2012 ACTFL National Language Teacher of the Year
North Salinas High School, Salinas, CA
Expansion of our personal family circle is critical to a future global world as Mother Teresa once stated, "The problem with the world is that we draw the circle of our family too small." The opposite of this phenomenon creates negative consequences as evidenced daily news. I believe the only way to expand this circle of family is by learning other family members' languages and cultures. It opens a wide range of possibilities and realities that can only be attained by communicating with members who speak other languages and cultures. Furthermore, acquiring other languages and cultures enables us to connect with others at a deeper level by identifying with each other's successes and struggles as well as providing us with insightful perspectives that strengthens our overall humanity. It is language culture that binds us together as "family" and makes us understand and understood with our personal or global family.
My personal quest to expand the “circle of family” began on the small island of Okinawa, a context where three distinct cultures co-exist. I spoke Okinawan at home and engaged in the island’s traditional cultural activities in the community, while learning academics in Japanese. Additionally, on weekends I would join my American friends from the nearby American base for one of those iconic American cultural products – Dairy Queen ice cream! This rather unique environment made me realize early on that language was essential to break the difficult cultural codes of each community. The perspectives I gained through those three cultures helped me formulate a new view of the world; a world forces us to examine our own culture and ourselves, perhaps the greatest lesson learned throughout my multiple language and culture learning quests is that the acquisition of other languages and cultures adds an unparalleled dimension of sensitivity that makes us more empathetic, keen constructive listeners, and effective communicators. It enables us to analyze every issue from a multiple perspectives point of view, be less judgmental and at the same increase our awareness of our interconnectedness and our identity as world citizens.
My experience as a language teacher convinces me that today’s students are ready and more than willing to learn other languages and cultures, and prepare themselves to join a world that has no borders and offers them unlimited opportunities if they have the linguistic and cultural competency. Nothing makes me more proud than witnessing my students feel the pride of having developed a high level of Japanese and cultural competency that enables them to successfully accomplish a linguistic task, engage in a meaningful conversation with native speakers in culturally appropriate ways and most of all when they share how this learning experience has opened their horizons and engendered the kind of confidence in them that they are indeed prepared to meet the opportunities and challenges inherent in the global society of the Twenty-First Century. Language connects us and as a result it binds us the global family that we are.
Watch a video of Yo Azama in his classroom, provided by the Annenberg Learner: