Her students convinced Yukari Nakamura Deacon to commit herself to teaching her native language. At the time, she was supporting herself by teaching Japanese in a small U.S. college, while she earned a Master’s degree; her plan was to become accredited to teach ESL at home in Japan. The American students would ask her about Japanese structures and usages, and she realized that she couldn’t answer their questions. The challenge led her to realize how much she needed to learn in order to get her students communicating–and that she wanted to learn it.
Yukari Nakamura was born in Iwakuni, in Yamaguchi Prefecture, a town situated at a river mouth among beautiful mountains. Iwakuni is the site of US Marine Corps Air base, so there was a vivid awareness of American culture. As a child, Yukari had English lessons, which she recalls with pleasure—the teacher’s pedagogical methods included rewarding vocabulary memorization with candy. The little girl became aware of cultural differences: Americans have different holidays, and different rules about, say, appropriate beverages at meals. This perspective on her own culture was liberating.
At Kansai Gaidai University, Yukari majored in English and American literature, and she took advantage of a year-abroad program. She was sent to St. Olaf College, in chilly Northfield, Minnesota. It was a difficult year, because of the cold, her homesickness, and her struggles to bring her English to new levels. Returning to Kansai, her immediate feelings were that she never wanted leave home again, but she began to realize that the improvement in her English skills had made it worth while.
She recalls how shocked she was by the attitude of the St. Olaf students in class. Unlike reserved Japanese students, they asked questions (thereby revealing that they had not understood the teacher!), expressed their feelings, and even challenged the instructor. At the time, she did not feel ready to join the discussions. A few years later, though, when she was teaching Japanese, it was the questions and challenges posed by her American students that she found exciting.
Yukari’s first job after graduation was with the university registrar’s office, but before long she decided she would rather teach. A program called Exchange: Japan offered the opportunity to study while teaching Japanese to American students. After a nine-week course in Japanese-language pedagogy at Bryn Mawr, she moved on to teach at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin. She earned a Master’s in Education at Carthage, but she also realized that teaching Japanese might be even more fulfilling than teaching English. To prepare for this, she enrolled in the Japanese Linguistics graduate program at University of Wisconsin, Madison.
After receiving her second MA, Yukari was eager to get into the classroom full time. The most attractive job opening was at UF. The warm weather enticed her, but even more so the pedagogical climate. She would be joining a team with a strong communicative approach and good departmental support. Susan Kubota and Yasuo Uotate (whom she had met at Bryn Mawr) welcomed her and took the time to make sure she was comfortable with the syllabus and included in conversations about the courses she was teaching. Along with her colleagues, UF students here exceeded her expectations. “They give back to me,” she says, admiring their motivation and willingness to work to learn the language.
Gainesville is now home. Yukari usually visits Japan in the summers, though this year she will not—her parents came to Gainesville instead, for her wedding to a UF linguistics graduate student, Joel Deacon, last winter. She notes that every time she returns—or just talks to Japanese exchange students here at UF—new words have crept into everyday language. She is alert to these changes, and concerned to keep her students using correct but also contemporary language. She is active in the AATJ (American Association for Teachers of Japanese) and the FFLA (Florida Foreign Language Association). Last year she received a teaching award from the FFLA.