7 Tips for Using Emotions in Language Learning

Emotions play an important role in our daily life and interactions. Sometimes, we may feel energetic, motivated, determined, confident, and inspired. But at times, we experience the feelings of indifference, dissatisfaction, and embarrassment. Emotions are crucial in language learning.

In fact, as teachers we know that language success depends to a large extent on what attitudes students have toward their learning and toward themselves as language learners. So today I’d like to describe a few ideas on how you can channel emotions to help students have better language learning experiences.

Expressing Your Feelings

Students shouldn’t be afraid to talk to someone about their language learning experiences—positive or negative—and they shouldn’t be afraid to express their feelings about these experiences. This will help them stay in touch with their emotions and find a way of understanding how to handle them constructively and channel them in the right direction. If students don’t feel comfortable sharing their feelings with another person, they can use a personal journal to describe those emotional experiences.

Imagining a Negative Result and Working Hard to Avoid it

This is what I tell my students: “If you are studying for the TOEFL, imagine what happens if you don’t pass the test. You will have to study more and take it again? You will miss application deadlines? You will be disadvantaged in some other ways? Okay, so now that you know what the negative outcomes are, try to work as hard as you can to achieve the opposite, that is, the positive results, and do your best to avoid the negative ones.”

Reinforcing Motivation and Self-Confidence

Say the student was the best in their biology class back home, but now that they have to take this subject in English, they feel like they can’t achieve the same results and they keep getting unsatisfactory grades—not because they don’t know it, but because of their limited English proficiency. I tell my students not to be discouraged: “You know you can be an excellent biology student again once you improve your English! Or if you had a degree back home, say you were an engineer, don’t get discouraged by the fact that you have to temporarily work in a different industry, even in you think that industry is less respectable. You can work as an engineer again if you study hard, improve English, and pass necessary requirements!”


Learning a foreign language can be intense. When I came to the United States, I had to speak English most of the time for the first time in my life. I realized that thinking in a different language—thinking about what to say, how to say it, and thinking about what people say to you—all that was extremely exhausting! This is the advice that I give to my students: “As obvious as it may sound, you should use relaxation strategies in order to save yourself from stress. Use whatever works best for you. If you feel less anxious when listening to music, go for it! If you need a good laugh, watch a funny video or read something funny. Go for a walk, play with a pet, get yourself some ice cream, call your best friend, spend some time in nature—in other words, do something that you truly enjoy and that will help you relax and regain motivation to continue your learning process.”

Switching Negative Thinking to Positive

Another tip that comes from my personal experience: “When you notice that negative thinking is crawling into your mind, switch it to positive thoughts. For example, if you are frustrated with lots of grammar exceptions, try to view them as a unique and interesting rather than a strange and confusing feature of the language. If you’re not satisfied with your pronunciation, think of how your foreign accent may sound to native English speakers—chances are, they may find it very attractive. If you feel overwhelmed with the amount of new vocabulary that you need to learn as part of your homework assignment, imagine how much better you can express yourself in English by using these new words.”

Using Native Language

That’s right! It’s very important for students from the same country or native language background to spend time together and use their native language. It will help them relieve stress and tension, bond with people of the same cultural background, and just feel better!

Entertaining Yourself

Learning should not be a boring and entirely serious process. Why do so many language teachers use games to teach a foreign language? Well, because they help in creating a relaxing atmosphere in class, they are less stressful for learning, and oftentimes they are more effective learning tools than memorization techniques. Just like teachers “entertain” students, students should also learn to entertain themselves. Most likely they will not play games by themselves, but they can use some fun techniques to cheer themselves up when studying gets hard. For example, they can create bizarre or funny sentences when practicing new vocabulary or grammar structures.

Again, emotions are a huge part of our daily life. So why not use them as an effective tool in language learning?

About Elena Shvidko

Elena Shvidko
Elena Shvidko is an assistant professor at Utah State University. She received her doctorate in second language studies from Purdue University and her master’s degree in TESOL from Brigham Young University. Her work appears in TESOL Journal, System, Journal on Response to Writing, TESOL interest section newsletters, and TESOL's New Ways series. Her research interests include second language writing, multimodal interaction, interpersonal aspects of language teaching, and teacher professional development.
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One Response to 7 Tips for Using Emotions in Language Learning

  1. Maureen says:

    When I was a teen, I went to Spain for a year. I attribute my success in acquiring skills in Spanish, especially in pronunciation, to the fact that I had no one with whom I could speak Spanish for the first four months I was there. The cohort I studied with came later and lived with Spanish families and another American student. None of them acquired Spanish to the level I did. I agree that using one’s native language can relieve stress, but doesn’t it impede the acquisition of English? I struggle daily to get my ELLs to speak English in class rather than conversing with each other in their native language. I get that you are not saying all of the time, but that using one’s native language can help relieve stress. Most often I think they are using their native language because it is easier. It is important to me that ELL class be a supportive community, and I want them to feel safe, and I don’t want to add (much) to their stress level. I guess finding the balance is key, and encouraging them to have to have their L1 conversations outside of class might be the way to go.

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