Interview with Yuka-sensei

We have another interview for you! This time with my good friend, Yuka the Japanese teacher!

Sensei in her graduation kimono

Why did you decide to come to the U.S. to teach Japanese?

I received a scholarship to study TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) while teaching the Japanese language at Boston University.

The initial motivation to come to the U.S. again (I was an exchange student in upstate NY for 9 months) was the urge to explore outside Japan more after going around the world on a cruise ship as an interpreter. Also, I did not have such a great experience in NY because of my lack of understanding of the American college lifestyle, so this time I wanted to achieve what I could not do last time I was in the U.S.

Interesting.. what about American college life didn’t you understand that gave you a hard time? We’re curious to know what about the American lifestyle might be tough for Japanese people.

I did not like the crazy parties on campus especially because my next-door neighbor was a DJ… Also, I did not like some students’ crazy drinking on the weekends. Also, since I was in upstate NY and there were not so many Asian people, the school cafeteria did not serve rice at all. The difference in food was one of the biggest culture shock experiences for me and made me miss Japan a lot.

Another thing that was difficult in upstate NY was to make “American” friends. I lived in the International House, so I was able to make a couple of really good international friends. But, it just felt like no American students were interested in me and I was sometimes too scared to talk to native speakers of English. I felt very self-concious when I spoke English and I did not want them to judge me based on my English.

Wow, thanks for sharing that, and you should know that it’s very courageous of you to give study in the US another shot. Many people would have just been done with it! Nice job! Now, could you briefly describe your job now?

I teach first and second semester Japanese at BU. I teach two sections of 20 students. So, each semester, I have about 40 students in total. We have a 50-minute class four days a week and we cover all the four skills of language. We use the textbook Genki and the first semester covers from Chapter 1-6 and the second semester covers Chapter 7-12.

I have students from different backgrounds such as students from Korea, China, Mexico, the Philipines, Vietnam, and the U.S. They are very studious and many students study Japanese not because it is a requirement of the department but because of their genuine interest in the language and the culture. This is my 3rd semester to teach Japanese at BU, but as I get used to teaching and gain more experience, I can predict my students’ mistakes and change my instruction styles depending on the “teacher instinct.”

I love my job and I would like to continue teaching Japanese in the future although I am thinking of applying for a PhD program in one or two years from now.

So what were your initial impressions of people who study Japanese in the U.S.?

I was very impressed with my students’ ability to speak. Also, I am very happy to see students who are are very energetic and genuinely interested in the language. Although the first two chapters of Genki are very overwhelming for native speakers of English or Spanish since they need to learn “hiragana” and “katakana” in less than a month, once they grasp the broad picture of what the language is like, they seem to succeed very quickly after that.

Do you think that learning Hiragana and Katakana in a month is unreasonable? How do most of your students handle that pace?

I think it is reasonable to learn Hiragana and Katakana in a month because they are the two core alphabets in Japanese and I believe that students would learn better by “recycling.” In other words, rather than being stuck at the same learning stage, I believe it is better to move on to the next stage and come back to the previous stage later and review it again and again. Students would inevitably have to see the two writing systems anyways, so I do not think it is unreasonable at all to learn Hiragana and Katakana in a month (although it may be difficult for some students).

What are your recommended textbooks for people learning Japanese at the level that you teach?

I recommend the textbook “Genki” that we use in our school. The textbook is great in that it has a number of picture prompts and has CDs (You need to purchase them for the current edition, but the new edition, which will come out next year, will come with CDs.) Also, it has a website called “Genki Online” which has a lot of useful resources. You can easily self-study Japanese using the resources online.

Another textbook that I recommend is “Minna no Nihongo.” It is the most-commonly-used Japanese textbook in the world and it is translated into many languages. Although it would be a great textbook for native speakers of English, grammatical explanations in other languages could be confusing for some who do not know any English because the textbook was written for native speakers of English and then later translated into many other languages.

What do you notice about students who are able to learn Japanese well? Do they do anything different from those who… well… don’t?

The second language acquisition theory of “Interaction Hypothesis” states that students need to interact with others and negotiate meanings to acquire a language. What I notice in my class is that students who are outgoing and interact with me or other people who speak Japanese have a great command of speaking whereas very serious straight A type students score high in quizzes and exams. Thus, I do not think the academic grade necessarily reflects their true linguistic ability. However, each student has his or her own learning style and those who already know how to study a language and know multiple learning strategies succeed in the language in the long run.

Thanks for your time Yuka! I know you’re busy keeping all those students in line so we’ll leave it at that.

Thanks for having me! It’s fun to share!

Good luck with the rest of your studies and work!!!

– Harvey

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