September 29

Emotional Intelligence and Language Learning

There is an increasing acceptance that emotional intelligence is a key factor which can not only influence the quality of our lives but the chances of success in any area of endeavour. This is possibly even more so in the area of language learning than in many others. The reason for this is because the language we use is so closely related to who we are and who we aspire to be.

At its essence, emotional intelligence affects how we approach our life and how we deal with what happens to us. People with higher emotional intelligence (EQ) are typically better able to:

Emotional intelligence and language learning

  • be comfortable with themselves
    – they more readily accept what they do and say and hence are more relaxed generally.
  • express their feelings
    – as they accept themselves, they are not reticent about showing who they are, not just what they think.
  • deal with negative emotions such as: fear, worry, guilt, shame and embarrassment, to mention a few
    – as they don’t hide from the more unpleasant sides of themselves, this helps them better understand others.
  • read non-verbal communication
    – they more readily notice what else people are saying, and hence have a better understanding of what is really being said.
  • balance their feelings with their intellect
    – as they accept their feelings more, they are more balanced in their communication.
  • act out of desire, not because of duty, guilt, force or obligation.
    – they are less under the influence of forces that can hide what they really want.
  • be independent and self-reliant
    – they can more readily work by themselves, not seeking advice, approval or confirmation from others.
  • be intrinsically motivated
    – they more readily recognise and accept what are their drivers.
  • avoid motivations of power, wealth, status, fame, or approval to distract them from their purpose
    – they tend to be more focussed on what they do.
  • be emotionally resilient and not see failure as an end to what they are doing
    -as they more readily accept that life is a journey, they are not so easily put off when there are problems.

It is not difficult to see that having these characteristics is going to make how you go about relating to yourself, others and to your learning so much more straightforward. You will be less encumbered by the opinions of others and much clearer about yourself and the communications you enter into, vitally important requirements in the learning process. Without this clarity, creating a new language (new for you) becomes so much more difficult.

Alternatively people with a lower EQ are more likely to:

  • attack, blame, criticise, interrupt, lecture and judge others
    – this will, as with all the other dot points mentioned below, limit the learners ability to clearly listen to themselves and others. This will inevitably impede the learning of a language.
  • lay guilt trips on others
  • lie about their own feelings
  • carry grudges and be unforgiving
  • be uncomfortable to be around
  • be indirect or evasive
  • lack empathy an compassion
  • be rigid and inflexible
  • be insecure and defensive and find it hard to admit mistakes
  • avoid responsibility by saying things like: “What was I supposed to do? I had no choice!
  • not trust themselves
  • feel inadequate, disappointed, resentful, bitter or victimised.
  • rigidly cling to their beliefs
  • be a poor listener
  • miss the emotions being communicated 
  • blame others rather than taking responsibility

Again, it does not take much reflection to see that any of these character traits can have a significant bearing on language learning. This will be readily obvious to readers who understand that learning a language involves so much more than the use of memory and the learning of grammar.

Human beings are such complex beings that it may well be possible that there are people who can learn languages well despite having a low emotional EQ. This is primarily because they have such good strategies and strong beliefs about their own abilities. Where this is not the case, and that I would suggest is the case for most people, then EQ becomes a key factor. The reasons why strategies are usually not so effective relate for most people to their early less than satisfactory experiences in learning languages in schools. It is not surprising then that the beliefs they have will undermine the development of their own abilities.

It certainly is not necessary to have a really high EQ, to become a successful language learner, however I would suggest that the higher it is, the more likely you are to find ways that work for you. For ones who have a low EQ they are more likely to be not open to exploring other ways of learning. Instead they are more likely to readily give up on themselves when it all seems like a giant struggle.

How to go about raising one’s own EQ is something I am not going to explore here in any detail, however this subject is such a key factor that I will mention 2 changes that can help turn it around:

1. Learn to trust your feelings (not emotions). These are typically your initial reactions to something. The intellect is slower, so your initial reaction is more likely to emanate from your feelings. Don’t however mistake your emotions for your feelings. They too can kick in real fast. 

2. Learn to move towards those things and people that make you happy and make you feel positive about yourself and the world. The corollary is also true. Learn to move away from the things and people that make you feel unsure, unhappy and make you doubt yourself.

There are many people who have written about such matters. The internet is also replete with the “wise” words of many, and to people who offer to help. The key is not just to read about such things but to do whatever it takes so that you move through whatever is holding you back from learning to trust yourself more. 

At its heart learning a language is all about what you do with yourself so you learn, so you transform yourself. Yes, learning a new language is about transformation, not just adding words/sounds and rules. The ones who get to the high levels have figured that out and understand that language learning is from the inside out.  It is much more about the richness and development of your inner life. Emotional Intelligence enables you to experience all this more readily so your language learning abilities and talents can develop.





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  • As always, your posts are absolutely cutting edge. In my experience very few professionals understand your powerful message here.

  • I really appriciated the article it is with great significance for me since I`m investigating the importance of emotional intelligence in teaching English as a foreign langage in Algeria .Thanks a bunch

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