Mastering English Faster: How Intensive Learning with Focal Skills Can Boost Your Language Proficiency

Research indicates that students in FOCAL SKILLS programs acquire English language proficiency faster than students in most other types of Intensive English Programs (IEP). Studies have found that students in FOCAL SKILLS programs gain about 35% more English proficiency than students in other Intensive English Programs in a semester.

A number of factors contribute to FOCAL SKILLS’ advantage, which is discussed below.

As a result of Dr. Stephen Krashen’s work, FOCAL SKILLS views comprehensible input as essential (or at least highly desirable) if students are to acquire language proficiency. Every FOCAL SKILLS teacher must provide comprehensible input on a daily basis.

To provide large amounts of comprehensible input to ESL students, we have developed or adapted a number of key techniques:

The FOCAL SKILLS Movie Technique utilizes real movies to provide a wide range of meaning in the classroom. By narrating and summarizing at an appropriate level, the teacher can offer a diverse flow of understandable information that directly correlates to what students are experiencing. This is reinforced by the coherence of the plot, likability of characters, and emotional impact of scenes. The teacher pauses the movie periodically and paraphrases the events and dialogue using language suitable for the students’ level. The scene is then replayed. This method typically takes about 10 hours of classroom time to cover most movies.

During The Talk Show, two teachers converse and interact with the class while conducting some project or purposeful activity.

It is a group activity in which students are guided by their teacher to explore an authentic text together. The teacher reads the text out loud first,… students circle words or concepts they don’t understand. The teacher then reviews the text a second time, allowing students to ask questions. Authentic texts (children’s books, newspapers, etc.) are always used.

With a teacher serving as a resource person, Personal Reading is an application of Krashen’s “Free Voluntary Reading.” Each student selects a book from the library and reads freely. Students at the intermediate level can take advantage of comic books, simplified novels, teen romance novels, and the like. For assistance or clarification, students can approach the teacher one at a time.

During Free Writing sessions, students have the opportunity to express their thoughts and ideas on topics that are meaningful to them. The teacher works closely with each student and provides guidance through a Focused Rewrite, where specific parts of the student’s writing are revised using clear and standard English. This method offers personalized and targeted input, as the rewritten portions reflect the student’s original thinking while also showcasing their language skills.

A Mini-Course is a short “how-to” or academic course on any reasonable subject: with workshops, readings, media materials, discussions, presentations, and other standard activities. This approach is perfect for high-intermediate level students. The focus of these classes is on the topic, rather than the language.

The ability to understand spoken English is essential to the development of reading, writing, and speaking in our intensive English language learning environments, since all classes are conducted in English. All four skills contribute to academic performance. Reading ability is essential to the development of writing ability. Speaking skills are gradually built on the foundation of the other skills, especially listening.

Based on these considerations, the following principles can be drawn:

Developing reading, writing, and academic skills requires good listening comprehension.

Before working on writing and academic skills, students should have a good understanding of reading.

It is important for students to have good writing skills before working on academic skills.

* Dr. Ashley Hastings owns the copyright to Focus Skills