Akiko Ota, Director of the English Language Learning Center (ELLC) at Governors State University, has always had a heart for bilingual and international education, but it was her own personal teaching experience in Portland, Oregon that illuminated a new personal mission. That was in 2002.
Ota, an immigrant from Japan, had travelled to the states to study English as a Second Language, with the hopes of returning home with new skills. Her experince in the classroom ignited a passion for teaching in the U.S., where the need for English learning has been growing at a record pace. In Cook County alone, approximately one in six households has a limited-English proficient (LEP) member.
Now, 18 years later, Ota is taking a leading role in advocating for this community. As the Director of the ELLC, she wakes up every day with one primary goal—to serve students who want to master the English language. The ELLC believes that language is the key to inclusion, community connection and job readiness. Ota makes sure that the programs she offers go far beyond the basics—she wants the LEP community to feel complete confidence when communicating, whether in writing, speaking or engaging in online forums.
With this focus in mind, she takes the programs wherever there is a need. Currently, Ota is partnering with local school districts to teach ESL to parents of local students in their districts, because language has the power to lift entire families and communities out of poverty and into greater career opportunities. She also offers a community program that divides an Intensive English Program curriculum into manageable sections, so students can focus solely on what they need (grammar, reading, writing, etc.).
Ota’s work on behalf of the LEP community does not stop with the ELLC. Her belief in advocacy has led her to run for board positions at state-level organizations.
She currently serves as Vice President and Convention Chair of Illinois TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) and Bilingual Education, working with volunteer board members to promote and support scholarship and professional interest, research and instruction in the teaching of standard English to speakers of other language or dialects. In this role, she is actively planning ITBE’s (Illinois Teachers of English to speakers of other languages - Bilingual Education) 45th Annual Convention, “Looking Back to Leap Forward” held on February 28th and 29th in Sheraton Lisle/Naperville Hotel. Here, the TESOL community will be taking a historical look at teaching practices to find a path forward for future success.
Ota says, “English learners come from diverse cultural, linguistic, educational and personal backgrounds, and their learning needs differ greatly from native English-speaking students. My mission is to take a whole-person approach—to understand who students are as people is crucial.”
What’s next? Interested advocates and students can find Ota at the International Educators of Illinois’ annual conference at Illinois Wesleyan University on Thursday, March 12 and Friday, March 13, 2020. She will present a half-day workshop, “Intensive English Program 101: Getting to Know Intensive English Programs” and a session, “Is it a Good Time to Start an IEP on our Campus?”
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