Get to know Japanese Instructor
in this Speak! Spotlight interview!
Find our more about Speak! Japanese teacher, Hiroko Schierman. Hiroko joined our Asian Languages faculty just last year and we are delighted to have her on our growing team!
Tell us a little about yourself – where are you from in Japan, what brought you to Charlottesville etc.?
I am from a prefecture (like a state in the U.S.) called Okayama. It is in the southwestern part of mainland Japan, about a 4-hour bullet train ride from Tokyo. I came to the U.S. in the 90’s to pursue a master’s degree in Theatre at Arizona State. There, I met my husband, John. After we got married, we moved to Maryland and then Georgia before relocating to Charlottesville for my husband’s work. We have two teenagers, Jacob and Molly, and I really enjoy their company when we can get together.
What do you love most about teaching Japanese?
I love interacting with people. When I was learning English in high school, I wanted to be able to use English so that I could communicate with people all over the world. My ultimate goal is for my students to become proficient in Japanese and be able to use their skills to pursue their interests in communicating with Japanese people.
What do you like most about teaching at Speak! so far, and how is it different from your work at Albemarle High School?
What I like most about Speak! is that it offers a space to learn in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere. I have seen some enthusiastic learners at Speak!, who were enjoying learning. I also teach Japanese at Albemarle High School, which I absolutely love. My students at AHS are awesome! They may not like to do homework, but they want to learn and use Japanese. Many of them also have a keen interest in Japanese culture. I love working with my students at both places.
Tell us a bit about your teaching style and some of the activities or exercises that you find most effective, fun and/or successful with both beginning and more advanced students of Japanese.
For beginning learners, I always use a lot of gestures, since I like to stay in Japanese as much as I can. Research also shows that the motions can help in memorization. For that reason, we sing songs with hand motions. Singing is also a good way to relax, which I believe one needs to learn effectively. At the advanced level, most of my students are reading in Japanese. I try to incorporate reading in my class as much as I can.
What lesson/s have you learned from your students?
There is always something more to learn.
If you could learn another foreign language, which would it be and why?
I would try Spanish because it’s a very beautiful and romantic language.
You are the mother of two – do you have any advice for bilingual families living in the U.S.? How did you teach Japanese to your children and how have you balanced Japanese and American cultures in their lives?
From early in our children’s lives, we joined a group of Japanese families in Charlottesville to teach Japanese language and culture to our children. As they have gotten older, their interests have shifted to other things, but I try my best to keep Japanese culture and language in our daily lives. I often speak in Japanese to them and I often cook Japanese dishes for dinner. When we can, we go back to Japan to visit my parents and other parts of the country. Both my children have loved the trips we have made to Japan.
What are some Japanese customs you wish more Americans would adopt, if any?
In Japanese schools, students clean their classrooms at the end of every day. I think it fosters a sense of respect to the classroom and school property.
If you could import ANY three things (foods, customs, buildings) from Japan to Charlottesville, what would they be?
1. Mos Burger is a fast food restaurant just like a McDonald’s, only better. It has a variety of burgers with a unique Japanese twist, like a Teriyaki Chicken burger.
2.Karaoke is a Japanese favorite pastime. There are many Karaoke places around town. It would be a popular form of entertainment for families and friends here as well.
3. Kotatsu is a table with an electric heater attached underneath it. It is covered with a tablecloth that is like a thin comforter. When one sits at the table, their legs are kept nice and warm on cold winter days.
Interested in finding out more about our Japanese program and studying with Hiroko?