Here’s a language learning tip that has worked really well for me: learn to cook. And when you do, use recipes in your target language. Great way to learn language. Here’s why:
- Recipes are short – most recipes fit on one piece of paper, and that’s including a big picture of the end result.
- Recipes are easy – recipes all follow pretty much the same format: picture, ingredient list, instructions.
The ingredient list itself will provide you with half of the information you need to read the instructions.
And the instructions are short, logical and sequential: Cut this into this size pieces. Cut that into that size pieces. Put them in a pot. Add this ingredient. Cook it over a flame of this strength for this many minutes. Add this seasoning. Garnish with this. Voila!
- Cooking is hands-on – when you cook you will be using all five senses: touch, sight, taste, smell, sound. This enhances the experience and you will remember it better.
The more senses you use the better it is for recall. Imagine sitting at a desk and looking over a vocabulary list of fruits in Swahili for 5 minutes. Then imagine someone throwing fruits at you for 5 minutes, calling out their names in Turkish while you try to dodge. Which set do you think you’ll remember better at the end of the day? Assuming you don’t get hit in the head with a canteloupe.
Senses matter. Instead of studying words in a language you are creating an experience in the language. That experience will imprint itself in your mind in ways that a chair and a sore back can’t.
- Double reward – when you cook you get to eat the food at the end. When you cook in a foreign language you get to eat the food and feel good about yourself for doing something in your target language.
That’s double the return.
And if you mess up and the food tastes horrible at least you have a funny story to tell. “Check this out. I was trying to make some cake but the recipe was in Arabic…”
- Foreign food – part of learning a language is experiencing another culture. You can’t separate the two. And food is a big part of any culture. You need to learn the tastes, smells and names of native foods.
How many Spanish people in Spain can talk about Spanish food in Spanish? All of them. (Replace the underlined words to match your language situation).
Learning food will make your language experience more complete. And it will help you read menus when you visit the country.
Ok, I hope I convinced you that it’s worth a try. It’s very easy to get started. Here’s how you do it:
- Figure out the word for “recipe” in your target language.
- Put that word into Google. That should bring up a ton of recipe websites.
- Find a recipe that looks good.
- Print the recipe out.
- Cook it.
Same as the paper method, but replace Google with Youtube, and of course you watch the video instead of printing out the recipe.
Using YouTube to find recipes is great because you get some listening practice in too. Plus you get to watch somebody else cook the recipe before you do. It has repetition built into it too because you’ll find yourself running back and forth between the kitchen and your computer to watch the video again.
I’ve been learning a little Spanish and I cooked dinner one night (actually two nights now) using this:
I’m a complete newbie at Spanish but I was able to follow this more or less after watching it a few times. The end result didn’t quite look the same, but it tasted great. And when I was finished I was better at Spanish than I was when I started.
If you already live in the country where your target language is spoken, here’s a bonus tip for you:
You’ve probably walked into a grocery store before and seen food that you had no idea what it was, how to eat it or what to do with it. Instead of passing it up, buy it. Take it home. Here’s why:
Most recipe sites have a search box. Enter the name of your mystery food into the search box. Bam! Now you have a bunch of recipes that tell you how to use it.
You may have to take another trip to the store to get more ingredients, but its worth it because you will get to try something you’ve never tasted before.
Here in Japan I often come across food I’ve never eaten before, like the day I saw a shelf full of tougan (冬瓜 – とうがん). I searched for とうがん on cookpad and found a recipe for some delicious Chicken and Tougan soup.
Do you have any language learning tips? If so, please share them!
Other language learning tips: