By Kanako Valencia Suda
If you are an ESL/EFL educator, you must remember the Affective Filter Hypothesis … right? It is one of the five hypotheses about second language acquisition proposed by Stephen Krashen. It refers to a psychological barrier that can hinder or promote progress in learning a second language. The Affective Filter can be raised or lowered as a result of the quality of the learning environment – and low anxiety facilitates success in practicing and learning a second language.
College ESL students experience these barriers all the time even if they cannot exactly identify the causes. At De Anza College’s Listening and Speaking Center (LSC), we try to ensure that ESL students can practice English in a safe environment, where they don’t feel judged based on their “nonstandard” English. Every quarter, about 500 students use the LSC, many coming because their ESL instructors require them to participate in activities outside the classroom. After joining a few workshops and tutoring sessions, they discover that here they can freely express their opinions without being afraid of making mistakes – they feel at home.
Our most popular program is the Conversation and Specialty Workshop program. The workshops cover a variety of topics from idioms and vocabulary to pronunciation and presentation. Whatever the topic, our main goal is to have students speak as much as possible.
Indeed KQED’s Work Voices series has been a useful resource at the Center, challenging ESL students to listen to the interviews and learn work-related vocabulary. ESL instructors also used the series for writing and speaking assignments.
Eight to ten students sit around a table, share ideas, and ask questions with the help of a trained workshop leader. Of the 20 to 23 workshops we offer every week, half are led by local community volunteers, for which we are extremely grateful. Last quarter, 135 students completed our survey.79% of them agreed that listening and speaking skills affect their self-confidence more than writing and reading skills, 83% agreed that listening and speaking skills are necessary to achieve their academic and career goals, and 77% agreed that without the LSC, they would not have enough opportunities to practice their speaking skills.
Through this program, language learners on campus get connected, often becoming good friends, and ESL students realize that speaking English with an accent, grammatical errors, and limited vocabulary does not make them less important or intelligent than native English speakers.
Two weeks ago, there was a campus-wide conference called “Partners in Learning” at De Anza, providing faculty, administrators, and staff with a day of meaningful conversations on topics related to student success and community building. My topic was the Affective Filter Hypothesis – actually, I should say OUR topic. Our presentation was special because all three co-presenters were ESL students; in fact, they work in the LSC as clerical assistants and workshop supporters. Furthermore, I had been an ESL student myself who struggled with the invisible yet tough barrier that felt so inhibiting for a long time.
The Listening and Speaking Center offers a place where students can have fun communicating in English and feel proud of their English skills, however limited they might be. Through various activities such as Conversation Workshops and Language Exchange, we help ESL students Learn the language in a Safe environment because we Care about their goal of achieving fluency in English – hence, LSC.
KQED’s Work Voices series
Work Voices is a project developed in partnership with a cohort of colleges and adult schools in Silicon Valley. It presents a series of authentic interviews with former ESL students who are employed in vocational areas that offer interesting career opportunities – areas that ESL students may not have thought of, but highlight possible career paths for immigrants.
Kanako Valencia Suda came to the U.S. as an international student at the age of 19. After earning a BA degree in Art, she returned to Japan and worked as a technical writer. Eight years ago, she immigrated to the U.S. for marriage, and earned an MA in TESOL from SJSU. She has been working for De Anza’s Students Success Center for 5 years and is passionate about supporting college ESL students in achieving fluency in English. She enjoys sharing strategies to improve English using her own experiences as an ESL student – encouraging them to never give up!