinne Gauci talks to EPALE - adult learners are mature and intelligent:

  • afbeelding van Rumen HALACHEV

    I think this article might prove quite useful. It has 7 simple tips for starter activites for language teachers. I've personally used 5 and 6 in my practice and they were quite effective.

  • afbeelding van Abboh Savchoff

    I recently attended a beginners class in German with a man known as The Tin Pan Man. He had brought a selection of utensils, including pans, cutlery and mugs in a suitcase and started raising them and shouting out their names. Then he made a few games out of it, in which we played against him.

    This I found to be an extremely engaging starter, even for the large group of 25-year-olds.

    Warmest wishes,


  • afbeelding van Andrew McCoshan

    Hallo, my name is Matilde Grünhage-Monetti. I am the coordinator of the Language for Work project and network of the European Centre of Modern Languages of the Council of Europe


    A few assumptions as “red threads” for discussion:

    To learn a language, adults need

    • meaningful input
    • exposure to authentic language, spoken & written
    • opportunity to interact in the language, spoken & written
    • help to understand the form of the language
    • help to develop effective personal learning strategies
    • encouragement and support to learn
    • rewards that encourage persistence
  • afbeelding van Alex Rawlings

    Hello Matilde, I certainly agree with these! I would like to expand a little on "meaningful input". I really think that learning input has to match up with eventual use. Many children who study languages for years at school are very frustrated by the fact that when they finally leave school, they are barely able to use the languages they have been learning. That is often because while they have learned to describe their childhood environment (classroom, exam system, education, hobbies, family, pets etc.), they are woefully unprepared to use those languages in their adult lives.

    I think every language learner should do an assessment, prior to learning, of what they would like to use this language for, and then prioritise vocabulary topics and grammar in order to help themselves get there faster.

  • afbeelding van Susan Kaufmann

    Hella Alex,

    I totally agree and want to add that needs assessment prior to learning is especially important when it comes to vocational language teaching or teaching language at the workplace. Here a "standard curriculum" is much less useful than knowing what are the specific requirements of a specific job or specific tasks a person has to do.

  • afbeelding van Susan Kaufmann

    Good morning,

    sorry I'm late in joining the discussion. My name is Susan Kaufmann, I'm from Germany and work in the field of (vocational) German as a 2nd language as author of textbooks, teacher-trainer etc. 

    Any learning is personal development. In teaching languages to adults I find most important a basic attitude that acknowledges and strengthens the competencies of the learners and induces a sense of growth and self-efficacy. Language teaching as empowerment, so to speak. As for second language teaching it is necessary to make learners independent in using the target-language in their host-countries, the so-called “language-bath” that surrounds them.

  • afbeelding van Alex Rawlings

    Hi Susan, thanks for your comment! One thing I would add from my own personal experience of learning languages in an "immersed" vs "non-immersed" environment is that when you are surrounded by the language, it is very easy to feel constantly overwhelmed by the sensation that you will not be able to ever speak the language at a good enough level to really understand what's going on around you, and lose sight of how much you actually have learned. This can be demotivating, and can push adult learners into their own mother-tongue bubbles, meaning they don't interact as much with the host language as they could. I found that I overcame these challenges by approaching them with good humour, patience, and perseverence.

  • afbeelding van Susan Kaufmann

    There is evidence that migrants have very limited social networks in L2 and mainly of institutional nature (asymetrical communication). So they lack the opportunity of exploiting the natural language environment and practice L2. Is is only the migrants' responsibility?

    Why is their mother-tongue a "bubble" and not a language?

  • afbeelding van Abboh Savchoff

    Hi Alex.

    I think you are making a good point there. I reckon immersion should happen at a slightly later stage when the learner has acquired the basics of the language and can at least pick up things such as tense, gender and general topic of the conversation.

    Having said that, I still think that once this stage has been reached, immersion allows for a rapid and effective learning of the target language.

    Waremest wisehs,


  • afbeelding van Karine Nicolay

    Hi all

    My name is Karine Nicolay. I'm the EPALE coordinator for Flanders/Belgium.

    I found a nice 'good practice' for language learning here in our country. It's the easy-to-read newspaper 'Wablieft' (meaning 'Pardon me?') In the video here on EPALE, second language learners and others tell why this newspaper is such a good tool for learning Dutch.


  • afbeelding van Alex Rawlings

    Thank you very much for sharing this, Karine. This is exactly the kind of resource that I love learning from! I will be recommending and sharing it to everyone I know who's learning Dutch.

  • afbeelding van Karine Nicolay

    Thanks, the Wablieft people Will appreciatie this.


  • afbeelding van Andrea Ghezzi

    Hi Alex,


    you have touched on an important point, I agree with you and I think that every group of students (at least, in my experience) has different motivational needs (i.e migrants in Italy need to learn italian for legal reasons). Generally speaking I think that we have to work on students' involvement in their own learning, and trying to build a more relaxing and safer learning enviroment, bringing students out of their shells and lowering affective filters.

    I think that gamification, as Rumen suggested, is a good tool in that sense, but you might not be able to use it with all students (i.e. in some classes I had students who were not so inclined to participate in these kinds of activities). How would you use these activities with these kinds of students?   


  • afbeelding van Susan Kaufmann

    Hi Matilde!

    Yes, opportunity to interact is especially important when you think of learning with digital technology. Here teachers tend to fall back into the age of the grammar translation and frontal teaching. We need to strengthen interaction and social activities here.


  • afbeelding van Abboh Savchoff

    Hi Susan!.


    I agree, interaction is indispensible to language teaching. However, we must not disregard the grammar-translation method and frontal teaching altogether. Here, in the UK, there is a massive academic debate at the momenton whether or not grammar should be taught at all - and I'm afraid many teachers are inclined to ignore grammar and only teach set phrases.

    Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.

    I am a strong advocate for grammar teaching and, it seems to me, this cannot be achieved by using exclusively interactive methods. Sometimes, we must power through the "boring" - as they call grammar - stuff in order to gain full knowledge.

    Warmest wishes,


  • afbeelding van Jonny Lear

    One of the first contributions from the UK for the discussion & #EDL2016 came from Walker Ewart. A real nice blog post identifying repetition as a good start to language teaching; repetition allows for a review of vocabulary and language patterns.

    Going back to Andrea’s comment about motivation of learners in Walkers blog post he makes an important point:

    The learners are there voluntarily; they are ‘ready to learn’; and they appreciate the magic of communicating with ‘the other’, a sign of respect for not only the language but the culture’. 

    Walker Ewarts blog can be found here.

  • afbeelding van Susan Kaufmann

    Hello Jonny,

    I really agree with this point and just want to add that adult learners want to be responsible for their learning, they want to decide where, when and how they learn.

  • afbeelding van Andrea Ghezzi

    Digital (language) learning is a vast and really challenging topic: I would suggest taking into account some brief distinctions in order to sketch a “common ground” about which we can freely speak. Basically these distinctions concern contexts, tools and users.

    There are many answers to the question that is our theme (“How is digital technology being used to best effect?”) depending on the combinations of the three factors mentioned above.


    1 Digital learning contexts

    Digital learning resources today are used in a wide range of contexts:

    – language classes (both face to face or online classes)

    – autonomous (intentional) study (at home, at work etc.)

    – informal learning

    (If you are a language teacher) Do you use digital tools in your classes?


    2 Digital tools

    There are digital resources that have been produced for language learning and others that, although not produced for this purpose, could be used in the learning process (e.g. digital forums and social networks, online games and many others).

    Focusing on digital resources that have been produced for language learning, we can observe that they use different technologies, devices and have a different degree of autonomy: for instance, on one hand teachers will frequently find in their language text books related digital resources, on the other hand App users – such as Duolingo, Babbel etc. – will find self-reliant tools.

    Do you use (or do you think it would be better to use) digital tools that are autonomous or that complement/supply other teaching tools (e.g. text book)?


    3 Digital users

    Digital users are teachers and students.

    Often teachers use digital resources to find good linguistic input for their classes (readings, exercises etc.) and to manage the classes (spanning from simple e-mails to elaborate online platforms that help to manage every detail of their students’ learning).

    Language students are a very heterogeneous group. It can be basically divided considering:

    – L2 or foreign language students

    – mother tongue, scholastic background, target language level

    – their purpose and motivation

    – setting of their learning

    – digital skills and habits

    Which learners do you think can most benefit from the use of digital technology?

  • afbeelding van Andrew McCoshan

    Picking up on the issue of digital technology raised by Matilde and Susan ... how can digital technology be used to best effect? What experiences have people learners and teachers had?


  • afbeelding van Abboh Savchoff

    Digital technology offers almost infinate possibilities for creation of resources and their use.

    Some older generation teachers, predominantly in Easter Europe, are vocally opposed to technology because of conservative views. However, in the West, IT is very steadily making its way into classrooms.

    Though it cannot fully substitute human interaction, it offers some improvements on it. Take for example Kahoot! (which I have already mentioned in another comment). The competitive nature of the games created there offer students additional motivation. However, it also takes pressure off teachers to adjudicate in situations when students come close to one another's results since all this is done automatically and there is no room for doubt.

    Resources which were considered a luxory a few years ago are now available at the touch of a button. In addition, flipped classrooms are now much more attainable due to the access which most students have to computers and other devices. That is to say, homework can be much more fun than before and it can serve a much broader range of purposes as opposed to the gap fill exercises I had to do twice a week when I took languages at school.

    Even simple software such as skype and email allows students to access penfriends from the target coutries instantly and practice their spoken and written word with native speakers.

    Have any of you employed any IT in the classrooms continuously?

    Warmest wishes,


  • afbeelding van Mary-Clare O'CONNOR

    Hi Andrea, you might find this article from the Guardian interesting: Three ways to use iPads in the languages classroom.

    Does anyone use iPads or other tablets in their teaching? It would be great to hear some tips!

  • afbeelding van Andrea Ghezzi

    Hi Mary-Clare,


    thank you for the article, it looks interesting. Talking about Tablets, it's interesting to point out that, from my experience, in Italy the use of Tablets in state schools is at a lower level than expected whilst there are some examples of using Tablet with illiterate adult students (; ) which seem to have good results.

    Maybe, to open the discussion, we can underline that software and hardware are topics that could be discussed separately. Maybe, it would be interesting to know what resources people are using, and how people are using hardware.



  • afbeelding van Rumen HALACHEV

    Hi Andrew,

    EPALE recently published a case study on that topic. It's about a project called 'Linguistic Aid kit' and they have developed a series of teaching techniques adapted to a generation used to technology and to using their phones and other devices.

    Here's a video showing how teachers can use apps for building vocabulary:

  • afbeelding van Abboh Savchoff
    This approach has proven to be extremely engaging and productive for our students, both as a board game and as an app. Have any other teachers employed similar strategies? Our colleagues in Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania and Portugal have piloted the game and we have received outstanding feedback from them. Thank you, Mr Halachev, for your post. Warmest wishes, Abboh
  • afbeelding van Rumen HALACHEV

    We had a very interesting blog post from Elisabeth Feigl from the Association of Austrian Adult Education Centres who shared her thoughts on the shift from face-to-face learning to digital learning.

    What she says is:

    Most of today’s working population can no longer afford to participate in weekly face-to-face courses on a regular basis. They don’t have the time and the patience to study a new language for more than two or three years, or to cultivate a language they are already familiar with by regularly attending a course on a certain day of the week.

  • afbeelding van Abboh Savchoff

    Digital courses are now on the uprise. One can just look at Rosetta Stone and different SKE courses and it becomes evident quite quickly how ubiquitous they are. Some find them rather useful - expecially considering the ever-advancing capabilities of IT.

    However, at Linguistic Aid Kit we insist on the face-to-face tuition for various reasons.

    Firstly, especially with younger audiences, it is instrumental to upkeeping morale and motivation. An energetic and friendly teacher can be the difference between extraordinary success and prompt dropout.

    Secondly, the added stimuli - tactile, visual, auditory, kinaesthetic - help increase retention levels tremendously. In addition, personal contact allows a teacher to differentiate better among students and play to each of their strengths.

    Finally, language is a means of communication and if we exclude communication from the means of teaching then we are not really teaching langauge but rahter a system of graphemes (and sometimes phonemes) which have little application in real situations.

    Warmest wishes,


  • afbeelding van Kevin Kelly

    An interesting article by Prensky in 1999 on the tropic of 'didital learning' took an interesting angle: thi=ose born in the digital world lesarn best through a duigital medium but those born prior to this still learn best in the 'traditional' classroom setting. Would you agree?

  • afbeelding van Alex Rawlings

    Hi Kevin, I was born in 1991 and am definitely a digital native, but I find it hard to concentrate when looking at a screen. The distractions of the rest of the internet are always just a click away! I have always learned best with a pen and paper, as it's so different to what I do on a day-to-day basis that I find myself really focusing on it. I've had good experiences, but in general I remain sceptical about the promises that digital language learning resources make.

  • afbeelding van Susan Kaufmann

    Hello Kevin,


    I don't agree. I think it depends much more on the digital medium itself, the nature and extend of tutoring and the teacher's as well as learners' motivation. My experience with language learners in digital classrooms is that it works very well even with digital immigrants if given enough time, enough support, meaningful input and a strong goal.

  • afbeelding van Andrea Ghezzi

    Hi Kevin, this is a good and hotly debated point and it deals with the way we (digital migrants or digital natives) learn. My personal point of view is that we should look at digital tools not as a replacement for traditional methods, but as a supplementary resource to aid learning.

    It is true that digital tools can expand the contexts of learning, especially when we talk about devices which can be used outside the classes. Digital tools allow us to take with us a wide range of resources, wich derive from traditional methodolgy (i.e. magnetic boards, flash cards, pelmanism etc.)

    I think also we need to adapt traditional methods in a digital world.




  • afbeelding van Jonny Lear

    I dont agree. In a classroom setting you instil the sense of curiosity in students to explore. The availability of the internet has allowed the student to pursue that curiosity and ‘spontaneity’ of learning through the click of a button.

    Those who are teaching are now changing their methodology within the classroom to incorporate online learning and use of digital tools. The digital medium is a resource to support the classroom and engage the learner. 


  • afbeelding van Abboh Savchoff
    Hi Kevin. Thank you for your comment. Our practice shows that there are more important factors than the time of birth, e.g. learning preferences (VAK), motivation and experience with languages. Nothing so far seems to suggest that earlier or more prolonged exposure to IT increases its benefits for the learner. I am inclined to disagree with this statement and so seem my colleagues after my brief conversation with them on the topic. Warmest wishes, Abboh
  • afbeelding van Andrew McCoshan

    Hi Andrea, you raise some great points. I think it's really difficult to say who benefits most from digital tools. I guess the challenge for any educator is finding the right mix of digital and 'traditional' tools?

  • afbeelding van Andrew McCoshan

    Another thread of the topic of what makes adult language effective learning relates to the question of the role of non-formal and informal learning... how significant should this be?

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