Developing emotional intelligence in English language learners

How to Promote Emotional Intelligence in the lessons of English

How to Promote Emotional Intelligence in the lessons of English


  • Teaching qualifications
  • Tips & Strategies
  • Methodology

Think about “intelligence". What word pops into your head first? It's likely that you regard your brainpower. Then, how is the concept of "emotional intelligence” linked to it? It may sound really puzzling how emotions are tied to intellect.

In this article, we'll explore the fascinating topic of intelligence and emotional intelligence. We'll delve into its definition, domains, and most importantly, we'll discuss how teachers can foster emotional intelligence in their English lessons.

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Intelligence is defined as the ability to obtain knowledge, develop skills and apply them practically. Traditionally, intelligence has been treated and measured within the framework of logical-mathematical and linguistic terms

It was Alfred Binet who introduced the first practical IQ (intelligence quotient) test at the beginning of the 20th century. Since then, people´s intelligence has been assessed according to the achievements on IQ tests.

Only in the 1980s did Howard Garner, who proposed the hypothesis of multiple intelligences, alter the conventional perception of intelligence. Emotional intelligence was one of the seven, and eventually eight, categories of intelligence he proposed.

Emotional Intelligence (EI)

Daniel Goleman (1995) defined EI as ‘the capacity for recognising our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships.’ (Goleman, D. EI. 1995).

In other words, EI theory argues the conventional concept of intelligence which ignores behavior and the emotional component and claims that not only academic ability but also social skills contribute to success in the business world.

EI vs. IQ

If you look at these two concepts, you can notice the following features that distinguish them.

Intelligence in its traditional sense refers to cognitive abilities, abilities to learn, is stable, changes very little during the lifespan, and can be measured.

EI in its turn refers to actual abilities to be aware of and handle emotions, is flexible. However, it can be acquired and also measured.

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EI and ELT

Now let us have a look at how EI can be applied to learning languages. 

The fact that EI deals with understanding and handling emotions and behavior, means that it can contribute to academic success by reducing anxiety and eliminating negative feelings during the learning process. 

The emphasis should be placed on creating a safe learning environment that is conducive to promoting students’ EI.

Consequently, the learning process will result in creating a sense of identity, self-esteem, and safety in the learners.

Talking about the language classroom, in particular, there are some additional considerations. It is the ability to express emotions in English that helps to create good group dynamics and students’ engagement and interaction. 

EI domains

EI comprises the following domains: 

1. Self-awareness — recognising and being able to name our emotions.

2. Motivation — the ability to be persistent and persevere despite failures.

3. Self-regulation — handling our emotions to avoid negative effects.

4. Empathy — recognising the feelings of others.

5. Social skills — being sensitive to the feelings of others and handling them adequately to build positive relationships.

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Teaching techniques

Turning to the practical ways in which EI can be developed, we should mention the activities which promote sharing ideas and communication in the classroom.

Here are the examples of such activities:

  • ice breakers, warmers, and mingling activities;
  • brainstorming and discussions;
  • role-plays (drama techniques, playing a fictitious role);
  • feedback on performance and on tasks;
  • continuous assessment.

It is also possible to adapt some activities to make them suitable for developing EI. 

For instance, there is a well-known activity in the form of a grid with everyday activities (listen to music, meet friends, check email) and the adverbs of frequency, and the learners should put a tick in the appropriate box. 

The aim of the activity is to learn questions in the Present Simple (How often do you watch TV? — I often watch TV). 

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However, if instead of everyday activities you write the actions which refer to emotions (laugh, smile, get angry, forget things). This activity apart from improving grammar can also help to develop self-awareness, one of the EI domains. 

Apart from that, teachers can use the so-called language of EI which develops social skills. It is possible to talk about such functions as:

  • empathising (I understand/ I accept/ I realize);
  • suggesting (I/you could / might/ make sure you/ see if you could);
  • stating wants and needs (I/you need / would like/want to);
  • being positive (I’d feel better if).

The importance of developing EI

It is vital to understand that a high level of EI is as essential as IQ. 

This statement can be explained by the fact that children with highly developed EI and social skills are happier in life, more confident, and more successful at school. These skills can enable learners to be responsible, successful, and productive adults.

In the final analysis, the promotion of EI lays the background for further development of creativity, problem-solving, and empathy, and enables learners to become socially responsible, self-confident individuals in the future.

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Article authors & editors
  • Olena Bochkarova

    Olena Bochkarova


    DELTA, CELTA certified teacher of General & Business English, IELTS Prep, International Speaking Examiner



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