3 Affective Variables in Second Language Acquisition

What’s the Affective Domain?

The Affective Domain is the emotional side of human behavior. The development of affective states or feelings involves a variety of personality factors, feelings both about ourselves and about others with we come into contact and these have an influence in how well students perform in the language.

Affective Variables in Second Language Acquisition

Affective Variables in Second Language Acquisition research has confirmed that a variety of affective variables relate to success in second language acquisition. Most of those studies place factors into one of these categories:

Self- Steem

Self- Steem - Unsplash - Affective Variables in Second Language Acquisition

Self- Steem reflects a person’s overall subjective emotional evaluation of his or her own worth. It could easily be claimed that no activity could be carried out successfully without some degree of self-steem, self confidence and a belief in your own capabilities. The self-steem that a student has is the result of the accumulation of experiences and from the assessment of the external world around them. We don’t know with certainty if self-steem is the result of the students being able to perform well in the language or if performing well in the language increases or causes the student  to have a  high self-steem.

Another aspect under this category is the student’s willingness to communicate, such unwillingness or lack of initiative to communicate is called shyness by many professional in the teaching field. The second aspect is Inhibition, which is a feeling of embarrassment that prevents you from saying and doing what you want.  We know that all human beinsg build defenses to protect their ego and this also happens in the ESL Classroom when stundents avoid taking part in certain activities which might make them feel uncomfortable

Students who tend  to do well in languages tend to have a high self-steem, every time they perform well in language, they build their confidence even more. Another feature that can be distinguished in these language learners with high confidence is that they are risk takers, they know that they have to make some mistakes in order to get the desired results.


anxiety - Affective Variables in Second Language Acquisition

Anxiety plays a major role in second language acquisition, all learners experience a level of anxiety, we could admit that having anxiety while trying to accomplish tasks that are out of our zone of comfort is quite normal, however, something  that we need to understand is that anxiety can be experienced at different levels. Anxiety at the deepest point is  a permanent predisposition to be anxious. Situations that can increase levels of anxiety are:

  1. Communication apprehension since those students can’t  communicate adequately mature ideas and thoughts in the target language
  2. Fear of negative social evaluation since they feel that they need to give a positive social impressions to their classmtates.
  3. Apprehesion over academic evaluations.


Unsplash - Motivation - Affective Variables in Second Language Acquisition

Motivation is another affective variable in second language acquisition. You probably know that it is common to hear that failure and sucess are attributed to the motivation that a person has or lacks.  Such assumptions that we have made are not erroneous since there are many studies that state that motivation is key to learning.

Motivation is an affective variable that it is hard to deal with since every person is different and will be motivated in unique ways. Experts have come to the conclusion that there are different types of motivation that will drive people to do something, such as:

  1. Behavioristic: Anticipation of reward and desire to receive positive reinforcement.
  2. Cognitive:  Driven by human needs
  3. Constructivist: Social Context, Community, social status and security of a groups


  1. Make sure that students are enrolled in the right class with peers with the same level of proficiency.
  2. Try not to put students in situations in which they might be ridiculized if they don’t perform well.
  3. Inform your learners that mistakes and errors are part of every language class.
  4. Avoid giving negative feedback when students don’t perform well
  5. Learn more about Second Language Acquisition by visiting these articles