Helene J. Uchida is on a mission to help Japanese people, from various backgrounds and varying degrees of ability, be able to interact in English in a positive and sociable way.
Uchida is an accomplished English educator with over 30 years of years experience helping Japanese build the confidence and skills to interact and express themselves in English. With a focus on “experiential English,” Uchida believes people can improve their skills to communicate across cultural lines even with limited English expertise. Many of her early students now use English on their jobs at such places as Microsoft and IBM or in capacities as bilingual administrative assistants to presidents of foreign companies in Japan; others either live and work in foreign countries or report back to her that their lives are richer in Japan because of the English foundation they acquired while studying with Uchida.
Born and raised in Bay Shore, New York, the first of two daughters, Uchida spent her preschool years in an orphanage as both parents worked. She is certain that this is when and how her leadership skills were cultivated because she was always ”bossing” the other kids around and making decisions for everyone. Throughout her public school career, this leadership tendency blossomed when she was elected secretary of her class, captain of the cheerleaders, president of the sorority, president of the choir, and the “most respected” female senior in high school.
She took one strong quality from each of her parents, stamina from her mother, a woman who never complained, and a passion for classical music along with a general sense of esthetics from her father.
In college she devoted herself to her studies, in addition to writing poetry, playing guitar and singing. Upon graduation from the University of Tampa in Florida, she enrolled at C. W. Post to obtain her Masters while teaching English at East Junior High School in Brentwood, New York.
She learned more about teaching from her Brentwood students (to whom she is forever indebted) than she did from any university education course.
In addition she was blessed with a devoted administrative team, George Pittman, Ed Murphy and Tom Marcello, who were always a source of encouragement, inspiration and support.
While at East Junior High School Brentwood, she supervised other English teachers, created a remedial reading program with her colleague, Gail Inzerillo, and trained English interns from Stonybrook University.
Uchida moved to San Francisco to try her hand at business as an employment counselor which she discovered was a lot like teaching: communicating with, coordinating and motivating people, after which she sojourned to Hawaii and had her first encounter with judo, which was her stepping stone to Japan.
Upon her arrival in Japan, she joined the judo club at Waseda University in Tokyo; she was the only woman, the only white belt and the only foreigner. The head judo teacher, Ozawa-sensei, told Sohei Uchida to teach her the basics, adding, “Don’t fall in love with her.“ On the first day of practice, Sohei Uchida told her, “You can’t do judo alone; you need a partner.” He also said that the judoka must respect his partner. In essence, because one has a partner, one can do judo. If one’s partner is stronger, then one learns from that partner. If one’s partner is weaker, then the stronger partner helps the weaker one. This was a revelation for her because, as an American, she had always been rather independent. This philosophy changed her life in terms of her adaptation to judo (she later became a black belt), her future marriage and her English teaching in Japan.
On March 12, 1978, she married her judo teacher, her life long partner, Sohei Uchida, in the judo dojo of Waseda University. They selected the dojo because they felt the dojo had been their true “go-between.” Over 100 people attended.
A few months after their wedding, the Uchidas left for Athens, Greece, where Sohei taught judo for one year. Their son, Soshi, was born in Hera (mother of the gods) Hospital. Upon learning of Sohei’s father’s death, they returned to Japan, where Sohei, Helene and six-month-old Soshi Uchida started a life in Fukuoka with no friends, no money and no business plan.
Sohei taught judo on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays in the family judo dojo, and Helene taught three children on tatami mats in the dojo on Tuesdays and Thursdays. By word of mouth, enrollment quickly increased until there were too many students and classes to squeeze into two days a week.
The Uchidas took the big step and opened Little America in 1982. In response to the need to give support to other English teachers, Little America Mail Order Service, the first English materials mail order service in Japan, was opened in 1986. LATEM (Little America Teaching English Methods), an outgrowth of the school’s methodology and the Mail Order Service’s materials, was established in 1994. Over 100 teachers attended the first Fukuoka LATEM Seminar in 1995. Uchida’s English personalized teacher-training programs have become renowned nationwide for the inspiration they give teachers and their unique, effective results.
Uchida believes in four principles concerning English teaching in Japan. First, language acquisition should be experiential. Second, “Kokoro” (heart) is a vital ingredient in English lessons, which the Japanese public and private schools seem to have misplaced. Third, all students are worthy of a teacher’s respect. And lastly, a teacher should never underestimate the ability of a student. She hopes that by offering support to educators, teachers, parents and students, she will, in her own small way, be a catalyst in triggering effective and real English education that Japanese can get their hands on, and as a result, be better able to successfully interact and communicate in a meaningful way with their neighbors all over the world.
An interview with Helene Uchida is online at eltnews.com.
Helene J. Uchida guest teaching in Copenhagen, Denmark (Left);
guest teaching in New York (Right)
Former Fukuoka Mayor Hirotaro Yamasaki observed the last class of a three year pilot program conducted by Helene Jarmol Uchida at a local elementary school.
- B.A. English, University of Tampa, Fla.
- M.A., C. W. Post College, Brookville, N.Y.
- Hofstra University and Stonybrook University, graduate courses in English
- Cortland State University, NDEA Federal Grant in Linguistics
- English teacher for Time-Life, Tokyo
- Lions Club Guest Speaker on America/Japan Youth Exchange, Tokyo
- Iki-Iki Reporter for former Fukuoka Mayor Kuwahara
- RKB TV consultant, Fukuoka
- New Hope Guest Speaker on English Education, Fukuoka
- Rotary Club Panelist on Internationalism, Fukuoka
- Lions Club Guest Speaker on International Marriage, Fukuoka
- Fukuoka Prefecture Guest Speaker on Bullying
- Kyushu Okinawa Summit Symposium Guest Presenter on Elementary School English Education
- Fukuoka Prefecture English Elementary School Symposium
- Director of a three-year English pilot program for a Fukuoka elementary school
- LATEM Teacher Training Association Founder
- NPO TEMI (Teaching English Methods Institute) Founder
- American Center Guest Speaker on English Games for Children
Showing former Ambassador Tom Foley Little America’s English
teaching materials at Iwataya Department Store, Fukuoka
Featured in Newspapers/Magazines/Books
- Bicultural Families
- NHK English Magazine
- Loop Magazine
- Fukuoka Magazine
- The Mainichi Daily News
- The Japan Times
- Asahi Evening News
- Japan for Kids
- Tokyo Journal
- Oxford University Press Newsletter
- ELTnews interview
- The Japan News
- Nishi Nippon Shinbun
- Yomiuri Shinbun
- Guidebook to Japan
TV and Radio Appearances
- FBS International Family
- TNC Judo in the Family
- RKB International Marriage
- RKB Elementary School English Pilot Program, Fukuoka
- RKB English Teacher Training, Fukuoka
- Love FM, The Challenge Book for Japanese children, Fukuoka
- The Japan News Primary Advice Column, a monthly column on teaching English to children in Japan
- ETJ Journal: Teaching Junior High English in Japan
- eltnews.com: Game Corner
- The Challenge Book Series： Preschool、Elementary School、Junior High and High School、University and Adults
- LATEM & TEMI Teacher’s Helper Newsletters
- Regional reporter for The Japan Times
- Snakes and Ladders columnist
- Berlitz Newsletter feature
- My High School Writing Journal (RIC Publications)
- My University Writing Journal (RIC Publications)
- A Nursing Story from the Heart (Little America)
Current & Previous
- Little America Schools Director
- Little America Mail Order Service Advisor
- Non Profit Organization, TEMI Teacher Training Association Founder
- Fukuoka University of Education Lecturer
- Seinan Gakuen University Lecturer
- Fukuoka Women’s University Lecturer
- Temple University Lecturer
- The Japan News columnist
- Volunteer English teacher in the pediatric ward of Kyushu Cancer Center
- Eating chanko nabe with former Grand Chamption and former Sumo Association Chairman, Toshimitsu Kitanoumi
- Being the New Years guest of former Kyushu Electric’s Chairman, Tasuo Kawaii
- Being granted a 45 minute meeting about English education with Akito Arima, the former Minister of Education
- Seeing son, Soshi Uchida, perform at the Fukuoka Blue Note
- Being married to Sohei Uchida, a modern day Bushi
With her son Soshi after his performance at the Fukuoka Blue Note