What is the Affective Filter?
The affective filter is a theoretical construct in second language acquisition that attempts to explain
the emotional variables associated with the success or failure of acquiring a second language. The affective filter is an
invisible psychological filter that can either facilitate or hinder language production in a second language. When the affective
filter is high, individuals may experience stress, anxiety, and lack of self-confidence that may inhibit success in acquiring
a second language. On the other hand, a low affective filter facilitates risk-taking behavior in regards to practicing and
learning a second language.
Affective filters can be
raised or lowered as a result of the environment that individuals are in, interactions with peers and/or teachers, or due
to personal factors such as insecurity and anxiety. We can probably all attest to the fact that we have at one point
in our life been in certain contexts where we may be nervous about something and have felt paralyzed or incompetent. Just
imagine standing in front of a group of your colleagues in order to conduct a presentation about the ways in which you differentiate
for English learners. Many people might naturally have a low affective filter in this type of situation because of their personal
disposition. However, for many people the affective filter will skyrocket. These people will sweat, become nervous and will
be astonished at the incoherent comments that may come out of their mouth while they are thinking in their head, “Why
am I speaking as if I don’t know what I am talking about?”
Teachers of second language learners must strategically organize their environment and instruction in order to lower
the affective filter of learners in their classroom. Overemphasis on error correction, laughing at mistakes or being placed
in awkward or high-risk environments may tend to increase the affective filter and inhibit language development. It is imperative
that teachers also institute a policy in the classroom that prohibits students from making fun of their peers or laughing
at errors made by other students. The optimal classroom for language learning and production is a classroom that encourages
risk-taking in language production and views errors as a natural progression of language learning. When placed in a safe and
affirming environment, many students will blossom and grow in their language development!!