I received some very sad news today—an old classmate called me late in the afternoon to let me know that one of our Japanese professors had recently passed away. Professor Terakura was a wonderful teacher and mentor during a truly legendary time in the Japanese language teaching department at the University of Alberta. I consider myself lucky to have had her as a professor.
On the walk home from work, all sorts of little moments and conversations with Terakura-sensei floated through my thoughts— each of our Japanese teachers seemed to have a specialty (i.e. our grammar teacher was a Japanese native speaker with a Masters degree in English Grammar) . Terakura-sensei’s specialty, on the other hand, was definitely the subtle nuances of Japanese conversation, and she truly enjoyed talking with all of us.
Because classroom conversations would range into all kinds of topics, we would always inevitably digress into interesting tangents— I always appreciated how she could let the class guide the conversation, but still provide the structure to keep the class robust.
I’ll always be grateful for the support and encouragement that she offered before I went on my academic exchange to Japan; that support continued when I came home and had to negotiating transfer credit with my home university (not as straightforward as you might imagine!)
Even after retiring, she continued to host Japanese conversation circles in her home; when I returned to Canada after living in Japan and China, she took my wife and I out for dinner to share our enthusiasm for our then unborn son. I really can’t say enough about this wonderful woman and her giving heart.
Many of my blog posts have a strong theme of “do-it-yourself” language learning; indeed, with all of the media, resources and communication tools available today, it’s never been easier to be an independent language learner. Having said that, if you’re going to make significant progress with a language, you’re going to need to be able to have a chance to have some sustained interaction with someone who is prepared to be a cultural ambassador to help you dive a little deeper into the language. These people don’t necessarily need to stay with you for the whole journey, but if you’re lucky, they’ll walk with you for awhile and help you to create the circumstances for the next mentor to help you further along the way… and on it goes….
Terakura-sensei was one of those people for me. I’m sure she was a positive force for countless students, and she will definitely be missed.