Yasuo Uotate

Yasuo Uotate won a 2013 teaching award in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences—despite, or because of, being well-known among his students as “strict.”[1] Even in the first year, he expects students to address him in Japanese; his methods create a community within and even outside the classroom, as students learn to handle more and more transactions in their new language.

Yasuo was born in Kushimoto, a small town at the southern tip of Honshu Island. In junior high, he excelled in math and science, and thus he entered a high school focusing on those subjects. However, his interests changed;  watching American TV shows, he began to take an interest in the English language—though it was so much more resistant to his analytical mind. He majored in English at Kansai Gaidai University, near Osaka.

Yasuo travelled on four continents during his college years. As a freshman, he spent a month in Hawaii, on a program which included a quick trip to California. The next year, he visited Italy. He studied for a year in Perth, Australia, struggling a bit with the Australian accent. He spent enough time with Singaporean fellow students to pick up some “Singlish” as well as improving his English. He went backpacking in Malaysia and Thailand.

BA work at Kansai Gadai included a minor in teaching Japanese, as well as a major in teaching ESL, with brief stints in the classroom. Yasuo considered returning to Australia, but the most attractive grad school offer came from the U.S. He obtained support as a teaching assistant at West Chester University in Pennsylvania.

A training program in Georgia prepared him to teach beginning Japanese. At the same time, as part of his graduate work in teaching ESL, he found himself teaching English to international students at a private school in West Chester.

This was the critical moment when he realized that he would rather teach Japanese than English. Yasuo realized that, as a native speaker, he had resources to offer students of Japanese that he would probably never have when teaching English, no matter how sophisticated his knowledge of the language became. (Yukari Deacon made the same decision to move from a career teaching ESL to one teaching Japanese, at about the same point in her own career, though her reasoning was different.) Although he completed the MA in ESL at West Chester, his ideas about his next step changed.

Williams College offered Yasuo a position as a Language Fellow in Japanese. His two years there were essential for developing sound pedagogical practices. He had some further training at Bryn Mawr (where he met Yukari Nakamura Deacon, who would eventually become a colleague at UF). After Williams, he went on to a position at Bates College in Maine. Then a position at UF opened up, and he came here.

Coming from stints at small liberal arts colleges in the Northeast, Yasuo needed a little time to adjust to the academic atmosphere at a big state university. Students enroll in Japanese with a varied set of study habits and goals., and sometimes have to learn quickly how much work is needed to master the material. He values and exploits student interest in various aspects of Japanese culture (these days, he notes, some of them are playing the Japanese-language versions of video games).  His students quickly become involved in learning beyond the confines of the textbook, so that in 2nd year he can ask them to share favorite Japanese or Japanese-language-learning websites.

Uotate-sensei is an important part of the Japanese team at UF; like the other Japanese lecturers, he teaches language at elementary, intermediate, and advanced levels, and in addition he teaches Business Japanese. He is not confined to Gainesville and UF; he returns to Japan during most summers, to teach Japanese at Kanazawa Institute of Technology.

[1] “Strict” is a term a Japanese major of my acquaintance mentioned as associated with Uotate-sensei. She characterizes him as “feared but loved.”