Affect and Involvement

In the late 1970's, a second language learning theorist named Stephen Krashen pointed out a factor critical to success in learning another language. That factor is what he termed the affective filter. Producing meaning in another language is not just complex and demanding, it is also risky. That is, when we try to speak, write and understand the new language, our success at doing so is under the scrutiny of those we are communicating with. If we fail, we may appear foolish and become embarrassed. We are at risk of losing face.

Many factors contribute to the degree of ease we feel in a given situation. Attitude, motivation, needs, and emotional and physical states all contribute to how comfortable we feel communicating at a given moment. The environment in which we are communicating also contributes to our state of comfort and and resulting level of confidence. When we are made to feel uncomfortable or put on the spot, our affective filter is high. When this happens, it is more difficult to fully participate in communication with others. In this state we tend to filter and even block out what others are saying to us and what we wish to say to others. In other words, this state impedes the language comprehension, production and, ultimately, learning.

When it comes to communicating in a second language, the factors that contribute to a high affective filter are many: a new land, a new culture, a new system of communicating, the tenative development of self as a participant, etc. Making the classroom as comfortable an atmosphere as possible lowers the child' affective filter and thereby increases how well, how quickly and how comfortably he or she will adjust to and learn these new systems. On a day-to-day, minute-by-minute basis, simple forms of encouragement can assist the ESL student. For example, demonstrating interest and involvement in the child -- what she says, what she does -- will increase her confidence and lower her affective filter. Get to know the children, their lives, their families. ESL teachers make good use of students' home and community life as a source of meaningful communication. They capitalize on the rich cultural knowledge and experiences their students bring to classroom. ESL children are a tremendous resource when it comes to culture, geography, customs, multicultural readings, etc. Not only do they enrich the classroom, but acknowledgement of their knowledge and the opportunity for them to share that knowledge is an excellent way to get and keep them involved in the classroom community.

Modeling good, involved listening and participating behaviors for other children in the class to follow will also promote a supportive environment all around. The resulting extended interaction in the classroom supports the ESL students' linguistic, instructional and affective growth.