Gathering a Case History

Cultural generalizations are never true of all individuals. One must refrain from creating assumptions about individuals or families based on general cultural, ethnic, or racial information. It is helpful to learn about the cultural values of the individual and his or her family through techniques such as ethnographic interviewing. Understanding the views of clients and their families often determines the success of clinical interactions.

Ethnographic Interviewing

Through ethnographic interviews, SLPs and audiologists can develop an understanding of the client's and the family's perceptions, views, desires, and expectations. In The ASHA Leader article "Asking the Right Questions in the Right Ways: Strategies for Ethnographic Interviewing," Carol Westby, Angela Burda, and Zarin Mehta describe ethnographic interviewing and provide some tips:

  • In a traditional interview, the interviewer operates from the perspective that "I know what I want to find out, so I am setting the agenda for this interview."
  • In an ethnographic interview, in contrast, the client, spouse, or parents help determine the important information to share.

Principles of ethnographic interviewing include:

  • Use open-ended questions rather than dichotomous questions that trigger a yes or no response
  • Restate what the client says by repeating the client's exact words; do not paraphrase or interpret
  • Summarize the client or parent's statements and give them the opportunity to correct you if you have misinterpreted something they have said
  • Avoid asking multiple questions back-to-back and/or multipart questions
  • Avoid leading questions that tend to orient the person to a particular response
  • Avoid using "why" questions because such questions tend to sound judgmental and may increase the client's defensiveness


Westby, C., Burda, A., & Mehta, Z. (2003). Asking the Right Questions in the Right Ways: Strategies for Ethnographic Interviewing. Retrieved on May 15, 2007, from

Tips for Gathering a Case History of Bilingual Clients

Find out about the language history by eliciting information, such as:

  • the age of acquisition of the language(s)
  • the language(s) used at home and at school/work
  • the length of exposure to each language
  • the language of choice with peers
  • progress in receiving English as a second language (ESL) services or adult English language learning classes
  • academic performance
  • the language(s) used within the family

Cultural and Linguistic Variables | The Assessment Process

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