English learners (ELs) new to the U.S. school system are neither blank slates nor empty vessels waiting to be filled. Rather, they bring with them diverse sets of skills and schooling experiences, as well as distinct social and cultural motivations for learning. To determine the most effective approaches and strategies when working with ELs it is critical that teachers and program coordinators have a handled on students’ backgrounds, needs and aspirations. The Newcomer Interview Protocol provides a series of structured, exploratory probes that make getting to know your students achievable, while the paired Interviewer Analysis helps service coordinators pinpoint special considerations for classroom instruction and optimizing language transfer. Interviews should be conducted by bilingual members of the faculty or staff.