Continuing Education

A Conversation about Conversational Japanese I

Conversational Japanese I instructor Risami Nakamura-Lambert shares some insights into how she approaches teaching from the perpectives of language and culture.

Q: Please share with us about your educational background. When did you first discover Imageyou had a fondness for teaching and what inspires you in your work?  

I was tutoring Japanese to the students who were taking Japanese classes when I was in a college. That was the beginning of my teaching career.  After I graduated from University of Hawaii, I taught Japanese and social studies to native Japanese 7th graders, and math to 4th graders in a Japanese school. The teaching program was based upon the Japan's Ministry of Education standards even though the school was in the state of Hawaii. I truly enjoyed teaching enthusiastic younger students. After I moved to Seattle, I had an opportunity to teach in the program called Japanese for Professionals at the University of Washington where I was inspired by professors and lecturers in the program. 

Q: What do you look forward to most when teaching this class?

Meeting each student and interacting with them. (Helping) them act like Japanese. And the most important: having fun with my students. 

Q: Tell us about your teaching technique. You’ve stated it is based on the English speaker’s point of view. Please give some examples of this and how it works.

I start with reviewing the previous lessons with my students since I encourage them to review Imagewhat they have learned instead of studying ahead. I check each one of them throughout the class activities.

Q: What are some fundamental differences between English and Japanese languages of which a new speaker should be mindful?

Frequently there is no subject of the sentence if it is understood between the speaker and the listener. Also, there would is no accent in pronunciation but higher and lower pitch in Japanese.

Q: What are some typical challenges English speakers face when learning Japanese and what kinds of solutions have you developed to assist them?

Each of the 5 vowels have only one sound; for example, you do not sound the letter “I” as “ai” nor letter “a” as “ei”. Some confusing but critical pronunciations are written in the upper case clearly in my textbook.

Q: How do you go about incorporating elements of Japanese culture and customs into your curriculum? Which elements do you feel are the most beneficial for an English speaker to learn before traveling?

In my initial class, students will learn how to bow properly and they can use bowing with Imagegreetings when they introduce themselves.

Q: What makes for a successful student in your Conversational Japanese classes and what do you hope your students will take away with them?

To focus on reviewing what you have learned in the class is the key to being successful in my class rather than studying ahead because it would be more difficult to correct the wrong pronunciation than learning the right one from the beginning.

You will learn from your mistakes; it is good to make mistakes in the early stages, but they have to be corrected right away. 

Use it or you will lose it—especially in foreign languages. Successful students are willing to mimic, to repeat, and to apply what they’ve learned.

Learn more about Conversational Japanese I.