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English teaching needs to dialogue with the reality of youth and adult education

Youth and Adult Education (YAE) has specific characteristics, since the teaching modality is designed to offer secondary education and upper secondary education to those who have not completed their studies in the age group considered appropriate. ‘This student comes to school with needs and with learning objectives very different from those of children and adolescents who are in regular education’, evaluates Simone Sarmento, associate professor in the Department of Modern Languages ​​at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS).

English language teaching is no different. ‘YAE students have pressing needs, which life imposes. It could be whether writing better or participating in social practices in English, for instance. This notion of education for the here and now in this context is very important,’ she states. Simone stresses that it is essential to value the prior knowledge of these students and bring the experiences of life in society to the English class in YAE, always considering the diversity of the classroom. ‘They are always very heterogeneous groups with respect to the age of the students and the time and reason for dropout. We can have, for example, students aged 16 to 51 in an YAE class in a secondary education class. This has to be considered when thinking in the pedagogical project ‘, she ponders.

Ana Luiza França, professor of the IV module of NYAE (New Youth and Adult Education) at Colégio Estadual 10 de Maio, in Itaperuna (RJ), emphasizes the importance of English for this audience. ‘The teaching of the English language is very important at YAE, as we live in a globalized world, in which communication is necessary whether by e-mails, social networks, interactive games. The students are faced with numerous words in English and have a certain curiosity and the need to understand these words and expressions.’

English language teacher at YAE from the public network of the Federal District, in the city of Samambaia, Anarcisa de Freitas Nascimento adds that this knowledge is relevant, since the YAE public is mostly composed of people who are or are going to enter the job market.

‘These people must have the basic knowledge of the most used words in the English language, so that they can communicate minimally in the language’, says she, who is also a researcher in the language area of ​​the Inep Basic Education Evaluation Board, an autarchy linked to the Ministry of Education (MEC). ‘This audience must go through the process of literacy in a foreign language, since English is present in all areas, mainly in the technology sector.’

English teaching can also contribute to the construction of citizenship and favor the social participation of these young and adult students. ‘They can broaden their understanding of the world, reflect on it and intervene in the reality in which they live’, says Simone, from UFRGS. Through English, it is possible to have access to cultural goods built in the language in other parts of the world or even here in Brazil. ‘In this way, the student can get to know other cultures and recognize their culture in the world, comparing their life experiences with those of other peoples’.

Diversified strategies

From the point of view of the pedagogical approach, Simone emphasizes the importance of the perspective of teaching English focused on the use of language in communicative contexts. In this way, the student is able to develop more specific skills, such as understanding a subject and expressing himself, either orally or in writing, preferably in a way that he has the opportunity to interact with the world. She exemplifies: ‘The student can watch a video on YouTube and speak out on the topic covered, for example, by writing an opinion sentence.’

Anarcisa says that many students arrive with a block in relation to the English language, as they are thinking only in the grammatical part, as is commonly seen at school. ‘But, from the moment you use other teaching strategies, from instrumental reading to the most communicative approach, they are able to have a greater understanding of the language, feel more involved and understand that they are immersed in a world where they need the English.’

An approach that usually attracts students’ interest, according to her, is the insertion of subjects close to the world of work, such as communication via Whatsapp, curriculum design, instructions for using platforms and social networks, filling in online forms and conducting searches and surveys in the English language.

According to Anarcisa, technology can also be a good ally in this regard. She points out that, with the pandemic and the transition from face-to-face classes to the online environment, although the number of students decreased and there was a loss of contact with students, many of those who remained were more engaged. ‘As the class happens through the Google Classroom platform, it is possible to have differentiated resources and interactive activities that include, for example, the use of videos and exercises online’, she evaluates.

Another initiative that usually attracts the attention of YAE students is the realization of the so-called integrating projects, which involve several disciplines and, each semester, have a thematic area. ‘Within racial issues, for example, they explore whether other English-speaking countries, in addition to the United States, face racial issues. In the area of ​​social rights, they reflect on the mandatory teaching of English in Brazil’, exemplifies Anarcisa. The result can be a text, a video, a podcast or even a theatricalization. ‘The important thing is that they understand how the language is used in a certain context.’

In the experience of Professor Ana Luiza, among the situations that motivate students are the opportunity to learn music in a pleasant way, the construction of small texts and the elaboration of phrases used in everyday life.

‘Taking advantage of this, we work with songs with vocabulary and grammar applied to the lyrics, conversation emphasizing everyday situations, games that stimulate reasoning and memory, journalistic texts from international websites, culinary recipes and writing e-mail messages.’

Suitable material

According to Ana Luiza, one of the main challenges of teaching English to YAE audiences is the development of diverse materials to awaken the desire to learn English. ‘Audiovisual teaching material should be appropriate for the class, as we know that there is a diversity of interests between younger students and adults.’

Professor Anarcisa also points to the need for didactic material that dialogs more with this student profile, in addition to a bilingualism policy, so that students can really have basic communication.

She says that there is a lot of material being produced for children and teenagers, but little that is aimed at the YAE public. ‘In general, the contents are very artificial, childlike or address issues that are distant from the universe of the students. Likewise, there are public language teaching centers in the Federal District, but they are not aimed at young people and adults, but at regular school students.’

Simone, from UFRGS, also considers that traditional approaches and materials do not work for this audience. For her, the use of everyday texts and music tends to have better results. ‘One way out is to work with authentic texts, that is, those that were not produced only for use in the classroom. It is possible to start with materials with less texts, such as advertising materials, for example.’