A belated Happy New Year to all FLANC members. My winter vacation was rather busy. I spent the end of last year and the beginning of the New Year in Japan. First of all, however, I would like to report that the FLANC Workshops and Conference 2012 – “Languages are the Golden Gate to Culture” was a great success. [Please be prepared. My essay here may, in a sense, be cyclic, and the concept that I will talk about here may be cyclic as well.] To those who attended the conference, I would like to express my sincere appreciation. To the presenters, I am very much appreciative of your efforts in making preparations for your presentations. We were very happy to have all of you at the conference.
As you may be aware, FLANC is the oldest foreign language organization in Northern California. It started at UC Berkeley in 1952. Last year’s conference thus marked the sixtieth anniversary. Celebrating one’s sixtieth birthday is called “kan’reki” in Japanese, and it is an auspicious occasion because it is considered as a rebirth in Japan. This explanation may sound perplexing, but when a person lives to see his or her sixtieth calendar year, that person has lived through the entire sixty-year cycle of the traditional eto calendar and returned to the same “year” in which he or she was born (that is, the Least Common Multiple of ten stems/signs and twelve branches [which are the Chinese twelve zodiac]). The celebration of this feat has been popular since the Edo period (1603 – 1868). Furthermore, the concept of kan’reki is connected to the idea of rebirth, and, in this sense, FLANC is reborn and beginning another sixty years.
We were very happy to have the conference at San Francisco State University for the first time in three years. The College of Liberal and Creative Arts and the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at SF State sponsored the FLANC Workshops and Conference of 2012. We are indebted to a large number of people who have supported this conference at SF State, and special thanks go to Dr. Paul Sherwin, Dean of the College of Liberal and Creative Arts, Dr. Mohammad Salama, Acting Chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, and Mr. David Rich, an information technology consultant of the College of Liberal and Creative Arts.
We were also happy to collaborate with the Chinese Language Teachers Association of California (CLTAC) this time. Thanks to CLTAC’s organizing effort, we enjoyed the opportunity to listen to the plenary lecture by Dr. H. Douglas Brown, Professor Emeritus at SF State University. The title of his lecture was “The Social Responsibility of Language Teachers.” To those who missed the chance to listen to this world-renowned scholar’s lecture, do not get disappointed. I am happy to announce that his lecture is included in Volume 6 of Connections, the official journal of FLANC.
Many activities were organized to promote cross-cultural understanding at the FLANC Conference. As I wrote earlier, last year marked the sixtieth anniversary for FLANC. And last year, as a matter of fact, also marked the fortieth anniversary for the Northern California Japanese Teachers Association (NCJTA), an affiliate organization of FLANC. Wonderful news was that at the FLANC Conference, the Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco honored NCJTA for its forty years of services to the communities of the San Francisco Bay Area. The ceremony took place in front of not only Japanese-language teachers but also teachers of other languages. This was particularly good in terms of advocating the importance and benefits of learning not only a specific language but also foreign languages in general.
I would also like to make a report on Mr. Gavin Tranter of Livermore High School, the first recipient of the Alexandra C. Wallace Essay Contest Award, which was initiated by FLANC last year. Gavin was unable to attend, as he is now a freshman at a university in Washington State, but Ms. Katherine Paszkolovits, his former German teacher, who encouraged him to apply for the contest, was at the conference and accepted the certificate on Gavin’s behalf. She was very proud of him and made sure that he would receive the certificate. Chris Wallace, FLANC’s Executive Council member and Alexandra C. Wallace’s brother, talked about her memories as well. Furthermore, this was a big honor for the American Association of Teachers of German (AATG) NorCal members who attended the luncheon.
As I mentioned earlier, Volume 6 of Connections includes Dr. Brown’s plenary lecture. It also includes two articles prepared by those working for the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC), which is located at the Presidio of Monterey. As you may know, the Defense Language Institute (DLI) is an educational and research institution that provides linguistic and cultural instruction to the Department of Defense, other Federal Agencies, and a great number of customers around the world. Volume 6, as a matter of fact, also includes my article entitled “Getting Down to Business: Curriculum Development for Business Japanese Courses.” My article is a report on a (relatively) recently completed two-year curricular project, “Enhancing Business Japanese Pedagogy,” at SF State University. In this article I discussed course materials developed for use in two business-related Japanese courses, “Business Japanese” and “Advanced Business Japanese: Business Writing.” Specifically, the project described in the article developed digital audio-visual teaching modules, designed to broaden the learning experience of students studying Japanese as a second or foreign language.
For a researcher, receiving grants is imperative. The aforementioned article (that appears in Volume 6 of Connections) is the fruit of a 2009 U.S. Department of Education “Business and International Education” (BIE) grant, which not only allowed us to restructure SF State’s Japanese Program’s business related courses but it also supported my research over three years (2009 – 2011). My research has now shifted to another area, however. Now I would like to explain why I spent the end of the passing year and the beginning of the New Year in Japan for the first time in six years. One of the primary purposes of visiting Japan this time was to attend a meeting called the “International Symposium on the Construction of the Learners’ Corpus of Japanese as a Second Language (L2).” The symposium was held at the National Institute of Japanese Language and Linguistics (NINJAL) on January 5 and 6, 2013. This four-year project, which is supported by a grant from the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science 2012 – 2015, is a fairly big and, moreover, ambitious one that attempts to gather Japanese-language learners’ cross-sectional as well as longitudinal data in seventeen countries. As a guest professor of NINJAL, I am very honored and excited to be involved in this researcher-teacher collaboration project that plans to examine possibly different uses of the Japanese language by those native speakers of more than a dozen of different languages/dialects, namely, Chinese (both in China and Taiwan), English (in England, America, and Australia), French, Hungarian, Indonesian, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Thai, Turkish, and Vietnamese.
The aforementioned symposium itself served to provide a forum in which to examine contributions in a variety of L2 studies to the teaching and learning of Japanese in the L2 classroom. The symposium had at least two continuing interrelated areas of benefit. To begin with, both researchers and teachers benefited from each other’s expertise and received new insights applicable to their respective fields. Second and more important, the symposium served as a forum to promote ways in which to apply L2 theories to the learning of Japanese as an L2. In other words, what researchers have learned from both theory and practice can inform the teaching of language; conversely, language educators have a great deal to offer researchers regarding the phenomenon of language. The symposium’s orientation was thus to integrate theoretical concepts and empirical research findings in L2 development, so that they could be applied to educational practice. For this reason, the symposium’s main orientation was to advocate the importance of the integration of theoretical and empirical research findings in L2 development (including bilingualism) for application to educational practices so that the forthcoming project would become successful by appealing to researchers as well as practitioners.
Finally, let me mention one of the recent exhibits at the Tokyo National Museum. During my stay in Japan, to celebrate the New Year, flower arrangement demonstrations at the museum were co-organized by Ms. Nobu Kurashige, Head Ikenobo Professor and Managing Director of Ikenobo Ikebana, North America (which is located in San Francisco’s Japantown). Although very unique and even modern, her works at the museum evoked an association with kadomatsu, which literally means “gate pine,” a traditional Japanese decoration of the New Year placed in pairs in front of homes to welcome ancestral spirits or kami (God) of the harvest. In fact, Ms. Kurashige’s works included all essential designs for kadomatsu, which, despite possible regional differences, are made of pine, bamboo, and ume (plum) tree sprigs, and these three items, which are all considered to be auspicious for the New Year, represent longevity, prosperity, and steadfastness, respectively.
You may recall Ms. Kurashige’s presentation at the FLANC 2011 Conference at Berkeley City College. Many activities were organized to promote cross-cultural understanding at the FLANC 2011 Conference, and one of them was a live lecture-demonstration of flower arrangement entitled “The Odyssey of Ikenobo Ikebana: 550 Years” by Ms. Kurashige. [Incidentally, ikebana means “live-flower arrangement” in Japanese, and Ms. Kurashige’s ikebana demonstration illustrated the dazzling beauty of flowers as interpreted in this art form for over 500 years.] We felt, at the time of the conference, that it would be a good idea to ask Ms. Kurashige to write a short article on her thoughts about cross-cultural understanding through flower arrangements for Connections, and her article will appear in a forthcoming issue.
Your FLANC present,
Masahiko Minami, SF State University/NINJAL