Willingness to learn key

Name: Norio Ota
Years of experience: 40 (Vietnam, Japan, USA, Australia, Canada, Cuba)
Occupation: Professor of Japanese Studies, York University

Q: How did you get started in your industry?

A: While I was taking a course called Teaching of Japanese as a Foreign Language in my senior year of my undergrad, the professor recommended me to teach Japanese at a language school for foreign missionaries in Tokyo as a part-time instructor. I loved it and decided to become a language teacher. My career as a language teaching professional began in Vietnam, where I set up a degree program in Japanese Studies as the chair of the Japanese Department, University of Saigon between 1971 and 1974.

Q: Describe some of the ideal qualities a person should have to succeed in your industry?
A: Language teaching demands one¹s total commitment to the profession. One must love teaching. A good language teacher is communicative, active, creative, innovative, risk-taking, multi-tasking, flexible in thinking, open-minded, responsive, caring, empathic, patient, demanding, strict and sensitive to different cultures. It is very important to be able to have rapport with students. Being willing to learn helps since teaching is also a learning process.

Q: What kind of background, either educational or other, best suits someone starting out in your industry?

A: Background in linguistics and second language acquisition is preferred. For teaching at a post-secondary institution, M.A. or PhD is required. Mastery of at least one foreign language is a must to be a good language teacher.

Q: What do you like most about your job?

A: To be able to teach students of various cultural background in different countries. It gives me great joy to see young students become mature and achieve goals through hard work. Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) has provided language teaching professionals with opportunities to develop innovative, creative and effective learning environment. I have developed distance learning courses using video-conferencing. I enjoy creating and participating in various projects. For example, I offer a teacher training seminar every year for the faculty of the Japanese program at University of Havana, Cuba.

Q: What are the challenging aspects of your industry?

• Lack of understanding as to what is involved in language learning and teaching among learners and teachers ­ too much reliance on textbooks

• Lack of quality teachers ­ most teachers are not professionally trained

• Lack of study hours - A language major student spends 4000 hours on the first foreign language, 2500 hours on the second language, and 1500 on the third language for six years at University of Havana, Cuba, whereas a student in Canada spends approximately 900 hours on one language for four years. My solution has been to create on-line self-study materials, so that students can study on their own during breaks.

Q: For newcomers to the industry, what tips would you offer them on getting started in their career?

• Study one or more foreign languages

• Learn about one¹s own language and culture in depth

• Participate in cultural events

• Apply for an exchange program

• Take a teaching course such as TJFL, TESOL

• Apply for programs such as the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program

• Volunteer to teach at schools such as heritage language school

Q: What kind of local associations/organizations/volunteer activities would you recommend for people just starting out?

• Cultural centers such as Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre (JCCC), the Japan Foundation

• Language schools and programs both public and private

• Internship programs in the private sector

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