The affective filter is a psychological filter that, for better or worse, can affect a student’s ability to learn a second language. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, “affective” means “referring to, arising from, or influencing feelings or emotions.”
Think of this affective filter as a wall; when it’s high, it inhibits learning. When it’s low, the students are better able to learn and acquire new information.
Some surefire ways to raise the affective filter include too much error correction, lack of self-confidence, and feelings of embarrassment or shame. Unfortunately, these are all-too-common phenomena that, when left untreated, can prevent student growth and, even worse, result in a lifetime of distress.
Because teachers play a huge role in the facilitation—or, in some cases, the inhibition—of language learning and acquisition, it’s largely the teacher’s responsibility to lower the affective filter and create a learning environment in which their students feel safe, comfortable, and assured. Below are three tips that will help you do exactly that.
1. Criticize Less, Praise More
As I mentioned in my blog post “Resilience is Only the Beginning: 3 Ways to Build Antifragile Students,” too much error correction can overly discourage students. And although error correction is an important part of the learning process, it must be timed properly. Correcting a student in front of their peers might result in the student feeling embarrassed or ashamed, feelings that are likely to impede their academic progress in the long run.
Teachers should bring more attention to students’ strengths and accomplishments, noting any signs of progress or any behaviors they consider to be noteworthy. And when teachers encourage their students to continue their strong performance, the students become even more motivated to excel in their studies.
2. Encourage Risk Taking
Students often fear committing mistakes in class because of—you guessed it—the stigma against making mistakes. Instead of having safe space where they can experiment and try new things, students are instructed to be perfect and are ridiculed when they fail.
Since effective language acquisition requires that a learner get out of their comfort zone and verbally communicate with speakers of the language, an undertaking that’s often involves making mistakes, encouraging risk taking in the classroom is imperative. And students who have become reasonably comfortable taking risks in class are more likely to take linguistic risks outside of class and propel their language learning even further.
3. Foster an Inclusive Environment
Feelings of isolation and loneliness, which are “associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide,” can greatly hinder a student’s academic performance. Since language learning is an inherently social act and because the quality of a class’s social dynamics can hugely impact a student’s performance, it’s important for teachers to be aware of these dynamics.
When teachers foster a sense of belonging and inclusion, students feel supported, both intellectually and academically. By, for example, memorizing and using students’ first names, creating rules for student-to-student interaction, and accommodating students with disabilities, teachers can rest assured that their students will learn effectively.
Yes, lowering the affective filter can take a large amount of effort and commitment on part of the teacher, but when the teacher focuses on praise rather than criticism, encourages a culture of risk taking, and promotes a sense of inclusion and belonging in the classroom, the students’ learning experience can reach a whole new level. And the students can gradually turn into more confident learners as well as more confident people.