Interview with Danielle Goldberg, MSU Japanese and Linguistics Graduate

Mariko Kawaguchi, Senior Instructor of Japanese, caught up with Danielle Goldberg, who graduated from MSU in spring 2023 with a B.S. in Communicative Sciences and Disorders with an additional major in Linguistics. She also minored in Japanese and Cognitive Science.

woman in front of Japanese statue

Q1. What do you do in the JET program, and what is it like teaching English in Japan? 

I am an Assistant Language Teacher through the JET Program at a rural junior high school in Gunma, Japan. In my placement, I assist three English teachers, one for each grade within my school. My responsibilities vary slightly in each class, but I typically assist in reading practice, accurate pronunciation, and improving English comprehension. I also participate in cultural exchange through presentations and communication boards about various holidays, religions, and special events within diverse American cultures.

Teaching English in Japan is nothing less than an absolute blast. With a linguistics and speech-language pathology background, I’m fascinated to see my students absorb language in real-time. I can use my limited Japanese skills with my students when English doesn’t suffice while also improving my language skills. Although I am an assistant to the head teachers, I’m grateful that my teachers seek input from me regarding native English phrasing and cultural differences that appear within the language.

Q2. Why did you choose to join the JET program?

I decided to join the JET program to better understand language teaching and comprehension and improve my teaching rapport before heading to graduate school. I want to empower my students to have a curiosity for language and other parts of different cultures other than their own. That curiosity within myself led me to study Japanese initially, and my passion for language learning continued my studies. I wanted to create a space for students to be comfortable with their mistakes and to encourage language learning, not for perfection, but for communication. I hope to incorporate the skills I learn in the JET program into my speech-language pathology master’s program.

Q3. What is it like living in a different country, especially where English isn’t an official language? What were some challenges you ran into (or still run into)? Was it hard to adjust at first?

Adjusting to life in Japan had a steep learning curve, but humility and curiosity led me to try my best and be comfortable asking for help. Initially, I ran into problems communicating with my supervisor about logistics, but we both work together whenever we communicate and use Google Translate when necessary. Also, I had to learn quickly that in small interactions where I used the wrong conjugated verb or pronounced a word strangely, I had to push past the embarrassment. Getting over this hill and focusing on trying my best in Japanese conversations has relieved much of the stress I held when first arriving in Japan.

I cannot emphasize enough how excellent my support teacher has been in my daily school life. My junior high school has one English support teacher, and she has been instrumental in helping me adjust to my personal and school lives. She makes sure I understand every announcement, know every meeting, and asks many questions on my behalf when my language skills don’t suffice.

Q4. How have your Linguistics and Japanese degrees from MSU prepared you for your current position at JET and the master’s program you will start in the fall?

My linguistics and Japanese language studies at MSU continue to have a direct benefit during my time on the JET Program. Although my Japanese language skills will continue to need improvement, my formal education at MSU allows me to communicate with my coworkers and students. In the classroom, I am able to help my students better understand grammar and vocabulary because of my Japanese education. I can assist my students in finding English vocabulary when needed, translate sentences into Japanese for better comprehension, and interact with my students in English and Japanese. In addition, after studying many aspects of language, I can better assist my students in understanding English phonetics and using accurate language to understand English syntax and its difference from Japanese syntax.

Heading into my master’s program in the fall, my linguistics and Japanese studies create an innate curiosity for language learning and acquisition. The LiLAC Department instilled a passion for other cultures and languages that will assist in cultural competency practices within graduate school learning.

woman on the street

Q5. Why was your MSU education special? What lessons did you learn here?

My MSU education prepared me not only to attend graduate school but also to move across the world. This speaks to the success of MSU’s incredible faculty and staff. In my time at Michigan State, my professors created an environment of curiosity within learning and compelled me to be curious about other cultures, languages, and ways of thinking. I always felt grateful to the College of Arts and Letters for making an overwhelmingly large university feel small and supportive. My professors created personal relationships with me even through the challenges of the pandemic.

My time at MSU gave me a phenomenal education that continues to aid me in my current position, and I’m confident in its lifelong impact on me.

Q6. I remember you studied in the UK while you were at MSU. Please tell me the program name, time, & location, and how your study abroad experience contributed to your overall education at MSU.

I studied in London, England, under the `Communication Disorders in the UK’ for about three weeks in July 2022. Within this study abroad experience, my cohort learned about and compared the UK treatment of communication disorders to the US system. Primarily, I compared a national healthcare system to a privatized healthcare system. This stark contrast between these two approaches of speech-language pathology solidified a passion for access to care in my future profession. Within my classes, I considered many perspectives providers have toward patients and continue to compare various ways of thinking within my time in Japan.

Q7. What was your senior thesis about? What went into this research, and what did you get out of that experience?

Because linguistics was my additional major, I did not need to do a senior thesis. However, I participated in a CSD research lab, the Developmental Speech Lab, under Dr. Bridget Walsh. My time in the lab taught me further empathy and understanding for those with speech differences, especially children. Studying the adverse effects stuttering has on children is crucial in understanding stuttering in general. The work Dr. Walsh and her team research will profoundly influence future speech-language pathology practices.

Q8. What’s next for you? Tell us about the graduate program you will start in the fall and your plans after that.

I will begin my Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology at Boston University’s Sargent College beginning fall 2024. The MS-SLP program at BU provides a unique experience with world-renowned faculty, diverse clinical placements, and interdisciplinary studies with other programs within the Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitative Sciences. I look forward to learning more about working with various age groups, identities, and communication challenges. Although I am interested in working with the pediatric population, I look forward to various clinical placements and experiencing unique parts of speech-language pathology. After graduating, I hope to work with children in clinical or school settings. I am passionate about creating empowering spaces for young children with negative perceptions of their speech challenges. I also hope to work in advocacy for access to care for speech-language pathology within marginalized communities.

Q9. What advice would you give to students looking to live outside the United States or pursue a graduate degree? 

For those looking to live outside the US, I encourage you to take the leap. I woke up on the day of my departure and thought, “I shouldn’t go. I need to stay home.” And that was clearly fear talking. I was incredibly nervous, but I knew I needed to take this step to better myself and have rich experiences beyond what I knew. I also encourage those who seek to live abroad to approach different cultures with humility, not superiority. While the culture I’m currently living in is entirely different than the one I grew up with, I’m learning new values and practices that challenge my preconceived way of life. And finally, if someone wishes to live in a different country that speaks a different language- you must learn the language. Showing effort to locals to communicate in their native language can go a long way and make life significantly easier. Language connects people, and you will have a richer experience.

For those seeking a graduate degree, don’t be afraid to take a gap year or gap years. Deferring from my graduate school of choice allowed me to experience the JET program, and this year is truly changing my life for the better. Do not rush into a graduate program simply because you think it is an obligation but because it is something you are passionate about. Additionally, this gap year would have sincerely strengthened my second round of applications if I had not been accepted into graduate schools. I am so grateful to my professors, both within ComArtSci and CAL, who encouraged me to embark on the JET program before my graduate schooling and I’m thankful every day that I listened to them.

Q10. What is your favorite part of your day-to-day?

My favorite part of my day-to-day life is my connections with coworkers and students. In particular, I can participate in daily cultural and language exchanges with two of my teachers- one English support teacher and one Japanese language teacher. Each day, I write a new word or phrase commonly used within English that likely is not formally taught. I find Japanese translations and write phrases or words within an example sentence. My teachers put the sticky notes in a notebook and collect all of them to refer back to. This part of my daily routine teaches me interesting Japanese phrases while sharing useful English with my coworkers!