The Affective Filter Hypothesis is refers to the role of affect – the experience of internal feeling or emotion, ranging from suffering to elation — in creating “filters” that facilitate or impede learning.

The Affective Filter Hypothesis is a corollary of the Comprehensible Input Hypothesis  — the proposal that we need spoken input at a level slightly above our comprehension abilities in order to acquire language. However, we are only “open” to utilizing this input for learning if we have the right affective mindset.

Both of these are intuitive hypotheses – observation and conjecture – about how affective states might influence receptivity to listening input. Apart from anecdotal evidence, there is no reliable way to measure this. Still both hypotheses resonate with many teachers.

The AFH “claims that learners with high motivation, self-confidence, a good self-image, and a low level of anxiety are better equipped for success in second language acquisition. Low motivation, low self-esteem, and debilitating anxiety can combine to ‘raise’ the affective filter and form a ‘mental block’ that prevents Comprehensible Input from being used for acquisition. In other words, when the filter is ‘up’ it impedes natural listening and thus slows down or halts learning. On the other hand, positive affect is necessary, but not sufficient on its own, for acquisition to take place.”

This may seem like common sense, but it is worth keeping in mind:  in order to learn effectively, students need to feel comfortable, to feel an “inclusiveness”, accepted for who they are, personally and culturally. This  includes feeling accepted for their current level of language mastery: that they don’t need to pretend to understand more than they do.

The upshot for teaching listening:  We need to pay attention to students’ mindset first and foremost when teaching listening. If they are not receptive — for affective or cognitive reasons — they will not listen effectively.

Some activities that focus on learner involvement and development of ‘self image’ and ‘inclusiveness’:

• Photo Album

• Listening Circles

• Special Skill


About The Author

, The Affective Filter Hypothesis, Lateral Communications
Michael Rost, principal author of Pearson English Interactive, has been active in the areas of language teaching, learning technology and language acquisition research for over 25 years. His interest in bilingualism and language education began in the Peace Corps in West Africa and was fuelled during his 10 years as an educator in Japan and extensive touring as a lecturer in East Asia and Latin America. Formerly on the faculty of the TESOL programs at Temple University and the University of California, Berkeley, Michael now works as an independent researcher, author, and speaker based in San Francisco.