The very best way to learn a new language is by total immersion. When someone is forced to conduct all business and all pleasure in the new language, it is much more likely to sink in and be absorbed at a very deep level. One of the hallmarks of people who have studied a language only in an academic settings, no matter how well it was taught or how talented the scholar, is a kind of superficiality, where the student knows all about the language and yet struggles to use it.
However, realistically speaking, not everyone will have the opportunity for total immersion. Many students in the United States do not have language classes in the primary grades, and when they do finally take a language course in high school or college, the person teaching them may not be a native speaker of the language and may be struggling with fluency issues of his own. Under these circumstances, how do we motivate students to attain fluency in spoken comprehension and production? One way is to use the cuisine of the country and YouTube cooking demonstrations to supplement ordinary lessons in grammar, vocabulary and literature.
I know two young ladies who were getting a little tired of French lessons, but who perked right up when they anticipated learning how to make crème brûlée. However, in order to keep this a French lesson and not merely a cooking lesson, all instruction in cooking should take place in French. As a teacher, you may not be up to this both from the linguistic and the culinary perspective, but do not worry! There are experts on both French and French cuisine available on YouTube who can help.
Before allowing the students to watch the video of Chef Pierre-Dominique Cécillon explaining the process, it would be a good idea to hand out the written recipe and to ask the students to familiarize themselves with the vocabulary and grammatical forms that the recipe uses. That way when they hear the fluent discourse from the chef’s own mouth, while they may not be able to catch every word, they will be able to recognize many words and phrases in context in real time.
Once the cooking demonstration has been viewed and the recipe thoroughly parsed, it is time for the students to become teachers. Let them give their own demonstration in French of how to make crème brûlée, just as the students in the video below did.
This exercise does not solve every language pedagogy problem. It does not relieve issues with accent and grammar, but it does help to motivate students to work on their fluency. Since motivation plays a big part in language acquisition, it may well be worth taking a culinary detour every so often in your foreign language classes.
© 2011 Aya Katz
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