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Why You Should Incorporate Emotional Intelligence into Speaking Lessons

Does speaking in a foreign language stress your students out? Well, they are definitely not alone. In fact, speaking is known among adult language learners to be the most stressful of the four linguistic skills to master. When we learn our first language and subsequent languages as a child, we tend to experiment with new words and forms free of any social pressure. However, as an adult, this experimentation becomes embarrassing; we worry about saying something incorrectly and being judged negatively, leading to hesitancy and even complete avoidance when trying to speak in a foreign language.

Thankfully, there is a way to naturally improve the speaking skills of your students. It has been found that those with a good level of emotional intelligence also tend to be more proficient with speaking skills in a foreign language. Building on one’s emotional intelligence in the foreign language classroom can lead to improved confidence, a more comfortable and relaxed atmosphere, greater fluency, and more motivation for the students. But how exactly can this be done? Below are some top tips for applying emotional intelligence techniques to your speaking lessons.

  1. Teach emotional vocabulary and expressions

It may seem obvious, but teaching vocabulary related to emotions is a great starting point for introducing the concept of emotional intelligence into the class. Oftentimes, foreign language students cannot properly express themselves simply because of a lack of the vocabulary to do so. It is important to explicitly teach vocabulary that will allow the students to clearly express what they are feeling and why. Doing 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. Demonstrate empathy and encouragement

It is important for the students to know that the teacher relates to them and understands their struggles. If you are a teacher who has also learned a foreign language, for example, it could be useful to pepper your lesson with amusing anecdotes about mistakes you made as a language learner in the past. People want to feel understood most of all, so expressing that you know it must be difficult can put them at ease with you and make them more willing to open up about problems they are having on their learning journeys. Likewise, encouraging words can go a long way to those who are struggling. One 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.

5. Take responsibility for failure

As teachers, we are human and are not correct 100% of the time. Instead of pretending we are, we can provide a good example to the class when we make mistakes by owning up to and correcting that mistake. This sets the precedence in the class that it’s ok to make mistakes, as long as you take action to correct them. By learning from your example, the students should not fear making a mistake but rather be comfortable enough to address and correct it instead of feeling ashamed about it.

These were just a few tips on how to incorporate more emotional intelligence into your speaking lessons, but you can find more through the materials created in the Erasmus+ project “An Emotionally-intelligent Approach to teaching Speaking in a foreign language.

Check out the project Website and Facebook page to stay up to date with our latest materials.


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)  

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