the best of qualities is dispassion

My Response to “Using Digital Storytelling to Support EFL Learning in China”

One of my principal concerns with teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in Korea is the learner’s “affective filter.” Lightbrown & Spada (2013) write the following description of the affective filter hypothesis:

Krashen’s affective filter hypothesis is proposed to account for the fact that some people who are exposed to large quantities of comprehensible input do not necessarily acquire language successfully. The ‘Affective filter’ is the metaphorical barrier that prevents learners from acquiring language even when appropriate input is available. Affect refers to feelings of anxiety or negative attitudes that … may be associated with poor learner outcomes. A  learner who is tense, anxious, bored may filter out input, making it unavailable for acquisition. (p.106)

Hence, one can understand my concern, as skillfully immersing studious learners in the target language (TL) in no way guarantees acquisition. Not only must the learner be motivated but the TL must be shared in such a way that it does not increase the learner’s affective filter. Although anecdotal, I have attempted three foreign languages with mixed results, and through these experiences came to realize that learner anxiety played a major role. I did best when I played the part of the clown and just had fun with the learning process, although this was not always appreciated by those teaching. And of course there are many variables and concerns when it comes to EFL acquisition, but my current focus is on reducing learner anxiety.

I am not alone in this concern and was, therefore, pleased to encounter Yue Dong’s (2015) paper “Using digital storytelling to support EFL learning in China” as what he shares about EFL in China parallels with what I have already experienced, and will likely experience here in Korea. Dong’s research is excellent and he shares it in this well organized seventy-seven-page paper. The section that drew my attention is titled “Promoting motivation and lowering the affective filter.”  Dong details how EFL learners in China keep quiet as they feel vulnerable and fear losing face if they make mistakes in front of their peers, which greatly inhibits their EFL learning. Dong links this to Krashen’s affective filter hypothesis and describes it as “second language anxiety.” He goes on to explain how students who experience overwhelming anxiety may even give up on the learning experience. He cites Lence (2013) who states, “Research confirms that digital storytelling helps to build a conducive learning environment where language learners are highly motivated and feel relaxed and safe.” Dong then references Yoon (2012) when he writes, “Yoon explored the change in Korean ELL learners’ learning attitude after attending 12-week digital storytelling-based English classes. Results revealed that Korean ELL learners strongly felt less anxious and stressed in a digital storytelling project, which arouses greater learning interests and contributed to more active class participation” (Dong, 2015, p. 17).   

Dong not only explores the positive outcomes of digital storytelling on Chinese students but further cites Yoon, who researched the impact on Korean EFL learners. The more I research digital storytelling and second language learners the more positive news I encounter. I will continue to explore this topic and also delve deeper into Dong’s excellent paper when time permits. Teaching EFL using digital storytelling is definitely in my future.


Dong, Y. (2015). Using digital storytelling to support EFL learning in China (2015). Retrieved September 12, 2016, from

Lightbown, P., & Spada, N. M. (2013). How languages are learned. Oxford University Press.

8 thoughts on “My Response to “Using Digital Storytelling to Support EFL Learning in China””

  • Thank you Robert for your response to this great paper. Even though it talks about the EFL learners, its content is also true for the acquisition of any other language. Being a practitioner of TPRS in my foreign language class I found what you have shared here to be very valuable. Indeed TPRS is a combination of Dr. Asher’s TPR method and Dr. Krashen’s strategies that seek to eliminate the affective filter and make the learners enjoy the learning process more. Dr. Krashen’s method, mainly the PQ&A (Personal Questions & Answers) component of TPRS, helps me make my students feel a relevance between what they are learning and their lives. That keeps them interested, engaged, and learning. Like yourself I see that adding digital storytelling will add a lot of value in my teaching.

    • Hi Meissa,
      I agree that making the connection between what is being learned and the learner’s life is key. I will have to learn more about TPRS and thank you for the reference, as learning to use the language is more engaging than learning about the language.

  • Interesting article Robert. Makes me wonder if this is why I was never able to fully a learn a foreign language. Throughout my life I have studied 4 different languages, yet never felt like I was really learning any of them. I still retain a few phrases, but certainly nothing that would help me if I were to be dropped in a foreign country with no access to english speakers!

    I hope you continue to post after this class and keep us informed about how incorporating digital storytelling in your teaching helps your students.

    • Hi Karen,
      My most successful attempt was with Japanese. I was managing Japanese speaking technicians and construction workers. They accepted my many errors and were happy that at least one of the U.S. managers was attempting their language. We played a great deal with my Japanese and basically made a game of it. It was a very relaxed environment, which I always felt was the key to my learning basic Japanese.

  • Hi Robert,
    This is a really interesting topic. I took spanish in high school and in undergrad, I can see how the affective filter can interfere when learning a new language. This has to be especially challenging when teaching students a new language as well.

    • Hi Heather,
      I do indeed accept the affective filter hypothesis and argue that anxiety absolutely hinders one’s learning of any material. I hope that I am able to gather the tools required to create a low-stress environment and then I can personally test the hypothesis. Thanks!

  • Hello Robert,

    Thank you for sharing your review and thoughts. I would have to agree with your idea that learner anxiety is present among students. I think creating an environment where the student feels engaged and comfortable is key. To do this, we can incorporate digital stories as a way of presenting information and also a way for the students to tell their stories. I always feel better about my learning when I can take the subject and apply it to something familiar. Students can use digital storytelling to comprehend the new information and also reflect on both the new experience and past experiences they have had.

    • Hi Kendra,
      Thanks for the comment and for sharing your thoughts on learning. I believe that comfort is key, hence I am working on ways to become more comfortable as an EFL teacher so that I might help my students become more comfortable and engaged learners.

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