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BBC六分钟英语 - Asking the right questions

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What does it take to be a good interviewer? Neil and Alice discuss TV chat show hosts, Greek philosophers and whether asking dumb questions is a good idea or not - as well as teaching some related vocabulary.

This week's question

Who developed a method of questioning around two and a half thousand years ago that aims to discover hidden truths? Was it...

a) Hippocrates?

b) Socrates?

c) Aristotle?

You can hear the right answer at the end of the programme.

Vocabulary

catch somebody off guard

to surprise someone in a way that often makes them confused or embarrassed

chat show

a TV or radio programme where celebrities talk to their host about various topics

host

a person who presents a TV or radio show and talks to guest celebrities

open questions

questions that can't be answered with a short answer for example a couple or words or yes or no; they often begin with 'wh' (why, what, who etc)

juicy details

information you find interesting because it's exciting or shocking

closed question

a question where the choice of answers is limited for example to yes or no, or a specific piece of information

hot under the collar

angry or embarrassed

elicit

get or produce something, for example, a reaction

defensive

protecting yourself from criticism or attack

draw back

move away

make the camera disappear

make something real or authentic

dumb

stupid

probing

investigative

Transcript

Note: This is not a word-for-word transcript

Neil

Hello and welcome to 6 Minute English. I'm Neil...

Alice

... and I'm Alice. Now Neil, I'm a big fan of chat shows, as you know. But what do you think makes a good interview?

Neil

I like it when the interviewer asks a question that catches the guest off guard. You know - to surprise them so they're embarrassed and don't know what to say.

Alice

That's not very nice!

Neil

I know. But it's great TV. That's what chat shows are all about, isn't it?

Alice

Well, I don't agree, Neil! A chat show, by the way, is a TV or radio programme where a host - the person who presents the show - talks to guest celebrities about various topics. And what makes a good interview is the subject of today's show.

Neil

So what's a good interview technique, Alice?

Alice

Well, asking open questions - questions the celebrities can't easily respond to with a short answer. Open questions give them the chance to talk and possibly reveal some juicy details about themselves!

Neil

Juicy details means information you find interesting because it's exciting or shocking.

Alice

Yes. So let's test your interviewing skills, Neil. Ask me something - see if you can get some juicy details.

Neil

OK... Hmm... How much do you weigh?

Alice

How much do I weigh?

Neil

Yeah.

Alice

How much do you weigh? Look, that's a closed question - you're going to get a short answer and no juicy details! And more importantly, Neil, it's a rude question!

Neil

OK - bad choice. Sorry. But your reaction was juicy - you got pretty hot under the collar - and that means embarrassed or angry! I'll try to think of a better question to ask you before the end of the show.

Alice

Alright then. Now, since you aren't good at asking questions, perhaps you can answer one instead. Who developed a method of questioning around two and a half thousand years ago that aims to discover hidden truths? Was it...

a) Hippocrates?

b) Socrates?

Or c) Aristotle?

Neil

Well, I don't know much about ancient history so I'm going to guess c) Aristotle.

Alice

Well, we'll find out if you picked the right answer later on - but now let's listen to Larry King talking about the secret of his successful career as a TV chat show host. Can you spot a word that means to get or produce?

INSERT Larry King, TV chat show host, US

If you ask good questions and you elicit thoughtful answers then you learn more about the person. If the interview's hard - if I begin by saying, 'Why did you do that?' I'd make you defensive. That may be thrilling television, but you don't learn a lot. I learned that the more I drew back, asked good questions, listened to the answers, cared about the guest ... you make the camera disappear.

Neil

The word Larry King used is... elicit.

Alice

Right. And you elicited a defensive reaction from me when you asked a not very thoughtful question about my weight. Defensive means protecting yourself from criticism or attack.

Neil

OK, I wouldn't make a good chat show host then.

Alice

You're right there. So good interviewers draw back - or move away - from being the centre of attention. They're good listeners and care about their guests. Sound familiar?

Neil

Are you suggesting that you're a good interviewer?

Alice

Yup.

Neil

OK, well, so why aren't you a top chat show host, hmm? What does Larry mean when he says you have to make the camera disappear?

Alice

It means to make the conversation real - as if you were chatting with a friend - rather than performing to a TV audience. But let's hear more from Larry King on the secret of his success.

INSERT

Larry King, TV chat show host, US

I don't want a 'no'. I don't want a 'yes'. I want a 'why'. So in other words, I want to be a little kind of dumb. My friend Herbie said the secret of my success is being dumb. 'What do you mean by that?'

Neil

So you have to ask dumb - or stupid - questions to make a great chat show host! I knew it!

Alice

Maybe there's hope for you yet, Neil.

Neil

Charming.

Alice

Lovely. OK, here's the answer to today's quiz question. I asked: Who developed a method of questioning around two and a half thousand years ago that aims to discover hidden truths? Was it... a) Hippocrates? b) Socrates? Or c) Aristotle?

Neil

And I said c) Aristotle.

Alice

No, it was b) Socrates. All three were famous Greek philosophers but Socrates was the one who angered lots of important people by his probing - or investigative - questions - and this technique is called Socratic Dialogue. Socrates lived from 469 to 399 BC and he influenced philosophy so much that all previous thinkers have come to be known as Pre-Socratic. Despite this he declared "All I know is that I know nothing".

Neil

Very noble. OK, a final question for you, Alice. What makes you happy?

Alice

Working with such a fantastic co-presenter, Neil.

Neil

That's nice! I'm embarrassed now.

Alice

Can you tell us the words we heard today?

Neil

Of course!

catch somebody off guard chat show host open questions juicy details closed question hot under the collar elicit defensive draw back make the camera disappear dumb probing

Alice

Well, that's the end of today's 6 Minute English. Please join us again soon.

Neil

Yes, do indeed!

Both

Bye.

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