Affective Filter Hypothesis (Stephen Krashen)

The Affective Filter Hypothesis

The Affective Filter Hypothesis proposes that a mental block caused by emotional (affective) factors can prevent learners from acquiring a language. These factors include: motivation, self-confidence and anxiety. Krashen (1982) claims that learners with high motivation, self-confidence, a good self-image, and a low level of anxiety are better equipped for success in language acquisition. Learners who are plagued with low motivation, low self-esteem, and high anxiety create a mental block for themselves that prevents language acquisition.

However, the opposite is not necessarily true. The theory describes a phenomenon that IMPEDES language acquisition – if an affective filter is NOT a factor, trying to be MORE positive does not make acquisition easier. Although positive affective and emotional factors are necessary to provide a consistent environment for language input, they are not sufficient on their own for acquisition to take place.

Teachers can lower the affective filter of their students by encouraging an environment that promotes learning. Diaz-Rico, Weed (2010) say this can be done by raising the enjoyment of learning, raising self-esteem of their students, and blending self-awareness with an increase in proficiency as students learn English.

Díaz-Rico, L. T. & Weed, K. Z. (2010). The Cross-Cultural, Language, and Academic Development Handbook, Fourth Edition. Pearson Education, Inc.

Krashen, S., (1982). Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Permagon Press, Inc.

Critique/Classroom Implications

Krashen's Affective Filter Hypothesis goes hand in hand with his input hypothesis. If the input is comprehensible and at a level slightly above the learner the the Language Acquisition device will more easily acquire the language. However; this is only possible if the Affective Filter is lowered. Meaning that the affective factors (anxiety, motivation & self-confidence) are at appropriate levels. If the Affective Filter is blocking the comprehensible input, then all the teaching preparation is for not. One point to mention is that this theory is about acquisition, not learning.

We must remember that these are only hypotheses. One of the main critiques with Krashen's hypotheses is that they CANNOT be tested or proven. The affective factors would be your independent variables, which would have to be varied. Varying them for the good of the students would be fine, but one would have to intentionally lower a students self-confidence, raise anxiety and decrease motivation. . That would be in violation of the National Institute of Health's protocol for dealing with human subjects. It is wrong for any researcher to purposely harm their participants.

Although, I have critiqued Krashen's hypotheses above, I do believe that maintaining a positive atmosphere (low affective filter) will improve student learning in general. An important aspect of a low affective filter is creating the sense of community in the classroom. If students feel a sense of togetherness they will feel more confident in their abilities when working together. Here are some things you can do as a teacher to lower the affective filter in your classroom:
  • lower anxiety by decreasing testing
  • respect silent periods
  • use student funds of knowledge
  • teachers should act as mentors not as a judge
  • Use a variety of ELL strategies and activities (i.e. songs/chants, games, etc...)
  • Increase the home-school connection

Lin, G. (2008). Pedagogies Proving Krashen's Theory of AffectiveFilter. Hwa Kang Journal of English Language & Literature n14 p113-131 Jul 2008, 113-31. Retrieved from ERIC database

Díaz-Rico, L. T. & Weed, K. Z. (2010). The Cross-Cultural, Language, and Academic Development Handbook, Fourth Edition. Pearson Education, Inc.

Freeman, D.E. & Freeman, Y.S. (2004). Essential linguistics: What you need to know to teach reading, ESL, spelling, phonics, and grammar. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.