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March 1998 - Issue No. #29 (p.18 - 19)

Global Education Interviews in the EFL Classroom

by William Balsamo

Kenmei Women's Junior College, Himeji, Japan

The use of interviews is a good way to bring the world and its cultures into the English language classroom. In class, such interviews can be used for listening comprehension and other language acquisition activities. Over the past years, I've collected interviews from people from all walks of life in countries as diverse in culture as Brazil and Laos. I have found these to be useful supplementary material for ESL classes.

It has long been my habit to always travel with a walkman cassette player which can be used as a portable tape recorder. It is important that the recorder be of good quality so as to make a tape which is clear and adequate for classroom use.

My travels have often taken me into countries where English is taught as a foreign language. There, I often meet by chance other teachers and students engaged in language studies. Some of them speak excellent English and are often willing to submit to an interview. They are eager to share ideas about their culture and to communicate with my students.

Interview Criteria

To conduct an interview there are certain procedures and criteria to follow. These are the ones I consider most important.

  1. The person interviewed should possess a good command of English.

  2. A rapport should be established so the interview is spontaneous and relaxed.

  3. The person interviewed should have a knowledge of the questions to be asked and a chance to prepare adequate answers before the actual interview.

  4. The interview should not last more than fifteen or twenty minutes.

  5. The interview should be conducted in a place where there are no interruptions.

  6. Photos of the person being interviewed should be taken.

The value of these interviews is that they enable the instructor to bring the world into the classroom through the backgrounds and experiences of real people. Cultures, lifestyles and customs can be introduced while addressing the problems of language through the classwork. For example, while in Malaysia several years ago, I took the ferry crossing from Malacca to Dumai, a port city in Sumatra. On board the ship, I met a Japanese traveler who had been wandering around the world for almost a year. He was about 32 years old and had been to over nine countries. As often happens, a rapport between fellow travelers was established, and when I felt that confidence had been established, I asked him to grant me an interview which I could use in my classes. He willingly obliged and we went on to conduct the interview.

As a Japanese, he was able to offer insights and advice to my students which proved invaluable in the classroom. I was able to expand on the interview and provide a background to supplement the lesson. Other subsequent interviews I have been able to secure have been with a school teacher in Sumatra, a college student in Laos and a factory worker in Indonesia.

In The Classroom

Once the interview has been taped, it must be adapted to the classroom. The ESL teacher must first edit the interview and adjust it to the designs and needs of the class. In all cases, I first transcribe the words of the interview into written script. Depending upon the students' level, the text can be used in conjunction with the tape or distributed afterwards at the end of class.

Before using the interview, you should place it in context. The background of the country, supplemented by maps and pictures, should precede the playing of the tape. A short trivia quiz can determine how much the class knows about the region of the interviewee. Pictures of the person can also be shown so as to personalize the interview and directly connect it to a face.

Instead of an audio-taped interview with photos or slides, a more ambitious approach is to record the interview on video. The audio portion of the video can later be transcribed onto a cassette and both used in the classroom within the lesson plan.

The disadvantages of videotaping an interview relate to cost and convenience. If one is traveling or backpacking through developing countries, a video camera can be cumbersome to carry and difficult to store, though recent models are rather compact. Setting up an interview with a video camera requires more space and privacy. In contrast, an audio cassette, is less of a burden to carry and more flexible to use.

Two Alternatives

As an alternative to the teacher taping an interview with a foreign person on an overseas trip, two variations can be utilized.

  1. Teachers can interview local students who have gone on homestays or studied abroad, and gather information from them relating to cultural differences. This works well especially if the students have an adequate control of English and can speak with acceptable fluency.

  2. Students can also be required to do a 10-minute interview with a foreign visitor to their country. This works well if the school is located in or near a tourist area which attracts foreign tourists. In the city where I live and teach, there is a constant flood of tourists who come to see the local castle, a historical landmark.

When I tried alternative #2 in my town, my students were able to obtain interviews with tourists from countries such as Brazil, Germany, Holland and Sweden. For these interviews, both the student interviewer and the person being interviewed spoke English and for neither of them was this the native language. In terms of global perspectives, this task helped students become vividly aware of the importance of English as an international language for communication.

William Balsamo
Kozuki Heights 1-a, 37 Bozu-machi, Himeji, Japan 670, JAPAN
Fax: 0792-54-5712     E-mail:


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