Adjunct faculty member Naoko Ozaki is gaining a reputation on campus and in the Nashville community for her techniques to teach Japanese to Belmont students. Their in-classroom experience includes games of charades, and on the weekends, students dine at local Japanese restaurants, make sushi and volunteer at local Japanese festivals.
“I believe in the grammar translation method of education: study grammar, read and write, in combination with communicative approach,” said Ozaki, who also advocates for cultural immersion and has created a micro environment for her students to interact with people whose first language is Japanese. All of Ozaki’s students interact each week with Japanese immigrants she met at the Nashville Cultural Festival. Ozaki gives guidelines on which grammar patterns to use and during the hour-long session, they split their time equally conversing in Japanese and English to help each other develop language skills and with culture nuances.
“(Students) are happy with the fact they go to the store and can read the words on products and recognize words when they watch Japanese movies. They have learned 400 characters and can converse at limited capacity but can ask questions and put together simple sentences,” said Ozaki, adding that she strives to build a sense of unity and sense of belonging in Belmont’s Japanese program.
The classes performed this past Saturday at the Nashville Cherry Blossom Festival in the Public Square.
“She said she wanted to start a choir, and our class was like, ‘yeah, OK.’ Then she told us she got us a gig. It was a little surprising for us as a class, but fun,” said Cecilia Tregelles, a junior in the entertainment industry studies program.
The choir includes all three Japanese classes, former humanities students and community members. They sang the popular Japanese song “Please Give Me Wings,” which is used in an anime television program, as well as the Swahili song “Jambo,” which students translated into Japanese.
“In a usual language class, the teacher goes through grammar and reviews homework, and coming to Japanese class I expected the same thing. Sensee has us get up to do movements to internalize the vocabulary we are learning and teaches us onomatopoeias in Japanese,” Tregelles said.
Added to Belmont’s curriculum this academic year, Ozaki’s advanced class has students translate poems and short stories from Japanese into English.
“They are difficult to do because based on Japanese philosophy of Shinto, the indigenous religion of Japan. Students translate literally into English, and they examine the philosophy and history the poem is based around and make it recognizable in English while maintaining Japanese essence,” Ozaki said.
At the end of the semester, they hope to publish a text of their translations.
“It is a unique way to learn about the language because most language classes are about studying things out of the textbooks. When you learn out of a textbook, the broad meaning is understood, but it is not experienced in the same way,” said Troy Grooms, a senior majoring in audio engineering technology. “When translating stories and poems, we wrestle with more complete thoughts and experience the nuances of the language.”