Member’s Profile - Diane Hawley Nagatomo

Diane Hawley Nagatomo


In this edition of Member’s Profile, Diane Hawley Nagatomo shares her journey from eikaiwa teacher to researcher and materials writer.


Like many long-termers here, I came to Japan for a one-year experience abroad, to learn fluent Japanese, to have some fun, and then return to my real life in California. That was thirty-three years ago. Instead of becoming an elementary school teacher like I had planned, I became an English teacher instead. At first, I didn’t know what I was doing at all.  I have a vivid memory of one of my very first students at the language school that hired me (and just about any other foreigner on a tourist visa) running out of my lesson in tears five minutes after it started, never to return. I was terrified that someone might ask me a grammar question and while teaching I was so nervous I was usually drenched in sweat.Eventually I decided that I liked teaching English and that I had a flair for it. I got my foot in the university teaching door in 1984 and upgraded my skills and knowledge with an MA and more recently, in 2010, a PhD.

My research interests have run along several lines. First, I’m interested in materials writing and my focus has been mainly on developing EFL textbooks to be used by Japanese university teachers. Thinking about what these teachers want and need in language teaching materials led me to the path that my doctoral research eventually took, which was looking at Japanese English teachers’ professional identity. I decided to focus on these teachers because in many instances they identify as specialists in English-related subjects such as literature or linguistics, and not as language teachers. Nevertheless, they have a tremendous influence over English language education in Japan: they not only teach English language to enormous numbers of university students, they are also responsible for teacher education classes to train prospective English teachers and they construct the English component of entrance exams which is commonly known to be of utmost concern for secondary school teachers and students.

During the course of my research, I travelled throughout Japan and interviewed numerous Japanese teachers in various types of universities. The stories these teachers told me about their struggles in merging their identities as specialists in their fields and as teachers of English were fascinating. One thing that struck me in particular was that my female participants and my male participants live significantly different professional lives. A common thread found in all interview data was women’s feelings of marginalization and discomfort from being in the gendered minority in their workplaces. One female associate professor confessed that at times she feels like an interloper in an academic men’s club—a sentiment that was generally shared by all the other women. I found that the path toward becoming a university English teacher may be quite different for women than it is for men and that English language learning itself is very much full of gendered ideologies.

When my doctoral research ended, I decided to continue my investigation of the lives of female teachers. Now I am examining how foreign female teachers, many of whom are married to Japanese and thus have a long-term vested interest in Japan, construct their identities as teachers, members of a Japanese family, and as members of their local Japanese communities. Many of these women don’t have backgrounds in applied linguistics and they may not attend expensive language teaching conferences like JALT. They are not only unlikely to conduct and write up empirical research about themselves, their teaching practices, or their students, they seem to be ignored by researchers as well. To date I’ve found scant literature focusing on this group of teachers, but because they teach numerous students of various ages and occupations in their homes, in their students’ homes, and in their local communities, they play an important role in planting seeds of motivation, which I believe shape the linguistic outcomes of many language learners in Japan. In many instances my own students, many who intend to become English teachers, say their interest in English was initially sparked because of private conversation lessons they had with a foreigner— quite often a local housewife.  

Investigating relatively unexplored groups of language teachers—whether they are university English teachers or foreign housewives—has been very professionally satisfying.  I believe that examining all the pieces of the language-learning puzzle in Japan will enable us to gain a more complete picture of English language learning and English language teaching in the Japanese context.


Diane Hawley Nagatomohas been living and teaching in Japan for more than 30 years. She is an associate professor at Ochanomizu University and has a PhD in Linguistics from Macquarie University. She has authored and coauthored numerous EFL textbooks for the Japanese market. Her book Exploring Japanese University English Teachers’ Professional Identity was published by Multilingual Matters in February 2012. She is currently a co-coordinator for the GALE-SIG. She can be reached at <>.

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