Stephen Krashen, the well-known linguist and researcher, coined the phrase ‘Affective Filter‘ in the 1970s. It’s a simple concept that’s essential to understand not just for teaching ELs, but for mainstream education as well.
Basically, when we’re anxious, holding back, worrying about what others will think in a group setting, feel mentally blocked, our affective filter is high. It’s a barrier to receiving, understanding and producing. So if our affective filter is high, we cannot function productively at all. Think about an English Learner, who is a complete beginner of English, and is thrown into the deep end of a classroom in the English-speaking world, where only complex (to the student anyway) instruction and discussion is taking place. If no steps are taken to break down the information in ways that the student can understand even the basics, his/her affective filter becomes sky-high, therefore nothing can be learned or produced. The student develops low self-esteem and language or content is not acquired.
Instead, if we as educators and parents can create a supportive environment with fun activities which also teach content and language and reach ALL students, the EL student can relax and develop more confidence. As they feel less self-conscious, they are able to understand and produce, and they feel better about themselves and lower their affective filter. This is key to language and knowledge acquisition.
So, in very simple terms,
High affective filter correlates with low language/knowledge acquisition and conversely,
Low affective filter correlates with high language/knowledge acquisition.
Using these principles in my own classroom really paid off in comparison to the times when I was inexperienced and didn’t really understand the connections. Have you, as a parent, or an educator, used this idea in your own work? I’d love to hear about examples that worked for you!