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.

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.

Go Fish Pt. 2

About 20 people have emailed me asking for the materials and templates for the playing cards to the Go Fish game customized for teaching “Do you have any…?” to elementary and JHS students. Since it is pretty popular I decided to upload the files for download. Click on the individual thumbnails do download the card files. Print the images on A4 paper. Enjoy! Click Here to Download the Flashcards

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Tip: For the image files, use microsoft image gallery and use the print menu to print to A4 size paper. Alternatively you can copy and paste the files into microsoft word and print from there.

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What is English Passport?

The Front Cover of An English Passport

English Passport is an idea you have probably heard of before. It is a booklet you can give to each student that allows them to collect stickers or stamps for completing speaking and writing activities in English. I have done English passport for several years at my JHS and I want to share my thoughts on what works and what doesn’t. There is a lot of flexibility about how the passport can be used.

The first passport I made in 2009 looked like this:

English Passport c. 2009

This version was based largely on the model presented to us at Tokyo Orientation. Even though the “memorization” and “recitation” sections (where students would either have to memorize or recite a passage from an English book or letter) proved burdensome and ineffective in my opinion, the project was a great success in the first year, with almost every 3rd grade student receiving several stamps and over 30 students completing the entire passport book. First and second year students were understandably wary about using the passport and we didn’t get as many participants from those grades.

Later I learned that the English Passport was primarily successful because the 3rd grade English teachers made participation in English Passport a part of the students’ final grade. The following year, even when the prizes were increased and the activities were simplified, without this primary motivation, far less students participated in the project.

This is a screenshot from what the passport looked like in 2010-2011:

Inside the 2010-2011 English Passport

As you can see from the picture, the 4 English activities were reduced to 2 — simply speaking and writing. Students got a stamp in one of these two categories for writing a letter to me or visiting my desk in the teacher’s room for a short English conversation. I added an extra degree of complexity to the passport by giving students the opportunity to collect “Travel Stamps” on the right hand page. If they collected 5 stamps for the speaking or writing category, they would receive a special stamp from “visiting” a place from around the world, such as England, Athens, Greece, or San Francisco. The more “travel stamps” they collected, the more prizes they were eligible for. The students who completed the entire passport (only about 5 in one year) received a special prize and were awarded a certificate of completion in front of their classes. The column below the speaking and writing challenge boxes were for collecting stickers that students received for one thing or another.

Tips for Success

  • Even though the second year of English passport was easier and far more interesting in my opinion, it wasn’t as successful because the teachers did not make participation in the program a part of the students’ final grade. So I think that this is key.
  • Keep the speaking and writing challenges easy and allow students to perform the speaking challenge whenever there is free time in the hallways or teacher’s room. Although I made the challenges easier the second year, because I limited the time to when I was in the teacher’s room, many students complained that they never had time to participate in the project even though they wanted to.
  • I think that this level of English Passport is good for 3rd year students especially, and it can be useful for second year students if you constantly encourage them to use their passports. For 1st year students, participating is understandably daunting. You can still give them passports to include them in the project, but you might consider making a modified version with other challenges to make it easier on them.

Free Materials!

Click here to download the inside template (PDF)

Click here to download this template (PDF)

Click to download passport stamps (PDF)