Timothy Mason's Site

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.


This lecture, like the others in this series, was given to students of English at the Université of Versailles St. Quentin, for a course in the Didactics of English, which I taught from 1993 to 2002.

It offers a simplified introductory account. The embedded links, most of which point to material off this site, are for readers who are looking for greater depth and complexity.


Didactics -11 : Critique of Krashen VII

The Affective Filter Hypothesis

A : Recap

Last week, we looked at Krashen's Monitor Hypothesis. We saw that, according to Krashen, the formal, class-taught kind of knowledge that can be summed up in grammatical rules, can only be used after our utterances have been presented to us in fluent form by the acquired system. That is to say that this knowledge can be used to monitor our production, correcting our mistakes. The monitor can only be used when there is enough time, when the speaker or writer is thinking about linguistic accuracy, and when she knows the rule. We saw that these three conditions - particularly the last one - are difficult to fulfil. Krashen implies that it is counter-productive to use the monitor in normal conversation, . 

Like the other hypotheses, this one has been criticised. I cited the criticisms that arise out of studies done on good learners. These studies have tried to identify the strategies used by people who are successful at learning foreign languages. Most of the studies that have been carried out in this tradition have shown that the good learner is someone who pays attention to grammatical form, and that they use monitoring as part of the learning process, listening to and correcting not only their own production, but also that of others. 

These studies have in their turn been criticised. It can be pointed out that the 'good' learners are those who have been identified as such by teachers. Teachers use grammatical knowledge as one of the criteria by which they determine who is and who is not a good student. They also tend to react positively to the kind of student who shows that she thinks about her learning. It may be that what these studies have uncovered are simply the characteristics that lead teachers to label students positively. This does not necessarily mean that these are the characteristics that naturally lead to good language learning. 

The process may, indeed be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy - that is to say that teachers identify students who behave in particular ways as being most likely to succeed, and so behave towards these students in a particularly positive and encouraging was. This, in turn, leads to these students enjoying their lessons, looking forward to them, and working harder. So, in fact, what happens is not that the school rewards these students because they succeed, but that these students succeed because school rewards them. This brings us to Krashen's last hypothesis -

B : The Affective Filter Hypothesis.

Krashen points to the importance of motivation, self-confidence and anxiety. He holds that these factors are more involved in constructing the acquired system than in learning - they are more strongly related to achievement as measured by communicative tests than by formal language tests. He writes : - 

The Affective Filter Hypothesis captures the relationship between affective variables and the process of second language acquisition by positing that acquirers vary with respect to the strength or level of their Affective Filters. Those whose attitudes are not optimal for second language acquisition will not only tend to seek less input, but they will also have a high or strong Affective Filter - even if they understand the message, the input will not reach that part of the brain responsible for language acquisition, or the language acquisition device. Those with attitudes more conducive to second language acquisition will not only seek and obtain more input, they will also have a lower or weaker filter. They will be more open to the input, and it will strike "deeper". (Stephen D. Krashen, Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition, Prentice Hall International, 1987, p. 31

The Affective Filter is the basic reason why people fossilize. From this hypothesis, Krashen deduces that : 

... our pedagogical goals should not only include supplying comprehensible input, but also creating a situation that encourages a low filter ... The input hypothesis and the concept of the Affective Filter define the language teacher in a new way. The effective language teacher is someone who can provide input and help make it comprehensible in a low anxiety situation. (Krashen, Principles and Practice, p.32)

Let us turn to the three basic factors that underlie the Affective Filter.


It seems evident that a motivated student will learn better than one that is not. But what do we mean by motivation, and how might we measure it? Moreover, do we conceive of motivation as being something that the learner already possesses, prior to her arrival in the classroom, or is it something that is subject to change? And in the latter case, what can we do to change it in a positive way?

General considerations :

Psychologists distinguish between :

  • basic motivations - hunger, thirst, sexuality, and so on - and
  • psychological motivations, which, although they may be derived from the former, through conditioning and learning, are not so directly tuned to survival and reproduction.

We should also note that, according to Freudian psychology, motivations are not always conscious, and negative or positive feelings about a given activity may be only indirectly related to the activity itself. For example, Louis Wolfson, a schizophrenic, learned foreign languages such as German, Hebrew and French, compulsively, so as to escape from the sound of his mother's voice.

According to expectancy value theory, motivation is a function of :

  • a) expectancy - that is, the belief concerning the probability that a certain course of action will be followed by a particular outcome)
  • b) valence - the value that the individual attaches to the possible outcomes of his actions.


  • - if the most probable outcome of an action is also highly valued, then the motivation is high.
  • - if, on the other hand, either the likelihood that the action will be followed by success is poor, or the most probable outcomes are not highly valued, then motivation will be low.

However, it should be noted that psychologists do not believe that behaviour is necessarily initiated by such calculations - the calculations help direct the behaviour once it has been embarked upon.


Motivation and SLA

In Second Language learning, the main work has stemmed from the interests of Gardner, whose work began on language learning in Canada. Gardner distinguishes between :

  • - integrative motivation
  • a learner has in interest in learning an L2 because of a 'sincere and personal interest in the people and culture represented by the other language group.
  • - instrumental motivation
  • here the learner has an interest in learning an L2 because of the practical advantages that will accrue to s/one who speaks it.
In his early work, Gardner found that there was a consistently positive correlation between integrative motivation and L2 achievement. However, it was pointed out by other observers that :
  • 1. Gardner's concept was in itself difficult to pin down.
    Thus, Muchnick and Wolfe (1982) found that the 337 American high-school students of Spanish that they investigated had motivations that could not be clearly distinguished as either integrative or instrumental.

    How would you class a desire to learn Spanish so as to go to Mexico on holiday?

  • 2. He had worked with learners in bi-lingual Canada, where conditions might be such that integrative motives were powerful. Perhaps in other cultures, instrumental motivation might prove to be as effective.

Oller, Baca and Vigil (1977) found that amongst a group of poor Mexican women living in California, those who rated Anglos positively were less successful in learning English than were those who rated them negatively. This lead Oller and Perkins to suggest that some learners may be motivated by a desire to manipulate the speakers of the TL - they referred to this as Machiavellian motivation.

It has also been found that in countries where there is likely to be little contact with Native Speakers, but where the language is necessary for business and career purposes, instrumental motivation can be more powerful than integrative motivation. This was true of Tagalog speakers in the Philippines, and of non-westernised women living in Bombay, for example.

How does motivation influence behaviour in such a way as to lead to more effective language learning?

  • Gliksman found that in his sample of anglophone students learning French in Canadian high schools, the pupils who had higher integrative motivation also
    • - received more questions from teachers,
    • - volunteered more answers,
    • - gave more correct answers and
    • - received more positive reinforcement.
  • Neiman et al (1978) found a similar pattern - but strong instrumental motivation had similar effects.
  • It should also be pointed out that although common sense suggests that these behaviours should lead to better language learning, no study has yet conclusively shown that they do. Ramage (1990), however, did discover that US high-school students were less likely to drop out of language classes if they reported an interest in the target culture, and a desire to gain proficiency. They attached low importance to fulfilling curriculum requirements - that is, to instrumental factors. 

    Finally, let us note that Kruidenier and Clement (1986) found no evidence for integrative orientation as an important factor. Indeed, they stress that motivations differ according to both the situation of the learner, and the language being learned - learners of Spanish, for example, being more motivated by travel orientations, while Canadian francophone learners of English were more influenced by friendship orientation.

    Motivation in the classroom

    • Gardner's conception of motivation is that it is in some way prior to the learner's seeking out tuition. But teachers would suspect that the learning situation itself has some effect on motivation - that is, that the teacher's own behaviour can either positively or negatively influence the learner's desire and willingness to learn and continue learning the language.

    In-class motivation may be of the purely instrumental kind. Dunkel (1948) offered financial rewards to learners of Farsi ; the results were positive, but not significantly so. In a more recent experiment, Gardner and McIntyre found that when they offered a reward for a French English vocabulary-pairing task, students concentrated more, and got better results than did those who were not rewarded. However, the behaviour only lasted as long as the reward was offered, so although the results are positive - at least in the short-term - they do not have a carry-over effect.

    Motivation - learning, or learning - motivation?

    • Most of the studies we have looked at so far were correlational, rather than causal - that is to say, they found that higher motivation was correlated with higher achievement, but did not show in which direction the causality ran.

    Strong (1984) looking at Spanish-speaking kindergarten children learning EFL, found that fluency preceded inclination to associate with target-language groups, so that the ability to speak the language actually lead to integrative attitudes, rather than the other way round. Savignon found that the desire to learn French amongst American students increased with gains in proficiency. Hermann (1980) who had similar results, put forward the Resultative hypothesis, which claims that motivation is caused by progress and good results, rather than the other way round. Ellis suggests that this line of causation may be particularly applicable where learners have low initial motivation.

    Intrinsic motivation

    But is it simply success that leads to motivation - in which case, we are stuck with the problem of motivating students whose progress is slow - or is there something in the course content that can affect the desire to learn? Could there not be some kind of motivation related to the kinds of tasks that learners are expected to do in class?

    McNamara suggests that communication itself is an important motivation - learners acquire motivation from the need to express themselves, and from the pleasure that they feel when they achieve this. This means that classes that provide opportunities for communication are going to have a more positive effect than those that do not - but also poses the question of what real communication consists of. Interest increases as the learners are made responsible for their learning activities. 

    Bachman (1964) found that involving learners in the decision-making processes lead to increased motivation, and to increased productivity. 

    Gardner, Ginsburg & Smythe (1976) compared the effects of two kinds of programmes on 25 learners of French as a Foreign language in a Canadian university. One of the programmes was characterised as traditional, with lockstep teaching and an emphasis on grammatical accuracy. The other, which they called innovative, had individualised instruction, and opportunities for free communication. Students in the second programme appeared, on self-report, to have a greater desire to excel, and had a more positive attitude towards both their teacher, and towards learning French.

    Motivation - a summary

    To sum up the comments on motivation, we have seen that although some investigators have made much of the distinction between integrative and instrumental motivation, seeing the former as more efficient than the latter, a great deal must depend on the specific situation of the learners. We may also distinguish between background motivation, which the learner brings with her to the learning situation, and those motivations that are provided by the classroom itself. While the teacher may do very little about the former, she can have an effect on the latter, both in her choice of approach, and in her personal style. As Mary Finocchario put it : 

    Motivation is the feeling nurtured primarily by the classroom teacher in the learning situation. The moment of truth - the enhancement of motivation - occurs when the teacher closes the classroom door, greets his students with a warm, welcoming smile, and proceeds to interact with various individuals by making comments or asking questions which indicate personal concerns.


    We will recall that Krashen also referred to self-confidence as one of the variables that affected the Affective Filter.
    • Self confidence as basic character trait
      Self-confidence as a general characteristic is often linked to family variables. Families who display inconsistent discipline, or over-severe discipline and disapproval of their children produce people who have a low self-image and little confidence in themselves.
      On the contrary homes where parents are strongly approving of their children, and of their friends, who join in many activities with them, and who have regular but not rigid routines, and where standards of behaviour are open to discussion produce children who are confident of themselves.
    • Self confidence as a variable
      However, once again, self-confidence can be variable. Thus, one study of American adolescents found that young males who were failing at school tended to have a low self-image, but if, in the subsequent year, they became delinquent, their self-image improved. This implies that a variety of factors may affect self-image, from family through school to peers.
      Once again, we will note that the relationship between success and self-image may not necessarily be all one way. Although there are reasons to believe that children who have a good self-image may do better than those who have a poor self-image, there are also grounds for believing that a child's self-image can be undermined by poor results at school.
      One study on the relationship between self-confidence and FL learning was carried out by Clement (1986) who investigated 293 francophone students at the University of Ottawa, who were learning English. The integrative orientation had no effect on language outcomes - the best predictor was self-confidence.


    Anxiety, the third factor mentioned by Krashen, is also multiple in its forms and in its origins. Psychologists distinguish between
    • trait anxiety
      this is a permanent disposition to be anxious. Once again, it appears to be related to upbringing, and indeed may be closely linked to self-image.
    • state anxiety
      here the anxiety is linked to a specific moment in time, within a specific situation. It may be relational, being linked to specific persons - a particular teacher, for example.
    • situational anxiety
      this is aroused by a specific type of situation or event - examinations, public speaking, or classroom participation.

    Examinations of learner diaries suggest that anxiety does accompany language learning in several of its aspects. 

    • Bailey, after examining 11 such diaries, found that the learners tended to become anxious when they compared themselves with other learners in the class and found themselves wanting. Their anxiety decreased as they became more proficient.
    • Ellis & Rathbone, in their examination of learner diaries, discovered that some of the learners found teachers' questions threatening, and claimed to freeze up when interrogated. The greatest anxiety was found to be associated with the oral skills.
    • Oxford found that some learners were anxious about losing their identities in the target culture. This lead to emotional regression, panic, alienation and a 'reduced personality'.
    None of the above studies demonstrated that anxiety was necessarily negative in its effect on learning. It has been discovered that sometimes students who are anxious do better than those who are not. Higher levels of anxiety may be associated with higher levels of risk-taking, so that those who actually attempt to produce more difficult structures may report more anxiety than those who are content to remain at a lower level of attainment. (Kleinmann

    Albert and Haber distinguish between facilitating and debilitating anxiety. The former is positive in its effects, pushing students on to make greater efforts, while the latter frightens the student off task. It may, of course, be more a matter of the intensity of the feeling, than of its quality.


    Within a school system the amount of motivation that children bring into the classroom with them is highly variable. It depends both on age and on family background factors. Younger children may be less firm in their cultural and national identities than are adolescents, and therefore keener to open themselves to other cultures. Middle class parents may encourage their children to learn a foreign language more, seeing the need more clearly, and also accompanying their children on visits to foreign countries, or paying for them to take part in exchange visits and so on. 

    In-school factors will also influence motivation. While we do not usually pay children to learn, we do give them grades, and other marks of approval or disapproval. Children who do not obtain good marks perceive themselves as failing, and may therefore make less effort. Unfortunately, we are unable to escape completely from our function of classifying children into achievement bands, but nevertheless, we should do our utmost to enable them to measure their progress, and to make a positive judgement on the work that they have done. 

    The work itself must also bring satisfaction. Clearly defined tasks, which are both interesting and sufficiently challenging to give the child the sentiment that s/he is making progress, are of the utmost importance. Giving the children responsibility for their own learning is important, and they can be encouraged to participate in such decisions as what texts, subject areas and tasks they will engage with. 

    Opportunity for meaningful communication is also necessary. At best, this should include exchanges with schools in English-speaking countries - and language teachers should be willing to use such technology as the Internet. As a minimum, it should involve role-play, group problem solving and well-structured discussions. 

    Anxiety should be of a low level, and should be attached to the need to communicate, rather than to personality factors, or the fear of appearing ridiculous. 

    Teachers can make a difference in motivation, in anxiety levels and in the self-image of the student. Respect your pupils, listen to them, and take note of what they say. They will respond more efficiently to your teaching. 

    (If you wish to comment or ask a question, please write to tmason@timothyjpmason.com)

    Home EFL Teaching Licence Lectures Top of Page
Author's CV | Site Map | Contact Author |