Affective side of language learning refers to emotions. There are many factors that influence this process that depend on our feelings, emotions, how we assess the situation, how we deal with problems, what we feel, whether we are open and sociable or closed and reserved.
Among the factors that obviously influence the process of adults language learning, the following can be listed: self-esteem, risk taking, empathy, anxiety, extroversion and introversion, attitudes and motivation.
Self-esteem is a crucial factor in any kind of learning; self-confidence, knowledge of yourself, belief in success – all these facets are responsible for the success in language learning. It is particularly visible in oral production. Self-esteem is built on people’s experience and on the assessments of other people. High level of self-esteem leads to personal development that results in a feeling of growing self-esteem. Adults, generally, perceive themselves as too old to learn a foreign language and worse, their self-esteem is weaker when it comes to speaking or competing in a language classroom with other age groups. They lost their self-esteem in the classroom as studying is something that they gave up years ago and they have problems with accepting the competition, testing or grading them.
Risk taking is another important facet that helps in language learning, learners who take risk and guess or risk being wrong, perform better in a foreign language classes. This is especially important in oral activities when risk-taking people speak much more than those who are afraid of speaking because they are likely to make some mistakes. Thus, they are silent, and do not take advantage of communication activity.
Anxiety is strongly related to self-esteem, inhibition and risk-taking; associated with feelings of uneasiness, self-doubt, apprehension, and worry (Scovel 1978 as cited in Brown 2000:151). There are various levels of anxiety; trait anxiety that is a permanent predisposition to be anxious and state anxiety that is temporary and related to a particular fact. Knowledge about the source of anxiety may be important for the teacher as s/he may help students to overcome the anxiety(Brown 2000: 151). Adult learners may be anxious about the whole learning situation that is new for them. Hence, they very often are frightened because they start studying something new and they think that it is too difficult.
Empathy, considered a key to successful communication, is defined as the “process of putting yourself into someone else’s shoes”. Empathy helps to understand what other people are feeling, and in this way, to get the appropriate feedback and avoid misunderstandings. Language learning is a social activity and often requires working in groups, pairs; people learn foreign languages mainly because they want to communicate with others.
Extroversion is generally considered as playing a key role in foreign language learning, especially in developing oral communication (Brown 2000: 156). Basically, however, there is no evidence showing which of these two types of personality is better in the language classroom; they are different and produce different results. Extroverts need other people to exist and work properly, they are sociable, open, they like cooperating with others, working in pairs, groups, taking risks. Introverts, on the other hand, are people who are closed, like working alone, prefer individual work, they are more serious and reserved. A teacher should take into consideration these types of personality and vary the lesson and the tasks accordingly.
Attitudes certainly affect language learning, especially when they are positive. If learners want to learn a foreign language because they are fascinated with the country where people speak this language or with the culture or people of the country, they will search the possibility to meet those people and to communicate with them. Their motivation to learn will be reinforced.
Motivation is yet another factor that effects language learning. It is in fact a key factor that pushes people to study the foreign language. Motivation will be discussed in the next section.
Brown, H.D. 2000. Principles of language learning and teaching. 4th edn. New York: Pearson Education Ltd.