Is it time to include emotional intelligence in speaking tasks?

Language learning can be fun; it can be serious, and it can be stressful.  In fact, speaking is known among adult language learners to be the most stressful of the four linguistic skills to master. When we languages (including our mother tongue) as a child, we tend to playfully experiment with new words and forms devoid of any social pressure. However, as an adult, this experimentation becomes frustrating, awkward, embarrassing; we fear being judged negatively, then become hesitant and self-conscious. Sometimes the anxiety of this is enough to put learners off continuing at all.

Research has found that a good level of emotional intelligence tends to co-exist with more proficient speaking skills in a foreign language. Developing one’s emotional intelligence in the foreign language classroom can lead to greater fluency and more motivation.  Below are some top tips for applying emotional intelligence techniques to your speaking lessons.

  1. Teach emotional vocabulary and expressions

Teaching vocabulary related to emotions is a good starting point for introducing the concept of emotional intelligence into the class. Often, foreign language students cannot properly express themselves simply because of a lack of vocabulary. It is important to explicitly teach vocabulary that will allow the students to clearly express what they are feeling and why. Delivering a lesson on recognising emotions in a photo and discussing why the person might feel that way is just one example of many that will give the students the necessary scaffolding to be able to communicate what they are feeling clearly.

  1. Promote peer teaching and learning

Part of creating an open and accepting atmosphere in the class is encouraging the students to work together on tasks. Students should feel comfortable enough to speak freely among each other without judgement from their peers, but we know that we cannot always control the behaviour of others. One way to establish this positive atmosphere is to provide students sentence frames with which to give each other feedback. They should be explicitly taught what comes off as harsh and what sounds nicer in the language you are teaching. For example, instead of saying “you didn’t pronounce this correctly” in English, they can say “I didn’t quite catch that. Did you mean to pronounce it like this?” instead. Therefore, it is beneficial to teach students how to give feedback politely before asking them to engage in peer learning.

  1. Avoid singling anyone out

One of the most embarrassing things that can happen to a language learner is being called out in front of the whole class for making a mistake. All eyes are on them, and when this happens, the person being singled out tends to feel harsh judgment as a result and may never want to volunteer to speak again. One way to avoid this scenario but still provide feedback is to collect feedback silently during a group activity, then address the issue with the whole class afterwards without saying who made the mistake. For example, during a pair speaking activity, the teacher can walk around the class and note down any mistakes they hear. Afterwards, they write the mistakes on the board and ask the whole class to correct them. The person who made the mistake will most likely know it was them and take the feedback into consideration, but not have to deal with the embarrassment of being singled out.

  1. Demonstrate empathy and encouragement

Teachers can share their experiences of learning languages and demonstrate empathy. Anecdotes from the teacher’s personal language learning life can be amusing and consoling. A tangible technique you can use is to match every negative comment with a positive one when giving feedback on a speaking exercise. Too many negative comments weigh down the mind and create barriers to learning, so keep that in mind when giving corrective feedback. Using a ‘feedforward’ approach is also more motivating.

  1. Take responsibility for failure

Teachers make mistakes as well. Sometimes they misspell words on the board, mispronounce words or make mistake with grammar. This is worth highlighting to students as it sends out the message that we all make mistakes.  By learning from your example, the students can feel more comfortable to experiment and take the risk of making mistakes. Using analogies like learning to walk or swim can also be beneficial.


The Relationship between Emotional Intelligence and Speaking Skills of Iranian Advanced EFL Learners (Esmaeeli et al., 2018)  

Reflective thinking, emotional intelligence, and speaking ability of EFL learners: Is there a relation?   (Afshar & Rahimi, 2016)

Current trends and future directions in teaching English pronunciation (Sajad & Saeed, 2017)

Emotional Intelligence and ELT  (British Council)