Faculty Spotlight Part II: Professor Yuko Otsuka, specialist in linguistics, Tongan and Polynesian Languages

In the second part of our conversation with Professor Otsuka, she offers her advice to those studying English and speaks about issues of interest in her field.

Angles Editors: We’ve both gone through the teacher training course. As a senpai of language teaching and learning, do you have any advice for students studying English?

001Professor Otsuka: I think you need to have some purpose of why you want to be fluent in English.  When I was in high school I admired people who could speak like a native speaker in terms of how they sound. And I think some Japanese students are mesmerized by the pronunciation but not paying attention to what they are saying. As I grew older, I started to listen and think about all of these important people from all over the world, making speeches in English with very strong accents, but you listen and then you get touched by what they are saying.  At some point I started to realize, it’s not how you sound, but it’s what you are saying and being fluent in English is not being able to pronounce words, but using English to convey your ideas.  Unless you have something you want to say and someone you want to tell that to, you won’t become fluent.

Angles Editors: Is there something in your field right now that you are particularly interested in or you something you think is a hot topic you want people to know about?

Professor Otsuka: What I do is very technical, but recently Chomsky’s idea that language acquisition is an innate ability and species specific, is being challenged by others. I like pursuing this line of approach, but I’m interested to see if this tradition will continue to be supported in the future.

 Angles Editors: You said that your field is very technical, so what books or articles or books would you recommend to students interested in learning more about your field?

 Professor Otsuka: There is a book called The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker. He is a Cognitive Scientist. This is the book that introduces the idea of Chomskian Grammar to complete novices.  You will learn a lot about what is language and how this theory was developed.  If you’re interested in that subject, then you should read it and then you can take my courses and go deeper into the theoretical side.  The Pinker book is really entertaining and he’s a very good writer. There are a lot of useful anecdotes.  He’s interested in how the mind works, how the mind processes language. He explains things very easily and in a fun way.

Angles Editors: Finally, do you have any message or advice for future students?

Professor Otsuka: What I tell my students is that university is where you control your learning. And unless you take initiative you don’t learn much.  I also strongly believe that students learn from each other as much as from the instructor.  So I want my classroom to be an open environment where everybody respects everyone.  Everyone is an expert in something. Everybody knows something better than anyone else the class, including the professor, because of your background and experience. The classroom is where you share that expertise and learn from each other and enrich your life.  University is only the beginning so it’s very important to try and expand your horizons when you’re in it.  Find what you enjoy and learn what you can.  A university is a universe.  You need to be curious and take initiative and then you will find something.

Professor Otsuka teaches topics in Linguistics, Grammatical Theory, and a seminar in Formal Syntax. Take her classes to learn more about her ideas and her approach to linguistics and language theory.  

To read the first part of the interview, please click here.