thumbnail French kitchen is a recipe for success

An innovative kitchen that gives step-by-step cooking instructions in French could spark a revolution in language learning in the UK.

From pear clafouti to croque monsieur, real-time cooking instructions for preparing each recipe are delivered in a similar way to an in-car sat nav.

Motion sensor-technology on the kitchen equipment and ingredients then help track whether each step has been completed successfully.

Developed by language experts and computer scientists at Newcastle University, the kitchen breaks new ground by taking language learning out of the classroom and combining it with an enjoyable and rewarding real-life activity.

It is supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s Digital Economy Programme.

“This really brings foreign culture to life,” said Paul Seedhouse, Professor of Education & Applied Linguistics (pictured). “Students are able to learn aspects of the language while performing a meaningful task and experiencing the cultural aspect of learning to cook a French dish at the same time.

“You never really understand something properly until you do it for yourself, and one of the universal problems of classroom language teaching is that students are often rehearsing, rather than actually using the language.

“Our overriding objective is to make language learning more enjoyable, more effective and, by linking it to the development of another valuable life skill, more educational too.”

The kitchen builds on the proven technique of Task-Based Language Learning (TBLL), an effective teaching method where students are prompted by instructions in a foreign language to carry out specified tasks.

But TBLL has never previously involved instruction in a life skill like cooking, which will help to inspire and motivate users and accelerate their learning.

The new kitchen is designed to be installed in schools, universities and even people’s homes, and could be available commercially by the end of 2012. The first version of the technology was trialled in the catering kitchens of project partner Newcastle College.

A series of portable versions of the kitchen have now been developed which are being taken out on roadshows to schools across the North East. 

The Newcastle University team is now exploring routes to commercialisation. An EU grant of €400K has also been obtained to develop English, German, Spanish, Italian, Finnish and Catalan versions. Ultimately, the digital kitchen could be developed for any language/cuisine in the world.

Professor Seedhouse, of the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences has led the project in conjunction with Professor Patrick Olivier of the School of Computing Science.

There is a podcast of the kitchen available on YouTube and more information is available at the website.


published on: 2nd November 2011