President’s Message – Spring 2011

President’s Message

 

A Happy New Year to all FLANC members! I am writing this message with a reflection on what I have done so far since I became President of FLANC last summer.

First, I would like to emphasize that the FLANC Fall Conference 2010 was a great success. To those who attended the conference, I would like to say thank you. We were very glad to have our conference here at Berkeley City College (BCC) this year. As a matter of fact, while FLANC, which started at UC Berkeley in1952, is the oldest foreign language organization in Northern California, holding the conference at BCC was its very first event. Everything was held on BCC’s basement level. All presentations were given there. Everything was visible. With twenty steps in any direction, you could see the exhibitors, get coffee, eat lunch, go to the restrooms, and get to the classrooms in order to listen to presentations. Physically and logistically, everything was compact and close together. It was very convenient.

A movie entitled “The Harimaya Bridge” was shown at the FLANC Fall Conference. Although it was listed in the Japanese-language section, the movie was beyond a specific-language session. The Harimaya Bridge is a bridge located in Japan’s Kōchi Prefecture. The Harimaya Bridge is a bridge also featured in a famous song about the forbidden love between a Buddhist priest and a young girl. In a sense, the song represents a cross-cultural communication or even miscommunication. The movie “The Harimaya Bridge” was written and directed by Mr. Aaron Woolfolk who taught English at junior high school in Kōchi Prefecture. The movie “The Harimaya Bridge” is Mr. Woolfolk’s first feature film.  In short, the film is a drama about an African-American man, who lives in San Francisco but must journey to rural Japan (Kōchi Prefecture) to claim some important items belonging to his late son. The father struggles to overcome his animosity toward Japan, a result of his own father’s death in a Japanese POW camp during WWII. But things become complicated when he learns that his son has left behind some secrets in Japan. The film director, screenwriter Mr. Woolfolk was also at the conference, and those who attended the conference had an opportunity to listen to what he had to say about the movie and his own experience in Japan as an English-language teacher in Japan.

Second, I would also like to report my participation in the 2010 American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Convention and World Languages Expo, which was held on November 19-21, in Boston. Personally, this was a somewhat sentimental journey as well. Prior to coming to the San Francisco Bay Area, I lived in the Greater Boston Area for ten years, and I visited Boston for the first time in thirteen years since I left there in 1997! Some have changed a great deal whereas others have not. A lot of fond memories came back to me.

Professionally, I have been actively involved in local and national professional organizations, serving as a president, an executive council member, and an editorial board member. For the past five years in particular, I have been serving as President of the Northern California Japanese Teachers’ Association (NCJTA). NCJTA is a regional organization affiliated with FLANC. As NCJTA President and now also as FLANC President, I have been devoting my efforts to fostering collaboration between the board and the general membership for NCJTA and FLANC to engage actively in intellectual exchange and discussion, and to promote studies aimed at increasing the scope of knowledge among persons interested in foreign languages and cultures. Unfortunately, however, it’s easier said than done. Diverse questions or even uncertainties occur, such as (1) whether the organization is successfully responding to the needs of its members, (2) whether the organization is sufficiently providing its members with curriculum ideas and resources, (3) whether dissemination of information (e.g., employment opportunities) is adequate, and (4) whether the organization is attractive to language teachers, to begin with.

The ACTFL Convention opened my eyes in many ways. Having one leader is not sufficient to maintain a healthy and long-lasting organization. What happens if that leader becomes exhausted and quits his or her job? The organization will eventually suffer from malnutrition or even hibernation. Recruiting new members is important. Avoiding overloading and burnout is important. We should not always depend on the same individuals.

I learned the importance of networking on behalf of foreign language education. This emphasis, of course, includes networking not only between regional organizations and national-level ones, but also between specific-language organizations and foreign-language ones. In a nutshell, we should not allow the organization to be a loner. Instead, communication between local-level organizations (e.g., FLANC, NCJTA) and national-level organizations (e.g., ACTFL) is important; in many cases, national-level organizations should support regional ones. Also, maintaining communication between specific-language organizations and organizations of language in general (e.g., ACTFL, FLANC) holds significant meaning, particularly for the purpose of making the language visible among other foreign languages.

At the ACTFL Convention, I also learned the importance of advocacy. Advocacy, which means the act or process of advocating, is certainly the key to the success of a school program. Advocating not only to school faculty and administrators but also to parents, local communities, and policymakers is important. In a broad sense, therefore, advocacy means influencing public policy and resource allocation decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions.

More important, “networking” and “advocacy” are inseparable. To begin with, advocating not only for specific-language education but also for foreign language education has significant implications. This is so because if a specific-language program of your institution is a tree, specific-language programs form a grove, and foreign language education forms a forest. At the individual level, improving our teaching skills will certainly attract more students. Advocating the presence and the significant role of our specific-language programs is necessary for sure. We should not stop there, however. We need to make people aware of the value of foreign language education. Advocating the importance and benefits of learning a specific language and even foreign languages holds significant meaning. In this way, we should move from micro-level advocacy to macro-level advocacy. Advocacy and networking are thus connected and multilayered concepts.

To summarize, the ACTFL Convention covered diverse areas, including networking, advocacy, and research. The convention was informative in order to promote better articulation from every aspect. In fact, I met a couple of FLANC Executive Council members there. I learned a great deal from the convention, and I am very much appreciative of being given the opportunity to attend the convention in Boston.

 

Your FLANC present,

Masahiko Minami, SFSU

President’s Message – Fall 2010

President’s Message

My summer vacation was rather busy, spending the end of May and early June in Japan. As a matter of fact, my stay in Japan was not a vacation. I gave lectures at Kobe University, Kobe Japan, and at the National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics in Tokyo. In additional to those lectures, of course, I enjoy staying in Japan, visiting many places. For instance, every time I return to Japan, new items or gadgets stimulate me. This time I bought a new digital camera!

 

My term as FLANC President abruptly started with the June Council meeting, which took place right after my return from Japan. The June meeting usually marks the transition of our organization’s administration. Ed Stering is now Past President but continues to be my mentor, and I hope that he will continue to give me a ride to attend the Council meeting. In any case, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Ed and other Council members for their strong leadership and guidance during the past year. Several of the Council members have been president in the past, and I look forward to working with them in leading this vibrant organization so that we will be able to effectively respond to the needs of the membership and further advance FLANC’s mission.

 

At San Francisco State University, I teach classes in all areas of the extensive Japanese program. For the past five years, I have been President of the Northern California Japanese Teachers’ Association. I am also Coordinator of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test for Northern California. My special field of research is in bilingual education and cross-cultural studies. I have written extensively on psycho/sociolinguistics with particular emphasis on cross-cultural comparisons of language development and narrative/discourse structure. I have published works covering cultural constructions of meaning, childcare quality in Japan, and the experiences of East Asian students in US classrooms. I have always felt that producing research in the public interest is more important than anything else. As a language researcher interested in analyzing, evaluating, and exploring the relationship between education theory and practice, I have particularly interested in providing a lens through which practice can be seen and brought into focus for the improvement of bilingual or foreign language education at various academic levels.

 

Bilingualism/bilingual education and foreign language teaching are inseparable. At the university where I teach, I often encounter students of Japanese heritage in my Japanese language classes. Some were born in the United States, but their mothers are Japanese. Others were born in Japan and brought to the United States when they were very young. Sadly, many of these students do not speak fluent Japanese or have simply forgotten their mother tongue. In many bilingual and multilingual societies, a language shift in immigrant families takes place rapidly, with a prevalent pattern of a total shift to the dominant or prestige language within two to four generations. Unfortunately, parents’ desperate endeavor to maintain their native language and cultural heritage is often unsuccessful. To make matters worse, in U.S. society, in which English is the dominant and prestigious language, children of immigrant families tend to be critical of their parents’ efforts to maintain their native language.

 

There are not only cultural problems but also societal problems as well. For the past couple of years, many educational organizations throughout the U.S. have been hit by budget cuts. Our schools on the West Coast are not immune from this crisis. The budget cuts that are currently occurring at all levels throughout the country particularly threaten the future of foreign language education. Advocating for the importance of foreign language education at all levels – from K through 16 – is more critical now than ever before.

 

My terms as FLANC President (“abruptly” at least in my mind) started as I wrote above. Nonetheless, I am ready to devote my efforts towards fostering collaborative efforts between the Council and the general membership in order to create opportunities for FLANC to engage actively in intellectual exchange and discussion, and to promote studies aimed at increasing the scope of knowledge among persons interested in foreign languages and cultures. One way to gauge the quality of a professional organization is by the papers presented at its annual meeting, and I am also ready to collaborate with the Council members in order to make our annual Fall Workshops and Conference successful.

 

Your new FLANC present,
Masahiko Minami, SFSU