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Masashi Kato: Enhancing Language Learning

Masashi Kato, HCDE

Masashi Kato
Technical Japanese Program
University of Washington, Seattle Campus



Interactive Multimedia Application Enhances Language Learning

Imagine negotiating a competitive business deal using a foreign language where you have to adjust not only your word choice, but your intonation, timing, and body language based on the situation. Often simply knowing the vocabulary is not enough. Masashi Kato, a Technical Japanese Program instructor, teaches engineering and business students Japanese which they will use in technical business settings. Kato believes “a holistic approach is needed to convey the complexity and the subtlety of speaking Japanese in a business environment.”

Kato encountered challenges while teaching technical Japanese. He realized that his students could not master the subtle non-verbal aspects of Japanese by reading books or doing written exercises, and participation in classroom activities was unsuccessful as his students were not comfortable reciting dialogues and role-playing in class. Kato knew that he needed to do something to bridge the gap between learning the language and being able to actually use it in genuine situations.

To meet this need, Kato and his colleagues, Michio Tsutsui and Joe Kim, developed Language Partner, an interactive multimedia software application. Using digital audio and video segments of model dialogues, students watch and hear a conversation from three viewpoints: the two speakers and a third person. An adjacent frame displays the conversation text in Japanese or English. Students can listen, watch, read, and practice the dialogues as much as they like. They can even record themselves and compare their dialogue to the speakers. Kato explains, “Watching the speakers helps students learn the more subtle aspects of the language and important non-verbal actions. They can also practice as much as they like at home until they have mastered key phrases and words that are common but are said differently based on the situation.”

Using Technology to Enhance Learning

Kato uses Language Partner in the course: Technical Communication 471, Oral Communication in Technical and Business Settings. In class, students participate in person-to-person dialogues, and Language Partner gives students similar model dialogues to practice on their own as preparation. Practicing these dialogues using Language Partner is an integral part of mastering the nuances of conversation and becoming comfortable in business situations.

Beyond Technical Japanese

After seeing the success of Language Partner in his classroom, Kato realized that other language students could benefit from practicing with the program. He and his colleagues worked with UW Techtransfer Digital Ventures, a unit of the Office of the Vice Provost for Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer, to make the software available to other instructors. They added the capabilities of using Language Partner for virtually any language-to-language (English-Spanish, Japanese-French, etc) instruction. Additionally, instructors can use a store of existing dialogues from the LP database, or easily create their own using LP Author, an easy-to-use tool that requires no special expertise or hardware.

Language Partner is an example of how technology can be utilized to teach and learn aspects of a subject that cannot easily be taught by traditional methods. Kato has created a technological solution that is simple and inexpensive to use. Indeed, applications like Language Partner succeed because of their simplicity, ease of use, expandability, and customizability.

Last reviewed November 30, 2020