Could I please have a few minutes of your time?
English language learners often want to practice their speaking skills above all others, and interviews are a great way to practice speaking. We usually teach our students how to be the interviewee (at a job interview or for a speaking test, for example), but have you ever taught them how to be the interviewer?
Conducting an interview is a great way to get your learners talking in English, but a simple one-on-one speaking activity isn't the only way interviews can be used! Try assigning an interview as part of an essay or other writing project, as the basis for a presentation, or as a precursor to a group or class discussion or debate the following day.
What makes a good interview? Below are some handy tips that your students should keep in mind as they get ready to interview someone.
1. Think of a good theme or topic.
Choose something that interests you, such as talking to someone who has a job you're interested in or someone who does a sport/activity that you want to learn. Or, if your teacher assigns a topic to you, try to find an interesting angle. For example, if your teacher asks you to interview someone about their family, ask them about their family history from a hundred years ago.
2. Contact the person.
Arrange the interview by phone, or approach someone in your school or neighborhood and politely ask if you can ask them a few questions. Some good ways to start an interview are:
- Excuse me, may I ask you something?
- Hello, this is Maria. I'd like to interview you about your family.
- Could I please have a few minutes of your time?
- Are you interested in participating in a interview?
- Would you mind answering a few questions?
- Hi! I'm conducting interviews about people's career choices for my class. Could I ask you a few questions?
3. Be prepared.
Be sure to write out your questions beforehand. You want your interview to have some structure so that you ask the important content questions within a reasonable amount of time. Try not to have too many questions (10 questions is usually a good number). Try to have some general questions and some specific ones so that you get a variety of responses. It's also more interesting to get someone's personal opinion/experiences, so try to ask a few personal questions (but not too personal). For example, if you were interviewing someone about their career, your questions could include:
- What education and background experience did you need for your career? (general)
- What do you like and dislike about your career? (general)
- What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue this career? (specific)
- If you could do anything differently in your career, what would it be? (specific)
4. Take notes.
Jot down notes so you don’t forget what someone said. Your notes can be short—just enough to jog your memory. You don't need to write down what someone said word for word (except for those lines you want to quote directly in your report later on, if any). Or, if it's too difficult to write and listen at the same time, try recording the interview so you can write things down later when you have lots of time. You could download and use a free recording app on your mobile phone if your school doesn't have recording devices available.
5. Report your findings as soon as possible.
Writing your report right away is the right way of doing things! Whether you're writing a report, preparing a presentation, or reporting your findings to a group or partner, it’s easiest while the interview is fresh in your mind. Try not to have too much of a delay between the interview and the assignment. If you have to wait a few days, review your interview notes before completing the assignment.
6. Have fun!
Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun and enjoy this opportunity to practice speaking in English! Don’t be nervous—people are usually very friendly and flattered when an English learner wants to interview them. Ask your questions slowly and clearly. Also, don't hesitate to respond to what someone is saying! Most people prefer a conversation-style interview to one that is simply a question-and-answer session. But don’t go on and on about your own experiences/opinions—you don’t want to take up too much of someone’s time.
Need some ideas for topics or places to meet native speakers? Check out 25+ Field Trips for English Language Learners on our blog!