Affective Factors in Language Learning (Level 3)

Written By: Marilyn Lewis and Pascal Brown

Description: An article about affective factors in language learning 

Instructions: Read the sentences below and answer the questions or fill in the spaces


The effect of people’s feeling and attitude on their language learning has been well documented. On the positive side, the learner who admires not only the language being learned but also the people who speak it and their way of life, brings a high level of motivation to his or her learning.  


On the negative side, feelings of helplessness and of fear can negate the effort of even conscientious learners. An Australian study (Cohan and Norst, 1989) reported the diaries kept by adults learning a new language as part of a professional course.  The diaries were full of emotion-laden words like ‘embarrassment’, ‘trauma’, ‘frustration’ and ‘anger’. They even mentioned physical symptoms such as ‘blushing’, ‘trembling hands’, ‘pounding hearts’. Of course, many factors were interwoven. The learners were ‘virtual monolingual English speakers’. The language part of the course was compulsory. The learners were already established in careers which could well have given them a low level of tolerance of their own shortcomings. Migrants, on the other hand, are often not fortunate enough to be employed in appropriate jobs. Their hope that language learning will improve their employment chances may make them even more anxious than others.


Positive feelings to learning the target language is a feature that successful language learners have. Certainly, to be positive is better than being negative. Good language learners are enthusiastic and motivated to learn, which bear out Spolsky’s theory that where one factor in the ‘formula’ is low, this can be compensated for by the presence of other factors.