Targeted ways to Lower the Affective Filter in Language Classes

Lowering the affective filter

The affective filter is an invisible mental barrier that can prevent students from learning a language. It is caused by a variety of factors, such as fear of making mistakes, anxiety about speaking in front of others, or feeling overwhelmed by the amount of material. However, there are many ways for French teachers to lower their students’ affective filters and create an environment where they can learn more effectively. Let’s take a look at some strategies that can help you do just that!

Making mistakes is part of learning

One way to lower the affective filter is to make sure your students understand that it’s okay to make mistakes. Acknowledging and even celebrating mistakes will go a long way towards creating a safe space for learning. Encourage them to take risks and be creative with the language, without worrying about perfectionism. You could also give out “bravo points” or other rewards for trying something new!

Whenever I go over the rubric for any test, I tell my students to note that there is not a huge difference between a perfect written or spoken test and a pretty good one with mistakes. So long as the mistakes don’t affect communication, at most the cost of mistakes will be 1 point. I encourage them to take risks and create with the language, because doing that will earn them more points than playing it safe because of a fear of mistakes. Knowing that risks are welcome and will not be penalized goes a long way towards lowering the affective filter.

Lowering the affective filter by Creating Opportunities for Interaction

Another important factor in lowering the affective filter is providing opportunities for interaction between students. This could mean assigning partners or small groups activities, or simply allowing time for conversation during class. This will help build confidence in speaking and also create relationships between peers which can be beneficial when it comes to classroom dynamics.

One of the most successful activities and assessments I’ve done so far this year was done with a “speed dating” format. I made a grid with empty spaces in the middle. On the leftmost column, each cell had a question written in French. On the rightmost column, the cell had the beginning of a simple phrase: Je m’appelle…, je suis… j’aime… and je n’aime pas….

Before starting the activity, they filled out the end of the sentences on the right column. Then we went over the questions on the left column to practice pronunciation. The students then moved around the classroom to interview other students. There were 5 blank columns, so they had to speak to 5 different people. We did the first one together, with students listening to me and then asking/answer the questions. The next 4 they did with a timer running – 2-3 minutes was plenty.

By the time the students needed to take the assessment where they had to introduce themselves, it wasn’t scary at all – they had done the activity so many times as a low-stakes practice assignment, the test was just more of the same. Giving your students a chance to get repetition (when it doesn’t count) and knowing that their assessments will be similar to what they have just done when it does count goes a long way towards lowering the affective filter.

Pacing lessons appropriately

Finally, it’s important to ensure that your lessons are paced appropriately so as not overwhelm your students with too much material at once. Before diving into any new material, review what has already been learned so that everyone feels comfortable with the content before moving forward. Make sure you leave plenty of time for practice and review as well; this will help solidify knowledge and give your students a sense of accomplishment which will lower any anxieties about the subject matter.      

This is one of the things that gives me the most difficulty. I have always found languages easy to learn and it’s super easy for me to feel that everyone has learned the vocabulary and structures and is ready to move on – even though they haven’t! Part of pacing is the actual speaking speed of the lesson – you need to speak slowly and clearly so that students can pick up the information. The other part of pacing is to not add new material until the old material has truly been learned.

In order to make sure that you are pacing your lessons appropriately, it’s good to do some checks along the way. There are many ways you can do this – and keep in mind that it’s always better to give your students more repetitions than fewer. Is there really such a thing as too many repetitions?

Some teachers have a student keep track of how many times a certain word or structure is used during a lesson.   You may feel that you’ve used a word 50 times but in reality it’s only been 20 – and students need to hear it more times in order to truly acquire it. Keep in mind that some students will be slow processors and may seem as if they aren’t getting it – but the reality is that they are getting it just fine, they just need a little more time to process it before giving output.

Before you start a new unit or lesson, take a good look at what your students really need to know for the level you are teaching. Do they need to know ALL of the Vandertramp verbs, using all of the pronouns? Or is it important that they know a few of them that are common? While I can spend time teaching which verbs use être in the past tense and how they match the subject (and have a few students sort of get it), I could also spend one class period learning the structure “je suis allé.e” and then have ALL of my students able to talk about where they went.

                                                                
Lowering the affective filter in language classes is essential if you want your students to succeed in their studies. There are many effective strategies you can use such as making mistakes part of learning, creating opportunities for interaction between peers, and pacing lessons appropriately. By using these strategies, you can create an environment where your students feel comfortable taking risks and engaging with the material without fear or anxiety getting in their way! That’s how you’ll get them closer than ever before to becoming fluent in French!

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