HomeAsk Away InterviewsNews & Views Ask Away: 5 Questions for a Japanese National Language Teacher of the Year

Ask Away: 5 Questions for a Japanese National Language Teacher of the Year


We’re asking students, teachers, and counselors five questions on how languages play a role in shaping personal and professional success…  

Meet Yo Azama—high school Japanese teacher in Salinas, CA, and 2012 ACTFL National Language Teacher of the Year. His advice to future language educators? “Stay curious!”

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1. Can you tell us about your own first experience with language or cultural immersion?

I was born and raised in Okinawa, Japan. The Okinawa island had a mixture of local Okinawa culture which is distinct from the mainland Japanese, the American military base culture, and mainstream Japanese culture. As a child I felt that each culture brought unique colors to the island and found the interaction among them very fascinating. Because of the intersection of these cultures, the island inhabitants had genuine interests in understanding others and to be understood by others.

2. We know that learning a language takes us out of our comfort zone! Is there an obstacle you overcame along the way that you’d like to share with us?

There were so many obstacles and still are! But they were all worth overcoming!

One example was when my parents signed me up for a music summer camp in Washington when I was 15 years old. At that time I couldn’t speak a word of English… it was my first overseas experience, too. I remember how frustrating it was not to be able to communicate during the first two weeks. Then I found that through music I was able to communicate with other campmates.

I guess music was my second language and generated a further desire to acquire English.

After spending two months or so abroad, I didn’t want to return to my hometown in Okinawa.

3. What’s the very best thing about being a language educator?

I think the very best thing about being a language educator is to get to “play” various roles. I get to be creative when I plan a lesson, a performer and researcher when I teach class, a learner as I participate in PDs (professional development), and share human experiences with students and colleagues. This multifaceted role is what I love most about being a language educator. It never gets boring!  🙂

4. What advice would you give to students who are thinking about becoming language teachers?

Stay curious and pursue your wonders.

5. Is there a Japanese word or expression that is particularly meaningful to you—and why?

先生(Sensei) usually translates as teacher but its literal translation is a person born before you, and it’s this person’s responsibility to guide the people after him/her. Professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and other leaders are often referred to as “sensei” for this reason.