Recipe for language learning

At the language kitchen, participants find out how they can use a foreign language in delicious everyday situations like cooking. This natural way of language learning is monitored with the use of tablet computers and motion sensors.

A major challenge in language teaching is adapting the learning to real situations where the language is needed, assert Salla Kurhila and Lari Kotilainen from the Department of Finnish, Finno-Ugrian and Scandinavian Studies.

Kurhila and Kotilainen participated in the LanCook joint project involving five European universities, which has students practise a language by cooking. Providing instruction in several different languages, the “digital language kitchen” consists of a tablet computer, cooking utensils with motion sensors, and software that pulls it all together.

Language students work in pairs to cook a dish typical of a relevant culture with the help of the software.

“For example, in the Finnish version we cook traditional fish soup and sweet berry soup,” Kotilainen describes.

Similar to the controls of the Wii game console, the software uses the sensors to track how the students’ comprehension of the foreign language and cooking proceed.

Offers for help and a clear purpose

In addition to recipe and cooking vocabulary, the focus of the language kitchen is on interaction. As the students work towards a meal, they need phrases that improve cooperation, such as “do you need help” or “are you all right”, as well as the capacity to negotiate with their cooking partner.

“Cooking is a good context for language learning, since it is both universal and has a clear purpose,” Kurhila explains.

The digital kitchen is currently being tested. The testing process accumulates data on how students use the language material offered by the computer.

“We have videoed the cooking situations and can present our first observations on the interactions between cooking partners and between student and machine.”

In the video samples, students discuss both the cooking and linguistic details.