How to Keep Down the Affective Filter in Virtual Learning?

Enseñanza virtual - afectivo
Enseñanza virtual - afectivo

In the introduction of this series we hinted that although we, language teachers, profess to follow and pay lip service to the Communicative Language Approach (CLA), in reality we tend to be quite a bit more eclectic today in our current foreign language teaching and learning attitudes. In spite of this, we all recognize certain pillars that are crucial in teaching a foreign tongue. And we posed the question whether we can respect and follow those canons in our present condition of distant instruction.

This time we are going to refer to linguist and educator Steven Krashen´s Input Theory and Monitor Model, particularly in his Affective Filter Hypothesis. Basically, he contends that affective variables such as fear, nervousness, boredom, and resistance to change can influence the acquisition of a second language by inhibiting information about the target language from reaching the language areas of the mind. Although there was some criticism of this hypothesis, it is generally accepted by educators. In simple words, students, when they have to express their thoughts in a language they don´t master, feel nervous and inadequate. That is a high affective filter. If we manage to lower the filter, learning is going to be easier.

According to the distinguished professor Claire Kramsch, former President of the American Association of Applied Linguistics, “The language learning experience  engages learners cognitively, emotionally, and morally.  In other words, learning a language is an emotional experience, in addition to being a cognitive process”. (Kramsch, 2009).

Therefore, it is vital that language learning is accomplished in a non-threatening environment. The problem is, if students feel scared to speak in a closed classroom, surrounded by classmates they are well familiar with, what will it be doing it through a microphone (and possibly camera) addressing people maybe they cannot see or, anyway, they don’t have any practical contact with. Doctor Barry Chametzky, an specialist in educational technology and e-learning, comments about it: “When online, post-secondary foreign language learners wrestle with the course material and environment because of their inexperience or misguided expectations, frustration and anxiety often ensue. The resulting imbalance often hinders satisfactory progress in the course.” (Chametzky, 2013a, p.)

To lower the affective filter we need good motivation, strong self-confidence plenty of language input and output (although Krashen only speaks of input) and the building of a low anxiety environment. And how do we accomplish that online? Primarily by vigorously promoting  interaction. That is why it is so important that the TICs that we use to teach language provide two-way communication. Radio and television fall short of this, they are one-way communication media. Receivers do not have a voice. We need a platform that allows everybody to participate. Instructors should use meaningful online interaction so that learners can work collaboratively in a non-threatening environment. And teachers should still strive to make student-centered classes, which is perfectly possible thanks to modern technology. Also, they should apply social constructivist learning by dividing students in groups and make them discuss and negotiate significance. “Meaningful interaction should include responding to peers, negotiating and arguing with peers, adding ideas, and offering alternative perspectives in real life tasks”. (Saaty, 2014). Get convinced: lecturing the students constantly will not work.

Also, it is important to remember, that in virtual as well as in face to face education, language learning is a dynamic and a flexible process, and keep in mind that each person learns in a different manner, so, there is no one way of teaching it. In the case of e-learning instructors should be more aware of new implementations of language teaching and also keep in mind learners’ interests and students different learning styles. Finally, take into consideration that learners of this digital age should be more autonomous and independent.

Academy Publisher (2012) The Effects of Affective Factors in SLA and Pedagogical Implications Hui Ni Department of Foreign Languages, Heze University, Heze 274000, Shandong, China Email:

Chametzky, B. (2013b). Offsetting the affective filter and online foreign language learners. Retrieved from, Ahdab

Kramsch, C. (2009). The multilingual subject. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Saaty A. 2015 Utilizing Facebook in Language Classrooms: Social Constructivist and Affective Filter Approaches. Arab World English Journal (AWEJ) Vol.6. No.4 Pp. 113-127   Retrieved from


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