With growing attention attached to young students' social and emotional well-being besides their cognitive development, social and emotional learning (SEL) has been increasingly researched in general school education over the past decades with its positive effects on academic performance reported. However, SEL research has not emerged in English as a foreign language (EFL) learning contexts. To bridge the void, the current research aimed to profile Hong Kong secondary school students' SEL competence level and examine the intricate relationships among the four SEL competence clusters (i.e. self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and social management) and English learning achievements. The results indicated an overall medium level of SEL competence among 315 secondary school grade level 3 students and suggested a gap between the students' high level of awareness skills and their medium level of management skills. Structural equation modeling (SEM) analyses confirmed two mediation paths, thus highlighting the seminal mediating role of self-management skills in enhancing the effects of self-awareness and social awareness skills on English learning achievements. Important implications are discussed. Copyright ©2021 SAGE Publications.