but they are not casual conversations.”
I had the privilege to co-teach a class with a colleague in Harvard-Westlake’s Kutler Center for Interdisciplinary Studies & Independent Research last week. The course is History’s Imprint on Modern Chinese Culture and I was there to help the students in the class learn to interview a guest speaker next month. The students were an absolute joy to teach, and my colleague is among my favorites. I am so grateful for the opportunity to return to this education community — and in person! What a treat.
Here are the points I gathered for the Modern Chinese Culture class. Perhaps you and your school media staff will find some of them helpful.
First, regardless of the situation, state that you are a journalist (or the purpose of the interview).
“Do not let anyone force you to agree to have quotations approved before they are used in your story; it is not good journalistic practice and does not serve your audience in an honest way. This has become an important ethical issue in contemporary American journalism.” From The Journalist’s Resource
An excellent last question might be, “What’s something I should have asked you that I haven’t?”
Thank the interviewee for their time and ask if you can be in contact again if there are additional questions.
Ask for access to photos and any other documents or objects that have come up. It will be much harder to do this hours or days later.
Write as soon as possible while the interview is fresh in your mind.
Confirm day and time (and time zone) in writing.
It is courteous to inform your subject who will be on the call (if more than one interviewer).
If multiple interviewers, be careful that only one interviewer speaks at a time. Don’t overwhelm the subject with many voices.
Many Chinese adults have had formal English education since sixth grade and have a good command of reading, writing and the spoken word. (You may also have a good command of Chinese.) Be aware that speaking ability in a second language, however, falls off markedly when using voice only or even voice+video.
Small talk goes a long way at the beginning of any interview.
Make an effort to speak clearly, minimizing the use of contractions and slang. Avoid asking questions in the negative form. Asking, “Don’t you like basketball?” may leave the subject mystified. Instead, try “Do you like basketball?”
Summarize the key points covered and recount the subject’s answers to important questions. Ask if they feel the need to clarify any of their responses or add some important missed point.
Look for other speakers of a language you know well.
Seek “culture brokers” among young people.
Take your time. “The longer you’re with people, the more comfortable they’ll feel.”
4. Use all of your senses.
5. Hire a translator and/or develop a network of translators.
The interview questions below were adapted from J. P. Spradley’s work in The Ethnographic Interview.
You may wish to include some of the same or similar questions when conducting your interview to learn more about the experiences your subject had while living in China.