Lower the Affective Filter

woman covering her face with her hands

If you have ever learned a new language or traveled in a foreign country, you have an idea of how stressful and nerve-wracking it can be for English language learners in the classroom. When people experience stress around learning, it creates what is called the “affective filter”. The affective filter is an emotional response that can impede the process of learning.

The term affective filter was coined by Stephan Krashen, a prominent Second Language Acquisition scholar, to describe how a learner's attitudes can impact the success of second language learning. Negative feelings such as lack of motivation, lack of self-confidence, and learning anxiety act as filters that inhibits language learning.

Learners with high affective filters tend to feel very self-conscious about their abilities in the new language. They may experience anxiety when asked to speak, read, or write in class, and may have very little faith in their capacity for learning. They tend to be hesitant to produce language in a class, because they are afraid of making a mistake and being judged by their teacher and peers. Learners may also experience high affective filters as a result of situations outside of the classroom that are causing stress and uncertainty.

The affective filter is like a wall around a learner’s brain. The higher it is, the more difficult it is for them to learn. The goal of the teacher is to lower the wall, so that the learner feels safe and comfortable, and is able to learn.

Here are three suggestions for lowering affective filters:

  1. Have fun with learning

There are few things that help people to relax faster than smiling and laughter. Integrate games into the lesson plans that get learners up out of their seats, moving around, and interacting.

  1. Don’t overcorrect learners’ mistakes

If learners are having everything that they say corrected, they are going to be a lot less likely to speak up in class. Focus in on the errors that are the most relevant, and let the rest of the errors go. If there are learners that seem to be very self-conscious, consider giving them feedback one-on-one, rather than in front of the whole class. Don’t allow other learners in the class to laugh at or make fun of other learners’ mistakes.

  1. Provide learners with opportunities to experience success

Nothing builds confidence and excitement around learning a language than using that language successfully. Learners need to experience success in using their new language to keep them motivated. When teachers spend the entire class focusing exclusively on new language and challenging activities, learners can become demotivated and feel like they’re never making progress. Set up activities where learners can use language that they’ve already mastered, and expand on it as they feel comfortable. Review is an important part of learning a new language, and it helps learners to remember just how much they’ve already learned.

Additional Readings on the Affective Filter:

What’s an Affective Filter and How Does It Affect English Language Learning? Here’s the Lowdown.

The Role of the Affective Filter in Language Learning

What is the Affective Filter?

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