When I went abroad for the first time at the age of thirteen, I had to explain about Japanese culture in English. That was when I first realized how difficult it is to talk about my country. Since then, I have been repeatedly talking about Japanese culture to people from all over the world and thanks to that practice I am getting better at it.
Living in our own countries, we don’t usually think about the reasons for our daily rituals or the dietary habits, so it is challenging to explain them in even our native tongue, let alone in foreign languages. However, we tend to encounter such situations more often than we expect.
Last month, my younger sister spent about three weeks in the Dominican Republic (a Spanish speaking country). On her return, she told me that answering many Japan-related questions in English was very difficult.
I believe it is very important not only to know about my country but also to be able to explain it in English. For this reason, I have been trying to offer our students some opportunities to think about Japanese things (Kotatsu こたつ, Omamori お守り), customs (Bon festival お盆), foods (Onabe お鍋, Okonomiyaki お好み焼き) and so on and to practice explaining them.
To make this a good English lesson, I use my favorite Smith’s material, “Entertaining a foreigner.” With this lesson, I especially like letting our students explain how Japanese people use the public bath, Sento 銭湯. While they are explaining about it, I ask the following questions as needed:
1. After entering the public bath building, what should I do first? What should I do with my shoes? Where should I put my shoes? Should I pay for the locker?
2. How should I pay for the bath? How can I use the ticket machine? How much is it?
3. Where should I go after I pay? How can I tell which room is for women/men?
4. What should I do in the changing room? Can I wear a bathing suit? Where should I put my clothes? Should I pay for the locker?
5. What should I bring to the bathroom with me? How big should the towel be? Should I bring soap or a bottle of shampoo?
6. Please tell me the rules of taking a bath (students will likely tell you; 1. not to soak the towel in the bathtub; 2. rinse your body before taking a bath.) —Why?
We can create really fun and practical lessons with “Entertaining a foreigner.” Please remind your Japanese students that wherever they are, they will always be Japanese who are expected to share firsthand knowledge of Japan. In their lifetime, people might ask them many kinds of questions related to Japan.
So, let’s help our students prepare for it at Smith’s School of English!
Chiharu, SSE Otsu
Al Bartle says
After reading this post I used this lesson with several groups of students and they surely enjoyed it and learned a lot. They found out that it is not so simple to explain such things to foreigners who have no equivalent in their home cultures. Great lesson!
Al (SSE Okamoto)