Introducing Vegemite at a Japanese School

Vegemite: Delicious or no: The debate rages on

An article by guest-writer, Kavita P, CIR, Kochi Prefecture

A contentious topic for Australians everywhere (surely) is whether Vegemite, our alleged favourite spread, is as delicious as people claim it to be. As a child, I myself was on the anti-Vegemite side, but I was won over in my teenage years, and, as I live in Japan, it provides me with a great deal of nostalgia for back home every morning for breakfast.

Introducing Vegemite to people in Japan is a particularly tricky thing to do, especially if you have trouble articulating the subtleties of the spread in Japanese. Nevertheless, it’s probably something that most Australians working with children in any capacity may feel inclined to do at some stage, even if only for lack of anything else to do in class.

I’ve introduced Vegemite to 4 groups of primary school children here in Kochi prefecture, and more recently to a group of retired folk. Before taking on these people, I tried to research how to approach the task. But most of what I read about from other people’s experiences with giving it to classes seemed overwhelmingly negative. The Japanese tasters couldn’t stand it in most cases. That made me sad.

So, I formulated a cunning plan to brainwash my students into liking Vegemite. And lo and behold, for the most part it seems to have worked. To that end, I’ve made a small list of things to do and not to do, which may help your own endeavours should you be that way inclined:

Don’t:

  • Give people Vegemite without priming them first

If you introduce Vegemite by saying “ha har, get a whiff of this!” you’re not going to do your students any favours. The victim’s reaction will undoubtedly be hilarious and make for a fun class. So if that’s what you’re going for, then go right ahead. But if you are trying to introduce a bit of Australian culture on a deeper level and attempt to cultivate some intercultural understanding in young minds, it is maybe wise to veer away from that line of thinking. Priming is really important!

  • Talk excessively about how ‘different’ Vegemite is from Japanese cuisine

This puts people in a mindset where the flavour is completely alien to them and the strong peer pressure in Japanese schools will almost guarantee that everyone in the class will spend more time saying ‘eewwww!’ together than they will actually trying the food they’ve been given.

  • Make a big deal about how most people hate Vegemite, especially foreigners

Again, this isn’t conducive to giving the food a fair go. I think it’s a good idea to mention the fact that many people from outside of Australia find it strange, but in the same way that Japanese natto(fermented soy beans) is considered to be a ‘Japanese pallet only’ food. I’ll talk about this in more detail next. 

Do:

  • Explain that Vegemite is like ‘Australia’s natto’

Natto is a fermented soy bean dish which is native to Japan and quite, quite foul to many people (including many Japanese locals). One of its main detractors is its strong smell. Sound familiar? Yep, that’s our Vegemite there. If you introduce Vegemite by pointing out this similarity, people will know to be prepared but at the same time be reassured by connecting it to a food in Japanese culture. Here’s a simple way you might be able to say this: 

Vegemiteはどちらかというと「オーストラリアのなっとう」です。なぜなら、地元の多くの人がよく好きですが、外国の方がよくきらいなのです。そして、ちょっとくさいです!

Vegemite wa dochiraka to iuto, “oosutoraria no nattou” desu. Nazenara, jimoto no ooku no hito ga yoku suki desu ga, gaikoku no kata ga yoku kirai nano desu. Soshite, chotto kusai desu!

If anything, Vegemite is “Australia’s natto”. This is because many locals enjoy it but many people from overseas hate it. It also smells a bit!

  • Explain that the flavour is very salty, and similar to salty miso soup

This will help people to know what to expect taste-wise. When I prime people like this, I find it gives them confirmation bias to a degree. I get a lot of feedback of “yeah, it really does taste like salty miso soup!” Here’s an example of how you might be able to express this in Japanese:

ちょっと塩辛い味がするし、赤味噌汁の味と似ていると思います。

Chotto shio-karai aji ga suru shi, aka miso shiru no aji to niteiru to omoimasu.

It’s a bit salty, and the flavour is similar to red (salty) miso soup.

  • Give everyone a chance to smell the Vegemite from the jar before serving it

Be sure to keep the jar held far enough away from each person that they won’t get a big whiff of it, just a light smell. From a distance it really does smell a little like strong miso soup, so hopefully this will help them to relax a little. Also, keep an ear out for which students recoil and which students seem interested; when you are serving, try to serve the calmer, less repulsed(!) students first because most kids will base their own reaction off the reaction of the first person. A little lesson in peer pressure there.

And there you have it. Thanks to some good priming/brainwashing beforehand, more than half of each group of kids found that even if they wouldn’t want to eat it every day, Vegemite didn’t really taste so bad after all. I had an even better reaction with the retired folk, who ended my session with them conspiring to travel to Australia for a holiday. I suspect they appreciate salty foods more than the children do.

Probably the most prejudice to come out of a Vegemite introduction session actually was from my perspective, unfortunately. After exposing a group of Grade 3/4 students to the joy of Vegemite, one of the kids approached me eagerly after class.

“Will you bring something else to class next time?” he grinned, clinging on to my arm (which I HATE but am too polite to react to).

“Yes, I’m sure I’ll bring something else at some point,” I replied.

“Ooh, I hope you bring sweets next time!” he gushed, looking up at me hopefully with pleading eyes.

This is something that I would expect all children to say. However, the little child in question was the most rotund of the class, and I couldn’t stop myself scoffing in the depths of my subconscious: “Well, of COURSE you would, wouldn’t you?”

If you have any more suggestions for how to serve Vegemite to students in any country, please write it in the comments section! 

Kavita P is currently a participant on the JET programme as a Co-Ordinator of International Relations (CIR or 国際交流員) in Shikoku, Japan. You can read more of her writing on the Kochi Ken AJET website.

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Custom Passports

Whoa, is that passport real?

I made these custom English Passports for all the students in the elective English club and special needs class so they can rock this mint design and be the envy of the rest of the school.

Are you doing English Passport at your school? If not, check out the original post to see what your missing (and how to catch up). You can download all the templates and instructions for free, and even download a set of color passport stamps to use with your students.

And Now a Game

This game isn’t new, but it is fun and effective. This is the game I promised to talk about when I posted on “Expanded Review” on Monday.

Time: about 10 minutes or as long as you want

Level: any

Grammar point: Anything where there is a short dialogue. In this case the dialogue is “Here you are.”/”Thank you.”/”You’re welcome” (as when one person hands something to someone

Set-up and rules: Get the students into lunch groups. Assign a table leader for each group and give her or him a small paper cup filled with about 5 magnets or other small thing. Place another empty paper cup at the other end of the group. Tell the students that they have to get all the magnets into the cup at the other end of the lunch table, and to do so they need to pass each magnet to each person and say the dialogue.

In other words, the leader will hand the first magnet to the person next to him and say “here you are”. The partner will say “Thank you” and the leader will say “You’re welcome”. The partner will then do the same thing with the next person, and so on until the magnet reaches the other cup. When the magnet is in the other cup, the relay can begin again. The game ends when all the magnets have been properly passed from one end of the lunch group to the empty cup at the other end.

Tips:

-Keep time and record the group’s time when they finish. The times can be used for comparison between groups and a group’s best time over the course of several weeks.

-Join a group and enjoy the game yourself.

Fake Hamburgers

Do you want fries with that?

These are some fake hamburgers and apple pies we made for teaching the “ordering at a restaurant” lesson from the first year New Horizon book. We set up a counter and the supplies and had the students act out original scene with these props. They could order what they wanted and the cashier had to give the right order total in dollars.

Using props is, admittedly, something I don’t get to do as often as I like because not every lesson is suited for it. But to make the classroom into a stage of sorts where students can act out a drama and truly think and feel the situation the language is being used in, is really where the English classroom ought to always be. If only students could think of the English classroom like this more often — and we teachers could give them the tools and motivation to make it so — I bet people could learn English a lot faster.

Believe it or not, small props like these can revolutionize an otherwise dull and mindless English lesson. Because when we are acting, the production of English probably gets as real to daily life as it can in a classroom.

Culture and Etiquette in the Japanese Workplace

Yes, this post is about Etiquette. But name this album art make yourself known as a rocking music afficianado

I wanted to refer everyone to a material posted by Jessie as part of the Conference Committee Member’s (CCM) page. There are many great documents there to download for free, but I wanted to direct you to one I found particularly useful.

It is the Culture and Etiquette and Workplace Relations Handout prepared by Isaac and Will, and presented at the new JET orientation seminar in August of 2011.

If you are having any troubles at work or you want to know a bit more about how to fit in better, please give this doc a good read through. This handout will tell you about cultural differences in the Japanese workplace and how you can improve workplace relations by being sensitive to these differences.

Conversation Flow

Start Teaching your Students about the Right Conversation Flow so they can be COOL too (photo via baubauhaus)

In a follow-up to yesterday’s post, I want to write about responsibility — not in the normal sense of the word, but when it comes to conversations. That is, who leads a conversation and the things we do to be polite.

As an English teacher, I am often frustrated by the inability of students to be responsible for conversations. This manifests itself in the way I often have to lead a one-way conversation (i.e. I ask the questions, the students answer) or the tendency of students to shy away, turn to friends, or actually run away before a conversation can ever take place.

These responses are of course natural because with limited exposure to English, it is hard to expect students to know how to lead a conversation, much less have the vocabulary to carry one on for more than a short time. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to teach students about this or that we should give up speaking altogether. Rather, it is important to give them tools to begin learning how to be better conversationalists.

Thus I have started using the “And you?” Rule with many of my students and especially with my special needs class, which, as I explained yesterday, I have more leeway shaping the curriculum.

The “And you?” Rule boils down to this: if I ever ask a student a direct question, I tell them that they can carry on the conversation a little longer if they then ask, “And you?” after they have answered the question for themselves.

This is a small technique (and perhaps seemingly trivial), but it is important for several reasons. First, it teaches students that conversations are two-way, and can’t progress if one person is always talking. Second, it gives them an easy phrase that encourages real communication. Third, it shows students that they have responsibility in the a conversation to maintain the conversation by actively answering the question and asking the person they are talking to for more information. This is a start to teaching students how to have healthy conversations in English. With a shared responsibility for conversations, you’ll notice that communication with your students is not only more natural, but more polite and easier — because now you are sharing the conversation with students as opposed to always leading!

This small little phrase can turn a 30 second conversation into a 5 minute conversation because the more chances we have to talk, the more we learn about each other and the more things we can talk about. Teach it to some of your students and let the conversation flow.

Expanding Review

Get Back to the Basics and Show your Students How to Actually Use English (Graphic via: Designblog.org)

Long time no post. Today I want to talk about expanding the length of review as a means of reinforcing important language. Let me write today about my theory and examples, and later in the week I will tell you about a fun game to use.

In my special needs class, I am lucky to have a small class of 5 capable and interested students. In this class I have been experimenting with this technique and have gotten some pretty remarkable results.

It started when I realized the phrase “here you are”/”thank you”/”you’re welcome” (when handing something to someone) was underutilized and underestimated by students and teachers.

So, in my special needs class I have taken the last 5 or 6 lessons to give a short 5-10 minute preview of the many and various situations this phrase can be used in, and had the students practice them. For example: handing someone a piece of paper, handing someone a gift, giving out candy (during Halloween), offering someone some coffee, etc.)

In the regular class, this phrase is used almost exclusively when handing things to and from the teachers. Understandably, it becomes dead and tiresome language.

Seen in this expanded review, however, students can come to appreciate the variety of situations it is necessary for, and, consequentially, the phrase becomes a meaningful and useful part of the students’ vocabulary. The phrase suddenly makes sense and students are motivated to use it!

This approach of slowing down, focusing and refocusing on important phrases, showing a variety of situations they are used in provides the structure for understanding and using English in a natural context. It is what I am terming “Expanded Review” (even though, in my opinion, it might just as well be a feature of the regular cirriculum). It has me using more English in class and getting more real communication with students (i.e. back and forth conversation) than I could have ever imagined in any kind of class.

The downside of the regular class, of course, is that students miss opportunities like this to focus and re-focus on a phrase. In the breadth of everything that teachers cover in one year, phrases lose their meaning and are thus easily forgotten. Language becomes forced and arbitrary.

Now, I am using the special needs class as a testing ground for ideas like this. My hope is that showing how it works effectively in this classroom, I can start conversations with JTEs at my school and tell them how important an expanded review of small structural language like this are to students’ understanding of and success in English.