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Learner needs

Different types of learner needs

Learners have different types of needs that affect their learning when learning a foreign language. These needs are personal, learning and future professional needs. In order to be a good teacher, one must be able to meet the learner’s needs.

Think about your students and note them down. Do they have any specific learner needs?


The reasons for different types of learner needs

Personal needs

Cultural background
Educational background

Learning needs

Learning styles
Past language learning experience
Learning gap (i.e. gap between the present level and the target level of language proficiency and knowledge of the target culture)
Learning goals and expectations for the course
Learner autonomy
Availability of time

(Future) professional needs

Language requirements for employment, training or education

It is obvious from the information above, different students have different learner needs. Therefore, they must be taught in diverse ways and they need to learn all kinds of different things in the classroom when studying English.

How the learning programs vary according to learner needs

Older students such as teenagers or adults who have particular professional, academic or general goals for learning English must follow courses that would meet all their needs. Given here is a list of different types of professional, general and academic English courses. Take note of the dissimilarities between these courses.

  1. An intensive course of which the duration is four weeks. The course is on exam strategies for sitting an exam for university entrance.
  2. A serires of one-to-one lesson over a period of 10 weeks. The course is on skills needed for business presentation.
  3. A course of six month duration for future tourists. This course concentrates on speaking and listening necessary for English used in society or for daily survival.
  4. A course which is a year long and is on writing academic essays and reading academic books and articles.
  5. A short course in the summer for teenagers in the UK. This course includes a great deal of sports, chatting with English teenagers and trips to tourist locations.
  6. A course held once a week for a small crowd of accountants in the student’s company which is a huge accountancy firm. This course focuses on English for accountants.
  7. A course on writing business letters in English of which the duration is four weeks.

The ways a teacher can meet with different learner needs

Apparently, in order to meet the future needs of students, the courses change in length, frequency, size of the class, the language skill that is focused on, type of English, teaching styles and activities. Students who are still at primary or secondary school probably will not yet have professional or academic needs. However, they have personal and learning needs in English. In meeting these needs, the teacher has various option for the classroom which are given below.

Personal needs

By choosing suitable:

  • Materials
  • Topics
  • Pace (speed) of lessons
  • Activities
  • Approach to teaching (e.g. activity-based, topic-based
  • Treatment of individual learners
  • Skills
  • Interaction patterns (e.g. group, pair or individual work)
  • Types of feedback (comments on learning)

Learning needs

By choosing suitable:

  • Materials and topics
  • Activities
  • Interaction patterns
  • Approach to teaching
  • Language and skills
  • Level of language and skills
  • Learning strategies
  • workload

A Practice Task

Questions 1-7 are descriptions of learners and listed A-H are the causes of their needs. Match them together. There is an extra option which does not need to be used.

Learners Descriptions
1. The student really must learn English very well to be successful in her job.
2. The student learns best when he/she works alone.
3. The student has a very busy job and only has time to learn English in the evenings.
4. The student has very bad pronunciation problems which can stop him from passing an oral exam.
5. The student is used to learning a great deal of grammar.
6. To the student, the English classes are boring.
7. The student needs to learn how to learn English on her own because she cannot afford classes.

Causes of needs
A. Lack of motivation
B. Learner autonomy
C. Past learning experience
D. Learning style
E. Learning gap
F. Learning goals
G. Availability of time
H. Professional

Reflection on teachers' comments

Here are some comments from teachers. Which of these comments would you agree with? State your reasons for doing so.



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