CSULB’s Hiroko Kataoka, a member of Asian and Asian American Studies since 1998, was recognized recently with the Florence Steiner Leadership in Foreign Languages Teaching Award (ACTFL) from the American Council on Teaching Foreign Languages.
“Winning this award is really great,” said Kataoka. “It is especially great because this is the first time a specialist in an Asian language has won it.”
The ACTFL is the only national organization dedicated to the improvement and expansion of the teaching and learning of all languages at all levels of instruction. ACTFL is an individual membership organization of more than 9,000 foreign language educators and administrators from elementary through graduate education, as well as government and industry.
Kataoka has dreamed of a career in education since she attended kindergarten. She received her BA in English Linguistics from Japan’s Kobe College before attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she earned her master’s and her doctorate degrees, the latter in 1979.
The Steiner award honors leadership and Kataoka began her record of management with her first teaching position at North Carolina State University.
“I found only three other teachers of Japanese in the whole state. It was a lonely place,” she laughed. She formed her first group of Japanese teachers before creating another when she moved to Case Western Reserve University in Ohio and later at the University of Oregon where she founded a network of teachers who practiced Japanese immersion instruction.
“I enjoy teaching,” said Kataoka, who has used her experience to teach more than 110 workshops on dozens of topics through the nation. “I never thought of it in terms of climbing mountains of achievement. I like working with people. I don’t jump on every band wagon of the new but when I see something that really works, I learn more about. When I find something new, I want to share it with others.”
The role of technology in her classroom is strong but not a make-or-break element.
“Technology is no substitute for people, especially in teaching languages,” she said. “Language teaching is all about interacting with people. Language instruction is impossible without it. Unless you meet someone face to face, it is very difficult to know what is going on.”
Discussion forms a big part of her classroom. “These are language courses and students need to speak,” she said. “Learning a language is more than understanding grammar and vocabulary. It means understanding content and in order to do that, it is important to talk to people.”
Kataoka is glad she joined CSULB and looks forward to years more of instruction. “It is one thing to know a language and another to teach it,” she said. “Teaching a language is more than knowing and being able to use it. To teach it you need to know how people learn a foreign language and how to teach it. You may even need the instincts of an actor. I want those who are interested in becoming language teachers to think hard about their decision. Are they passionate about teaching?”