Meet Yuko Kokubo: Our Japanese Lesson Creator

Our lesson materials are a big reason learning with us is so fun and effective! But did you know that besides English lessons, we also have Japanese, Korean, and Chinese materials?

Today, we’ll go behind the scenes to talk to Yuko-san, the mastermind behind our Japanese learning materials.

— So tell us about yourself!

Hi, I’m Yuko. I like to watch sumo wrestling and play catch with my dog, Dodger! 

— Interesting! I hear you have a background in languages?

Yes, so I studied in Canada and both my undergrad and graduate studies were in applied linguistics, with a focus on English and Japanese pedagogies. The best part of my studies was that we didn’t only learn about teaching. We also had the opportunity to work directly with students studying those languages at the university.

— What got you interested in Canada?

I’ve always associated Canada with majestic nature, a relaxed lifestyle, and other peaceful things, and I thought it’d be great to learn English in a nice environment like that.

Also, since I studied American English in middle and high schools, I wanted to continue learning a similar variety of English there.

— And what got you interested in languages?

The first time I encountered English was in middle school. While the process of memorizing vocabulary and grammar rules felt mechanical, it was interesting to use those rules to express myself in another language.

Then, when I studied in Canada, I started to think that it’d be great to teach either English or Japanese. So in the first two years of university, I took some intro courses in linguistics, studying things like the phonologies and grammar of different languages as well as the relationship between thought and language. 

I enjoyed these courses enough to major in applied linguistics and also pursue graduate studies in the same field.

— Did you have any difficulties learning English?

Well, I’m not too good at speaking, even in Japanese. So there are some occasions where I cannot put the right words together in English, and that really stresses me out. 

Funnily enough, I don’t have this problem when writing in English. It’s as if my brain and hands are directly connected. But when I have to speak, somewhere in my nervous system, a link gets cut off!

However, from my time studying abroad up to now, no one has ever made an unpleasant face or cut me off because of my English. So I’m very thankful for all these people who took the time to understand me. I try to be like them when someone tries to talk to me in Japanese as well.

— It’s reassuring to hear that you have been through the struggles of learning a language. What’s your role on the Content Team by the way? And what’s it like to make materials? 

I’ll focus on the Japanese materials, as I have been more involved in this project recently. 

Most of our Japanese lessons are short reading materials. We have eight themes, including culture, travel, education, and food. I come up with topics to write about, but many ideas also come from other non-Japanese team members, including my partner who is JLPT N1-certified.

Together, we’ve also devised detailed guidelines for each level dictating what vocabulary and grammar are appropriate, how long passages should be, and what exercises would be most effective.

— Would you say there are any differences in perspectives between native and non-native speakers when developing materials?

Yes, definitely! While I always aim to use natural and easy-to-understand expressions, it’s helpful to have staff members who’ve actually studied the language check my work. They’re also great at noticing what concepts might be difficult to understand for people not from Japan, in which case they’ll suggest different ways to explain it or visuals to illustrate it.

— What would you say is the strength of our materials?

Our team consists of diverse members from English-speaking countries like the US, UK, and New Zealand but also from other parts of the world, like Serbia and Taiwan. Some of our material developers were also tutors on our platform. And each lesson is the product of repeated discussions, corrections, and revisions, which is why I think the quality is so good.

— So each new lesson material “travels around the world” before being released! What’s your favorite material? Do you have any suggestions about how users should use them?

All our materials are developed with a lot of passion and time, so it’s difficult to pick one, but I recommend Daily News. I think an effective way to use it is to:

  1. Read the article silently and without using a dictionary. Then look up the words you’re curious about. 
  2. Once you understand the article, you can read it out loud. I’d recommend taking an online lesson at this point, as the tutor can help correct your pronunciation and then you can have a discussion using the questions provided. 
  3. After the lesson, look up short videos on the internet that talk about the news.

— Do you have any final advice for our students?

When you take lessons, there will be times when you wonder if you’re really improving. But you are! I assure you! 

You should take pride in your little successes, like when you manage to say a phrase you’ve never used before or when you notice that you understand the tutors more than before. Celebrate these “little successes” and before you know it, you’ll make more progress than you’ve ever imagined.

So keep it up! I’ll be cheering for you through our materials!