David Recine

Improving Listening Speed with Movie One-Liners

You listen to a TOEFL audio track and suddenly realize you missed a phrase or sentence, maybe an important one. Your mind may have wandered, or the speaker may have spoken a little too quickly.

Don’t feel bad. Even native English speakers can let their minds wander, or simply fail to hear something. You’ve missed something you heard before, and you’ll miss something again in the future. Maybe you won’t catch everything that’s said to you in an English-language conversation. After you pass the TOEFL, you’ll definitely miss some of what you hear during lectures on an American campus. But you’ll want to make sure you miss as few words as possible when you take the TOEFL itself.

The good news is that the speech you hear on the TOEFL is usually slower than English speech in other settings. Build your skills at listening to normally paced English speech, and TOEFL listening will be easier in comparison.

Practice for your TOEFL exam with Magoosh.

Magoosh’s top TOEFL Listening tips and tricks post has some strategies for maintaining focus in this section. But it is also good to challenge yourself and try to comprehend English speech that is faster than usual. One place where you’ll hear a lot of “fast talkers” is in the movies. In movies, the characters will say certain things very quickly. These lines are usually said during an especially exciting, interesting or funny part of the movie. Fast, clever pieces of speech like this are called “one-liners.” Just as you are motivated not to miss the important stuff in TOEFL Listening, you won’t want to miss these one-liners. Often they are the most important things to listen for in a movie scene. The movie may be less enjoyable if you don’t understand what you heard.

Practice activity:

Watch and listen a collection of American movie one-liners (video below). You can check your comprehension by reading a PDF transcript of the one-liners here: One Liners Worksheet. The video contains 18 movie clips. The transcript is numbered by clip. Enjoy!

How did it go? Were there any words you didn’t know the meaning of? Were there words you did know, but couldn’t understand because they were spoken so quickly? How many words could you understand on the first listen? How many times did you need to listen again, or check the transcript? Make note of the types of words and sounds you have trouble hearing. Make note of things you heard easily on the first try. You should notice some patterns in your ability to hear fast speech. From there, note the strengths you can build on, and the weak points you need to work on.



  • David Recine

    David is a Test Prep Expert for Magoosh TOEFL and IELTS. Additionally, he’s helped students with TOEIC, PET, FCE, BULATS, Eiken, SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. David has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His work at Magoosh has been cited in many scholarly articles, his Master’s Thesis is featured on the Reading with Pictures website, and he’s presented at the WITESOL (link to PDF) and NAFSA conferences. David has taught K-12 ESL in South Korea as well as undergraduate English and MBA-level business English at American universities. He has also trained English teachers in America, Italy, and Peru. Come join David and the Magoosh team on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, or connect with him via LinkedIn!

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