York prof assists the University of Havana in setting up Japanese studies program

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York Professor Norio Ota was once again in Cuba to help the University of Havana’s Faculty of Foreign Languages – the Facultad de Lenguas Extanjeras (FLEX) – move toward setting up a Japanese studies program.

This was Ota’s second visit to Havana to help develop the teaching of Japanese. Ota stayed for four weeks, from Feb. 16 to March 13, to give part two of the Teaching of Japanese as a Foreign Language (TJFL) seminar to faculty. Ota was asked to assist FLEX’s senior faculty members in preparing their proposal for revamping the Japanese language as one of the second languages in the future.

“The focus of this session was on ‘Synergy, Empathy and the Communicative Approach’ in which I emphasized the synergistic effects and importance of empathy in second language acquisition,” says Ota, a professor in York’s Department of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics in the Faculty of Arts.

Left: Noriko Saito (second from right) of the Japan Foundation, Toronto, and Norio Ota (third from right) in Cuba with University of Havana faculty members

Ota also introduced Hot Potatoes – construction software used to build teaching Web sites – to create online exercises for self study. “All the participants created immediately usable exercises for the intranet of FLEX,” says Ota, who has provided FLEX with the updates of all the online materials he has been developing at York. “The faculty and students at FLEX can use all the functionalities now, including video files.”

In addition to TJFL, Ota taught introductory courses in Japanese linguistics, Japanese culture and society, classical Japanese and translation & interpretation. Ota also gave a special lecture to students and faculty members on cross-cultural communication. “I am very happy to see this progress toward setting up a Japanese studies program,” says Ota.

York’s Japanese Studies Program donated a brand new laser printer and the Faculty of Arts a used laptop to the Japanese faculty at FLEX. Professor Noel Rodriguez Niebla, head of French & Japanese and vice-dean of FLEX, has been invited to York by the Japanese Studies Program for four weeks in October as part of the exchange agreement between York University and the University of Havana. Niebla will observe classes and participate in the practicum as a part of the ongoing seminar. One faculty member of the Japanese program at FLEX will be invited to York in each year for further training in TJFL.

Noriko Saito, a program officer from the Japan Foundation, Toronto, visited the classes in an unofficial capacity for two days and gave a presentation on Japanese language education in Canada.

Ota may visit FLEX again in May to continue the project. He is also encouraging an expansion of the student and faculty exchange with FLEX to include other programs in York’s Department of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics.

For more information about York’s Japanese program, visit the Japanese Studies Program Web site.