MovieTalk Original Content Copyright 2012 by Global Language Education Services, LLC


For many people, one of the greatest challenges in acquiring a new language is listening comprehension. MovieTalk addresses this challenge directly by harnessing the power of natural language acquisition. With MovieTalk, you can help your students advance quickly and painlessly to an intermediate level of listening comprehension.

What Is MovieTalk?

MovieTalk is a powerful, enjoyable technique that you can use to boost your students' second-language listening comprehension. All you need is a collection of suitable movies on DVD, equipment for showing them to your class, and knowledge of the technique itself.

Although the name "MovieTalk" has only recently been applied to this technique, the technique itself has been in constant use in English as a second language (ESL) and English as a foreign language (EFL) programs for over twenty years. The very first time this technique was used in an ESL class, the students made almost a semester's worth of progress in just four weeks. Since then, MovieTalk has helped thousands of students in programs around the world make extraordinarily rapid progress in their ability to understand spoken English. The technique has also been used to teach other languages, and there is no reason why any language cannot or should not be taught this way.

MovieTalk works with raw beginners. It works with "false beginners" (students who can read the language to some extent but lack listening comprehension). And it works with low intermediates. In fact, MovieTalk can be used in classrooms with mixed proficiency levels ranging from beginners to low intermediate. (MovieTalk is not intended or recommended for students at or above the intermediate level of listening comprehension.)

Although MovieTalk is focused exclusively on listening comprehension, research indicates that students also realize respectable gains in the other language skills when their listening proficiency grows rapidly. And, of course, MovieTalk can be used in conjunction with other teaching techniques that focus on other aspects of language proficiency.

Where Did MovieTalk Come From?

MovieTalk was developed as an essential teaching technique for the FOCAL SKILLS Approach to language instruction. In a FOCAL SKILLS program, students with listening comprehension below the intermediate level are placed in a full-time "Listening Module," where class time is devoted exclusively to improving the students' listening comprehension. Students in such a program do not move on to work on other language skill areas (reading, writing, etc.) until their listening proficiency has reached the intermediate level.

Obviously, this approach requires teaching techniques that are both effective and engaging, especially in an intensive program with three or four hours a day of instruction, five days a week. Movies suggested themselves as a source of authentic, interesting material, and the technique itself was created in order to make the movies comprehensible to the students.

The first FOCAL SKILLS program began in June 1988, at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The technique that we now call "MovieTalk" was used from the outset, and the results were so satisfactory that the technique immediately became a mainstay of all the FOCAL SKILLS programs that have subsequently been established.

MovieTalk has been used successfully at the following institutions: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Pacific Lutheran University, University of Dallas, Mississippi State University, Shenandoah University, United Arab Emirates University, Northwest Missouri State University, Minnesota State University-Akita, University of Maine, United Nations English Language Programme, Palo Alto College, Kilgore College, Elgin Community College, College of Chicago, Vincennes University, and perhaps a few others.

For years, MovieTalk was referred to simply as "The FOCAL SKILLS Movie Technique" and was used exclusively in FOCAL SKILLS programs. However, in recognition of the fact that the technique can be used in teaching environments other than FOCAL SKILLS, we have chosen the name "MovieTalk" to reflect the more general applicability of the technique.

What Does the Research Say About MovieTalk?

Because MovieTalk has served as the main teaching technique in the Listening Module of FOCAL SKILLS ESL programs, we can estimate its effectiveness by reviewing research that compares FOCAL SKILLS programs with other programs using more traditional teaching methods. Here is a quick summary of relevant research, with links to PDF copies of the original studies.

Hastings, A. 1995. The FOCAL SKILLS Approach: An Assessment. In F. Eckman et al., Second Language Acquisition: Theory and Pedagogy. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 29-43. Students in FOCAL SKILLS Listening Module classes progressed five times as fast as students in the comparison program, as far as listening comprehension was concerned. In reading and writing, the FOCAL SKILLS Listening students gained as much as the comparison students, in spite of the fact that the FOCAL SKILLS Listening students received little or no instruction dealing with reading or writing.

Bai, Y. 1998. A Comparison of English Proficiency Gains in One Focal Skills and Two Traditional ESL Programs. Winchester, Virginia: Shenandoah University master's thesis. Students in FOCAL SKILLS Listening Module classes progressed significantly faster than students in the comparison program, as far as listening comprehension was concerned. In reading and writing, the FOCAL SKILLS Listening students matched or exceeded the gains of the comparison students.

 The implication of these studies is simply that second language teachers can use MovieTalk to give their students a strong boost in listening comprehension, while at the same time building their overall language proficiency and strengthening their performance in other language skills. Much is gained, and nothing is lost, by employing this technique, which is explained and described on the next page.

MovieTalk Original Content Copyright 2012 by Global Language Education Services, LLC