As English teachers, we’re almost always on the lookout for new and interesting ways to stimulate our language learners. It was ELT author and researcher Stephen D. Krashen who gave us his Affective Filter hypothesis of Second or Foreign language acquisition. (Krashen – Terrell, 1983) His hypothesis states, that conditions which promote low anxiety levels in class allow improved learning on the part of students. When learners enjoy class activities their Affective Filter is low and they learn more. New and different activities “out of the norm” also lower learner affective filters.
Anxiety has been regarded as one of the most important negative factors influencing second language acquisition. It is associated with feelings of uneasiness, frustration, self-doubt, apprehension, and worry. There are many potential sources of learners’ anxiety in the foreign language classroom. As Young (1991) argues, two factors, personal and interpersonal anxieties, have been the most commonly addressed in related anxiety research.
Language anxiety is attributable to different causes. The primary sources of language anxiety, explicated by Horwitz et al. (1986), are communication apprehension, fear of negative evaluation, and test anxiety. Price (1991) concluded from his case studies that the difficulty level of foreign language classes, personal perception of language aptitude, certain personality variables (e.g., perfectionism and fear of public speaking), and stressful classroom experiences are all possible causes of anxiety. In addition, Young (1991) identified six potential sources of language anxiety from three aspects: the learner, the teacher, and the instructional practice. He claimed that language anxiety is caused by (a) personal and interpersonal anxiety, (b) learner beliefs about language learning, (c) instructor beliefs about language teaching, (d) instructor-learner interactions, (e) classroom procedures, and (f) language testing. Young (1994) further elucidated that these sources of language anxiety are interrelated.
When considering the issue of language anxiety and classroom practice, it is important to keep cultural differences in mind. Some practice perceived by one group of learners as comfortable may prove stressful for learners from a different cultural group, who are used to different types of classroom organization. Cultural influences, such as the stereotyping of teachers, students, and classroom interactions, can be largely different from culture to culture.
How can we maintain low affective filters in our classrooms? Here are some dos and don’ts.
- Do not test young learners on the material they are working with. This eliminates a major source of anxiety. The only testing should be for placement purposes; whatever anxiety this generates is associated with the infrequent placement procedure, not with the daily classroom environment.
- Do not require students to perform when they are not ready and willing to do so. Speaking is always voluntary and always welcome. Never make your students feel awkward or self-conscious by putting them on the spot. When students are asked to deliver their thoughts or idea with a foreign language in which they have limited competence, their performance can be very threatening to their self-image.
- Use authentic materials as much as possible -feature movies, newspapers and magazines, stories etc. Boredom is less likely with these materials, since they are the kinds of things normal people enjoy in real life.
- Do not use exercises, drills, or any kind of artificial task that has no ostensible or sensible purpose other than language practice. Instead, maintain a flow of ordinary, meaningful language about people, places, things, and so on. Such activities do not become annoying; they are universally accepted as normal, basic modes of human interaction.
- Function as partners and mentors (positive roles) not as testers and judges (negative roles).