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Talking kitchen teaches English while you cook

Malaysia: A hi-tech kitchen which gives step-by-step cooking instructions in English could spark a revolution in language learning in Malaysia.

Malaysian PhD student Nor Fadzlinda Ishak has been part of the team developing the technology and hopes to use it back in her home country once she has completed her studies.

The technology has been adapted from a project to help people with dementia.  Developed by language experts and computer scientists, the design breaks new ground by taking language learning out of the classroom and combining it with an enjoyable and rewarding real-life activity.

Fadzlinda, who taught English for Specific Purposes modules in the Ungku Omar Polytechnic before coming to Newcastle University,  said: “It can be hard to keep students’  attention when they are learning languages, but this way they are actually taking part in activity while they are learning. It makes it a lot more interesting and fun. This will definitely motivate the students to learn English.’

“It is also very easy to change the difficulty to match the skill of your students, at either the language or the cooking. It’s a very flexible system.

“I’ve had a great response so far from the students I’ve tried it with.

“I’d love to bring the system back to Malaysia when I return home to teach.”

Once the lesson starts, real-time cooking instructions for preparing each recipe are delivered in a similar way to an in-car sat nav. A voice speaks the instruction and then leaves a set amount of time before repeating it. The instruction can also appear in written form if needed, to test reading skills.

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

For example sensors on utensils will track whether the student has picked the right one up and whether they are performing an action in the right way. For example stirring something or slicing something.

Sensors can also be attached to boxes containing food items to ensure that students are using the correct ingredient.

Once the action has been performed correctly the next instruction is given. This continues until the full recipe has been followed. At any time, the user can ask for an instruction or a piece of information to be repeated, or translated into Malay, simply by pressing the touch screen.

The new kitchen is designed to be installed in schools, universities and even people’s homes.

A series of portable versions of the kitchen have now been developed, which use a tablet or laptop and a set of cooking utensils.

Professor Paul Seedhouse, Professor of Education & Applied Linguistics at Newcastle University and Fadzlinda’s supervisor on the project said:  “This really brings foreign culture to life.

“Students are able to learn aspects of the language while performing a meaningful task and experiencing the cultural aspect of learning to cook a British 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 18-month ‘Language Learning in the Wild’ project has received total Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) funding of nearly £163,000. The project has adapted technology that was initially developed for Newcastle University’s Ambient Kitchen, designed to help people with dementia and also developed with EPSRC funding.

published on: 6 March 2012