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In the Spotlight: Japanese Lecturer Keiko Ueda

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Keiko Ueda during a recent visit to Wilmington, NC. Photo courtesy of K. Ueda.

 |  Rachel Hill  | Foreign Languages and Literatures

Faculty at the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures represent a wide array of teaching philosophies. A diversity that contributes to the enriching education our students experience. Lecturer of Japanese, Keiko Ueda, constructs a collaborative and familial learning environment in her classrooms. As the winner of the 2013 Outstanding CHASS Lecturer Award, Ueda’s efforts have not gone unnoticed by her colleagues.

Ueda fosters an enjoyable and creative learning atmosphere in which students are able to confidently make mistakes. Her persistent effort in encouraging students to expand their multicultural awareness is evident in her engaging teaching methods. Ueda holds the mentality that the world is an interconnected and interdependent society that needs to better understand one another in order to create a more harmonious environment for future generations. She explains, “It’s important to understand others and to be able to see the world from someone else’s point of view. If you don’t, you might automatically think that your perspective is right and others are wrong or that things that don’t directly affect you are other people’s problems.” However, “when you learn a foreign language, you are learning to see the world through a different lens, through a different language and culture from your own.” “What I hope to cultivate in my students is not only to learn to speak a foreign language but to develop the ability to listen and understand others,” she concludes.

An interesting teaching tactic Ueda utilizes to make her students think involves a rotational dialogue journal. The dialogue journal is a confidential journal exchanged between Ueda and her students. In it, students write journal entries in Japanese each week on topics of their choice. Ueda then reviews them, fixing grammar errors and vocabulary but also responding to the topics students write about, facilitating a dialogue that helps them get to know each other better.“This way, the student is the teacher and tells me about who he or she is as an individual,” Ueda explains. “We begin to build a trust relationship and get to know each other by sharing our personal stories. This genuine communication in Japanese is the goal of the activity; the grade is not as important.”

When asked about the Japanese program here at NC State, Ueda’s face immediately lights up. “We are like a family. All the teachers and students are always together. Students and teachers are very close and we always get together and do something.”

Ueda also strives to spark curiosity and a love of learning among her students as she teaches them the language. Many of her students major in the sciences or engineering, but through Japanese, they have an opportunity to explore other topics like culture, society, and history, which are critical to learning a foreign language. “I encourage students to come up with their own questions as we learn about the history behind the language,” Ueda says. She tasks her students with identifying a question they have about Japanese culture or history and then researching it to try to find an answer.

This process often sparks new questions that students can then delve into, which Ueda hopes will spark an inquisitiveness and thirst for learning that they can take with them beyond Japanese class. “Most of the science students don’t like history, but when we learn it this way, they have ‘wow’ moments,” Ueda says. “They love it and ask why they didn’t know it before.”

When asked about the Japanese program here at NC State, Ueda’s face immediately lights up. “We are like a family. All the teachers and students are always together. Students and teachers are very close and we always get together and do something,” such as language conversation tables or fundraisers for earthquake relief in Japan following the 2011 disaster. Ueda notes that the students also form strong bonds through the program as they take successive classes with the same classmates over several years, making it easy to “make friends for life.”

Ueda truly shines while talking about her students and shows a level of compassion that is unrivaled. The Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures is privileged to have outstanding docents such as Mrs. Ueda that instruct and guide her students! 

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