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Focus On Basics

Volume 8, Issue A ::: November 2005

An Intake Interview

Questions should be structured so that they are grammatically simple and do not contain idioms.

1. Information about health and medications: mental health; physical impairments; eyeglasses; dates of recent visual, hearing, and health screenings
In many cultures it is not polite to ask directly about health issues or a person’s family situation. Persons from other cultures may not believe that such issues interfere with learning or may cause them to be excluded from a class. Information may need to be obtained in a less direct way or through use of examples or pictures of persons with difficulties. Interpreters who are given express permission by the learner to hear and pass on private information can be extremely helpful in getting this information. Young children of adults should not be used as interpreters. Learners who have glasses that are several years old should be counseled to undergo a visual screening immediately. Persons whose glasses are uncomfortable or who do not like them tend to leave them at home.

2. Amount and nature of literacy
Wanting to appear to have some education, learners may report several years of schooling, when in fact their schooling was interrupted or of very short duration. Ask them to describe their schooling in more detail. If schooling was incomplete, ask why they stopped. If they give only a little information, say “Tell me more.”

3. Language of literacy
Learners from countries that were colonized or people who may have moved often will not necessarily be literate in their first language. Do not ask if the learner is literate in the first language. They will simply say no. Ask what the home language is and if it is a written language. If it is, then ask if the learner can read and write in that or any other language. If the language of literacy is one you do not know about, find out the basics of how its phonological and syntactical structures differ from those of English, and what cultural and pragmatic differences there may be in its language.

Note that even the best interviewer may not obtain entirely accurate or true information. Be prepared to learn later on that schooling was briefer or problems more severe than you were first told, or that health or physical problems exist when the learner may have denied them earlier. It is only human to want to look good in the eyes of your teacher.

Updated 7/27/07 :: Copyright © 2005 NCSALL