An ambition to help others teach and learn foreign language led Yukako Otsuki, EdM ’12, to leave her home in Japan and forge a career in the U.S.. The idea came to her more than a decade ago in Osaka when she learned how to take a more collaborative, flexible approach to language education while in a class led by GSE-trained professor Akiko Takagi, EdM ’99. It was an experience that would change her life.
Otsuki, who expects to finish her doctorate in foreign and second language education at UB next year, had long been interested in the power of language study and how it can bring people from different cultures together.
When she was a student of Takagi’s at Osaka Kyoiku University, she was impressed by how much she got out of the assignments to examine the teaching practice sessions by writing weekly reflections. Takagi had discovered the strategy while studying the teaching of English at GSE.
“At that time, I was a really new teacher,” said Takagi, now a professor of English teaching at Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo. “I was not sure about my impact. Now I understand.”
Otsuki also was intrigued by Takagi’s recounting of her classes with Lynne Yang, GSE clinical associate professor of learning and instruction. Yang taught that it was crucial to have students speak and use the language they were studying, an alternative to the Japanese approach of learning by translating written passages.
“For me, I thought, ‘It’s more fun,’” Otsuki said. “It’s also more practical.”
She learned English that way herself. As a young student, she practiced conversation with a kind American teacher. Otsuki’s work with Takagi built on that experience and made her want to follow her professor’s academic path and study at GSE.
But Otsuki worried that might be impossible. She assumed her own English wasn’t good enough.
Takagi disagreed. Otsuki remembers her professor saying, “’You don’t need to worry about that. Just try.’”
Her early studies with Takagi also helped give Otsuki the idea for her dissertation. Her interdisciplinary proposal about reflective practice led to an award: Last year, she became one of the first GSE students to win an Advanced PhD Fellowship from UB’s Humanities Institute.
This year, Otsuki is back in Japan with financial help from another award. GSE’s D. Bruce Johnstone International Student Dissertation Research Travel Fund has covered some of the costs as she works in Japan to collect data about the impact of reflective practice on the confidence of four elementary school teachers who are new to teaching English.
Otsuki still remembers how her own understanding of her teaching deepened as she journaled in Takagi’s class. “I also had the opportunity to think: ‘What is good teaching? What is not good teaching?’” said Otsuki. “I could get some findings by thinking by myself …Then I can accumulate those findings into my teaching experience. Like a good lesson for myself, to develop myself.”
One day, Otsuki hopes to become a professor and help others understand the life-changing power of foreign-language study. Because Takagi challenged her to try, she came to Buffalo for graduate work. “My dream since I started learning English came true.”