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 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 be mentally prepared to learn, or they might be hindering this process in some way.
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.
We can think of the affective filter like a mask. When a mask is worn over the whole face, a person will have difficulty seeing or speaking, and even hearing – and learning. When the mask is under their chin, a person is able to see, speak, hear – and learn – much more easily.
What causes a high affective filter?
Stress and discomfort will adversely affect learning. 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.
Think about it for a minute: the times you are able to study the hardest are probably times when you feel comfortable and safe. You are relaxed and not under any pressure. You feel calm, both mentally and physically. This is what we want to replicate in our EFL classrooms.
Read more: How Can Teachers Motivate Learners?
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. This can even prevent a student from speaking up or 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. If the class is a new one, 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.
Read more: Encouraging Mistakes in the TEFL Classroom
It’s also important to bear in mind the physical environment of the classroom. Is it a sauna, or an igloo? Is there a gale force wind blowing through the windows? Are you students sitting on top of one another? As the teacher it is your duty to make sure the classroom is at the right temperature and your students are as comfortable as possible.
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, happy students = a happy classroom = a happy teacher!
Please note: This blog post was originally published on 5 September 2017 but has been updated.
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