A Conversation with Asako Hayashi Takakura
Trying to interpret for rappers and Reggae musicians first got Hayashi, a lecturer in UCLAs Asian Languages and Cultures department, thinking about the differences between English and her native Japanese.
- View Asako Hayashi Takakura Intro (3:42)
- View Teaching Kanji with PowerPoint (4:19)
- View Teaching with Manga and TV Soap Operas (4:13)
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"I'm not camera shy," says Japanese lecturer Asako Hayashi Takakura with a laugh. Working as a translator for Japanese television after college, she had the chance to meet rock musicians such as Sting, the Rolling Stones, and Aerosmith. "Most rockstars use their own language," she says, which sometimes made translation tough. Exchanging the glamour of the entertainment industry for a career in research and teaching, Hayashi moved to the United States to study language pedagogy and conduct research on second-language acquisition, but it was trying to interpret for rappers and Reggae musicians that first got her thinking about the differences between English and her native Japanese.
She conducted her dissertation research on the East Coast, at Boston University, and later taught at Harvard. But she admits to preferring the laid-back attitude of California. The students at UCLA, she says, "are very nice." Schooled in the communicative language teaching approach, she uses her familiarity with pop culture as a way of connecting with the class. "I prefer to be more communicative," she says. That means using authentic materials such as Japanese comic strips ("manga"), pop songs that she plays every day to help students warm up before lecture, and movies and television programs. These materials get students involved and interested in playing with the language.
One challenging element of Japanese is learning its more than 2,000 characters, called "kanji." The kanji must be deftly traced in a specific order and require practice and care to form correctly. To present them to her lecture classes, which can number as many as 80 students, she uses PowerPoint slides and Quick movies that illustrate the shape and stroke order for each kanji. These visual aids are then reinforced during smaller sections by teaching assistants who draw the characters on the blackboard using chalk. In the more intimate setting of sections, "the students said it is more effective than the screen," says Hayashi.
While she is comfortable with technology, and even makes her own Flash movies, she recognizes that students often know more about the tools she uses than she does. "The students help me in class," she says, though she is quick to note that "Flash is user friendly software." The students also tell her about new movies, songs, and Japanese anime. They may not suspect that she was once a part of the Japanese entertainment industry herself.
Published: Wednesday, March 26, 2008