Masako Douglas, professor of Asian and Asian American Studies at Cal State Long Beach (CSULB), is being honored this week by the American Association of Teachers of Japanese (AATJ) as the recipient of its 2012 AATJ Teacher Award in recognition of her demonstrated excellence in innovative teaching, advocacy and leadership in Japanese education, and service to the profession.
The AATJ is a non-profit, non-political organization of individuals and institutions seeking to promote the study of the Japanese language, linguistics, literature, culture and pedagogy at all levels of instruction. Each year one K-12 teacher and one post-secondary teacher are honored.
Douglas and this year’s K-12 recipient, Noriko Coyle of North Penn High School in Pennsylvania, will be recognized and presented with their awards on Saturday, Nov. 17, at the AATJ Awards Luncheon. The AATJ event is being held in conjunction with the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages Annual Convention and World Languages Expo in Philadelphia.
“I’m so happy to have been selected for this award,” said Douglas, a member of the university faculty since 2001. “I feel very honored. I feel this recognition not only honors me but the Japanese Program in Asian and Asian American Studies at Cal State Long Beach. It is highly prestigious.”
In announcing its selections of this year’s Teacher Award recipients, the AATJ noted that Douglas is recognized as a ‘valuable resource’ in Southern California, is an excellent teacher, researcher and contributor to the development of Japanese language education in the United States.
“Receiving excellent reviews from her students, she constantly tries to offer what is best for her students,” the group’s website states. “In 2007, her advanced course was selected as an example of World Languages Best Practices by the College Board. She has contributed to our profession through her research projects and presentations. She has played a central role in the field of JHL (Japanese Heritage Language), founding the JHL-SIG in AATJ, offering teacher training workshops, publishing a JHL textbook, and advising JHL Saturday schools in Southern California.”
Douglas believes one reason for her selection of this award was due to her research and education of Japanese as a heritage language.
Growing up speaking a language and further developing it in a classroom are two different roads that can come together in acquiring a heritage language, according to Douglas. Those who grow up speaking a language (if not writing or reading it) at home in a country where the language is not the main means of communication or education are heritage speakers, and they have a different way of learning the language than learners of Japanese as a foreign language.
“Heritage speakers don’t learn languages the same way as foreign language learners,” Douglas pointed out. “It is a very individualized and differentiated approach. Having all these individualized approaches in the same classroom doesn’t make instruction any easier. It doesn’t work to offer ‘one size fits all’ type of instruction to everyone.”
Douglas created a new class focused on heritage speakers, one of the few such classes at any university. “There used to be very few public places for heritage language speakers to learn their languages, but that changed after Sept. 11,” she explained. “They couldn’t find enough people with high enough language skills. That is when they began to look at heritage language speakers. With training, their language skills can advance. There are potential careers in government or security.”
Douglas earned her B.A. and M.A. from Kobe City University of Foreign Studies in Japan, another M.A. from Australian National University and a Ph.D. from USC in 1992.