The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun

Home > Campus Now > A WASEDA Miscellany (July)

Campus Now


A WASEDA Miscellany

Kate Elwood

This theme:Culturally aware

Kate Elwood / School of Commerce Associate Professor

Q. Please tell about your background before becoming an associate professor at Waseda.

A. Well, I studied French in junior high and high school and planned to major in it. But upon reaching the university level, I missed the joy of learning a new language. After reading two translated versions of the Tale of Genji I became interested in Japanese and began to study it. In my junior year I was an exchange student at ICU and ended up transferring there, majoring in Japanese history. Following graduation I worked in public relations and journalism. After I taught one course part-time at a university I found that I loved teaching and went back to graduate school. I am now in my seventh year in the School of Commerce here at Waseda.

Q. What is your impression of Japanese students compared with American students?

A. Japanese students sometimes get a bad press from educators but I love teaching them English. Though they are now more opento risk than in the past, they are still somewhat shy compared to U.S. students. I think Japanese students feel more pressure, forexample, to get into a very good company than their U.S. counterparts, who of course also want to get a good job but view theircareers as something that will develop over the years.

Q. What are your impressions about the changes in the way Japanese students think?

A. Japanese students now have more global experience with more of them having been abroad, some for a year or more, and othersfor shorter periods. Perhaps as a result of this, I fi nd that Waseda students are more aware of other cultures. In contrast, I fi nd that U.S.students tend to be somewhat more insular.

Q. What is necessary for the education of students in the future?

A. On a general level, Waseda - like all universities - needs to consider the role of ethics in education. In Japan there have been manycorporate scandals and indeed at universities recently. I feel that universities can play a big role in educating students about this andin developing their awareness of their responsibility to society.
On a specifi c level, as an English teacher, I feel we need to make students more aware of the cultural component of communication.My fi eld of research involves something called cross-cultural pragmatics, which deals with how "speech acts", such as apologies,requests, or refusals are accomplished in various cultures. For example, an apology in America and one in Japan are often different.In America when apologizing, a reason is usually given as to why a certain situation occurred. On the other hand, in Japan, explainingreasons sometimes is viewed as making excuses so they tend to be used less in apologies. In cross-cultural situations Japanesepeople may think Americans are avoiding taking responsibility for something that has occurred while Americans may feel an apologywithout a reason provided sounds incomplete or even empty. It is important to make students more culturally aware of thesedifferences and I'd like to this kind of research brought into the classroom more.

Q. What are some devices or ideas that you have introduced from an educational standpoint?

A. When studying Japanese in the U.S. I had great teachers who spoke to me very slowly, using easy grammar and I got an A in thecourse. However, upon arrival at Narita I found that nobody spoke that slowly and it took me a long time to get up to speed. For thisreason, in class I always make sure to speak at a normal level. If students can understand 50% of what I am saying then that is fi ne. Ofcourse any information or homework is also provided in written form to the students. Even at the end of a 13-week course the studentssay they feel more confi dent listening to English. I also feel that students need more exposure to a variety of types of accents becausethey will certainly come into contact with a wide range of accents in the U.S. and elsewhere

Q. What are your impressions of the differences between Japanese and American universities?

A. In Japan, teachers usually start by teaching part-time at various universities. When a teacher gets a full-time position at a universitythat has traditionally meant tenure. On the other hand, in the U.S., many teachers are full-time for many years before receiving tenureand they don't know whether they will get it or not. A smaller difference is that in Japanese universities entering students are dividedup into classes or groups, which gives them an automatic feeling of belonging somewhere, whereas in the U.S., students must forgetheir own way to a greater extent. I feel that the Japanese way is probably a good thing as the students can get a feel for Waseda bygoing to parties with members of their class and so on.

Q. What do you think is necessary for Japanese universities in the future?

A. As I mentioned earlier, a focus on the development of students with a strong ethical sense isa vital issue in my opinion. Another change taking place now throughout Japan is making theEnglish entrance exam more refl ective of real-world English ability by, for example, adding alistening component. Some people are impatient for change but care is needed to think thingsthrough suffi ciently and makes changes that are truly benefi cial.

Q. Do you have a message for the students?

A. Be sure to enjoy your university life every day, as the four years of university go by so fast!