Dimitrios Thanasoulas: "The Classroom: Forum or Arena?"

370 Social and affective factors

Successful foreign language learning calls for an examination of the social and affective factors at work. First of all, the teacher should take into consideration the social proficiency which learners have attained. By social proficiency we mean the degree to which the learner employs, or taps into, the foreign language in order to communicate and negotiate meaning or achieve certain social goals. Some learners, for example, may complain when their classmate uses their pens or pencils because they have not learnt to use language in a socially accepted way. For instance, they cannot cope with making requests, asking permission, giving condolences, etc. It is worth noting that different cultures favour different attitudes on the part of the learner and, as a result, it is very probable that most of these situations do not necessarily reflect lack of social proficiency.

Apart from social factors, affective factors also play an important role as they may facilitate or preclude learning. It is a commonplace that an atmosphere which fosters and promotes confidence and emotional stability will produce better students. Harmony in the classroom helps relieve tension and keeps the door to language processing open. A teacher's task is like "that of an orchestra conductor, who tends to fly into higher spheres, and has a tendency to fly and pull himself and the others above everyday's problems towards a more creative reality" (Papaconstantinou, 1991: 65). In this "reality" the learner may easily identify with the teacher and venture out into new aspects of the target language, dealing with it in her own, individual way. Unless she feels at ease with her teacher and her fellow-students, she will not learn. If she feels rejected and is afraid of being told off or scoffed at whenever she makes a mistake, she will withdraw from the educational process and lag behind, both cognitively and emotionally. "Consequently, the content of materials for classroom use as well as classroom practices should be compatible with the affective variables influencing learners" (Papaefthymiou-Lytra, 1993: 90). Learners' needs and interests

Indubitably, a successful course should consider learner needs. For this reason, the concept of needs analysis has assumed an important role in language learning. Needs analysis has to do with the aims of a course, as these are determined by the uses to which the target language will be put on completion of the program. For example, is our aim to achieve a high level of language proficiency or are we called upon to respond to the needs of, say, adult learners who need to master specific skills, such as academic writing or note-taking? All these parameters will have to inform the methods and techniques we use in class, as well as the materials design we are supposed to implement in order to achieve the best results.

With regard to learner's interests, it is worth noting that we, as teachers, should be cognizant of the differences between children and adolescents. For instance, the former are interested in body movement and play, whereas the latter want to learn about human relationships in general and achieve a deeper understanding of their abilities, with the aim of developing a sound personality and character.

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AS/SA Nº 6/7, Article 3 : Page 8 / 10

© 1999, AS/SA

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