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Douglas Named Recipient Of Japanese Teaching Award

Published: November 15, 2012

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Masako Douglas of Asian and Asian American Studies, was recently named a recipient of an American Association of Teachers of Japanese Award in recognition of her demonstrated excellence in innovative teaching, advocacy and leadership in Japanese education, and service to the profession.

The American Association of Teachers of Japanese (AATJ) is a non-profit, non-political organization of individuals and institutions seeking to promote the study of the Japanese language, linguistics, literature, culture, and pedagogy, at all levels of instruction. Each year one K-12 teacher and one post-secondary teacher are honored and recognized at the AATJ Fall Conference during the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages Annual Convention in Philadelphia.

“I’m so happy to receive this award,” said the member of the university since 2001. “I feel very honored. I feel this recognition not only honors me but the Japanese Program in Asian and Asian American Studies at Cal State Long Beach. It is highly prestigious.”

One reason for her distinction, Douglas believes, is her research and education of Japanese as a heritage language. Growing up speaking a language and further developing it in a classroom are two different roads that can come together in acquiring a heritage language, according to Douglas. Those who grow up speaking a language (if not writing or reading it) at home in a country where the language is not the main means of communication or education are heritage speakers and they have a different way of learning the language than learners of Japanese as a foreign language.

“Heritage speakers don’t learn languages the same way as foreign language learners,” said Douglas. “It is a very individualized and differentiated approach. Having all these individualized approaches in the same classroom doesn’t make instruction any easier. It doesn’t work to offer “one size fits all” type of instruction to everyone.”

Douglas sees a rising public interest in heritage speakers from a post-9/11 US government. “That is especially true when it comes to national security,” she said. “Heritage speakers begin to pick up their languages very early. They rise to a higher level with training.”

Douglas created a new class focused on heritage speakers, one of the few such classes at any university. “There used to be very few public places for heritage language speakers to learn their languages but that changed after Sept. 11,” she explained. “They couldn’t find enough people with high enough language skills. That is when they began to look at heritage language speakers. With training, their language skills can advance. There are potential careers in government or security.”

Masako Douglas
Masako Douglas

Douglas teaches the entire range of Japanese from beginning to graduate level. “Each level demands different pedagogical strategies,” she explained. “There are beginners and there are advanced level learners, including heritage language speakers, who need more content-based instruction to learn Japanese culture and society.”

Douglas earned her B.A. and M.A. from Kobe City University of Foreign Studies in Japan, her M.A. from Australian National University and her Ph.D. from USC in 1992.

Douglas believes her recognition is owed to her colleagues, professors Hiroko Kataoka and Kiyomi Chinen. She said, “We created a unique Japanese Program that focuses on pedagogy of Japanese language and research on Japanese heritage language development. I’m very fortunate I came here. The working environment is excellent.”

–Richard Manly