Published 5th September 2017

affective filter

Stephen Krashen is a well-known name in the EFL industry.  His ideas and theories have been influential in the field of Teaching English as a Foreign Language, mostly because they seemed to have stood the test of time. Krashen came up with five hypotheses of learning, one of which is the affective filter hypothesis.

The affective filter hypothesis basically explains that language cannot be learned if a learner is blocking the learning process. In other words, a learner can have a high affective filter or a low affective filter: the higher the filter, the more likely language learning will be impeded; the lower the filter, the more likely that language learning will take place.

What causes a high affective filter?

In order to be able to learn effectively, a learner should feel safe and comfortable in the learning environment. The learner should not experience high levels of stress or anxiety during the learning process. Plus, the learner should feel motivated to participate in learning activities without worrying about making mistakes.

affective filter
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How does this affect the EFL classroom?

This might all seem very logical to you, but you’ll be surprised how easily it can be for students to feel uncomfortable or tense during a lesson. If you think of situations which require you to do a bit of public speaking or speak with a group of people, you may understand the anxiety students may feel when called on in class. The fear of making a mistake or looking stupid can be overwhelming and prevent a student from participating in classroom activities. This will mean the student won’t benefit as much from the lesson and won’t learn as effectively.

What can the teacher do to lower the affective filter?

There are many things teachers can do to help the situation. Firstly, make sure the students know each other. Spend some time on getting-to-know-you activities so that the students can become friends. It’s much easier to speak in front of friends than strangers and students won’t feel embarrassed about making mistakes.

When the students do make mistakes, by all means correct them but don’t make a big deal out of it and don’t do it in an embarrassing way. Ensure you treat your students equally so nobody feels like you are picking on them or making fun of them.

Though the affective filter is just one of many theories related to learning a foreign language, it is one worth remembering because as teachers it is something we have a certain amount of control over. And we all know, a happy classroom = a happy teacher!