language immersion

5 Yummy Ways to Kickstart Language Immersion with Food

Yes, you read the title correctly.

Does it sound too delicious to be true?

If you’ve decided to learn another language, you can actually start the process with something that you (love to) come into contact with regularly every day.

Learning new languages can be quite challenging and, for those who don’t enjoy learning through traditional means (like bookwork), it can be even more intimidating.

So being told that you can begin to learn foreign words and phrases almost instantly by eating food sounds too good to be true right?

Wrong. With an open mind and a little bit of effort, you can work towards accomplishing this goal in no time.

You may already have recipes from around the world in your weekly meal rotations, but many of those are probably just adaptations of the real, traditional foods eaten in those particular places. Try expanding your knowledge of foreign languages as well as your palate even further with these 5 simple ideas.

5 Delicious Ways to Kickstart Language Learning with Food

1. Eat at Authentic Ethnic Restaurants

The key word here is authentic. Sorry, places like Taco Bell and Panda Express don’t count.

These aren’t going to be the typical food joints where you can order Pu Pu platters and Crunchwrap Supremes. Most food is prepared with recipes native to foreign lands, so expect to taste great homestyle cooking that’s almost as good as if you went to the native country itself.

Usually these restaurants are owned by immigrants or children of immigrants, so they’ll know first-hand about to how properly speak their languages. If you want to pick up some foreign phrases, ask the people who work there how to say some of the names of food items that you’re interested in trying.

Take into account that they’re at work and you don’t want to hold them up, so avoid asking too many questions to be courteous.

While you’re there, ask for a print-out of the menu or take a picture of it. This way, you’ll always have a copy to use as a study guide and can practice memorizing these words from anywhere.

Going to an authentic restaurant can be a one of a kind experience and there are probably quite a few locations near where you live ranging from Mexican to Vietnamese to Ethiopian and so on.

Once you find one that you might like, give it a try. You might actually find that you prefer the taste of authentic Mexican fajitas barbacoa to that Doritos Locos Taco anyway.

2. Try New Recipes

Attempt to make new ethnic recipes that you’ve never heard of before. You’re most likely already familiar with foreign dishes such as lasagna, quesadillas, sushi and chow mein, but try to think outside the box and explore new delicious creations.

Not only will doing so help you become exposed to new words and different cultures, but you’ll also probably find some tasty favorites to add to your rolodex of recipes. Many ethnic recipes are also diet-friendly, so you can’t go wrong with serving these to a variety of people who have different needs and tastes.

Here are a few cool new recipes to get you started:

  • Spanish: Chorizo con Papas (Mexican Sausages with Potatoes) — A traditional Mexican dinner entree that’s simple and quick yet also bursting with flavor.
  • French: Soupe au Pistou (Provencal Vegetable Soup) — Many people are familiar with some French soups like French Onion Soup and Bisque. However, most have never heard of this deliciously hearty vegetable soup.
  • German: Rote Grutze (Red Grits) — Even though the meaning of Rote Grutze translates to “red grits,” grits are actually not used in most modern recipes anymore due to how they made the dish grainy and heavy. Now Rote Grutze is more like a berry compote pudding that goes great with yogurt, cottage cheese or homemade vanilla sauce.
  • Chinese: Mayi Shang Shu (Ants Climbing a Tree) — This is a spicy Szechuan pork and noodle dish that gets its name from its appearance (the pieces of pork cling to the noodles like how ants would cling to a tree branch).
  • Japanese: Dorayaki — (Japanese Pancakes with Red Bean Paste Filling) This is a sweet Japanese treat that can be eaten for breakfast or for dessert. Usually the filling is red bean paste, but there are many other variations such as white bean paste, jelly, chocolate spread and more.

After you find a few new recipes that you like, get into the habit of pronouncing them like the natives do. There are several online tools that help you with foreign word pronunciation like Forvo. Then try converting the entire recipe into your native language and work on reading the foreign language recipe repeatedly for extra practice.

Want to follow along with a cooking show? Head on over to FluentU. FluentU takes real-world videos—including cooking shows, food documentaries, movie trailers and music videos—and turns them into language lessons you can use in everyday life.

For example, you can learn how to make cookies con chips de chocolate (chocolate chip cookies) and huevos rellenos (deviled eggs) in Spanish or how to make authentic madeleines in French. Go ahead and take a look. It’s only one click away!

Having someone read the recipe aloud and explain things step-by-step can be a great way to improve your listening comprehension. Plus, FluentU provides downloadable transcripts, active learning tools and interactive captions in English and your target language.

The active learning tools are probably the best part. Multimedia flashcards and vocabulary lists will be made from the new vocabulary and grammar you encounter while watching your chosen videos, so you can use these tools to practice and reinforce what you’ve been learning just by listening, watching and cooking!

Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store.

You can find plenty of other text-based recipes from around the world easily with a quick online search. A good website to find other dishes from around the world is www.foodbycountry.com.

3. Eat Foods That Help You Retain Information

When looking for new recipes to try, see if you can incorporate certain brain-boosting foods into your dishes to help you focus and memorize material better. Foods like fish, onions, berries, apples, spinach and nuts can all help with brain function which can, in turn, boost your language retention.

Most of these foods are eaten by people everywhere, so finding recipes with a couple of these ingredients already included shouldn’t be too hard at all.

Even if some of your favorite recipes don’t include some of the items, experiment a little and you may be surprised with the end results.You can read more about the relationship between foods and brain retention here.

4. Create Food Note Cards (Especially When Traveling)

Creating note cards really comes in handy when traveling to foreign countries and finding new places to visit—especially when nobody knows your native language and you’re still working on boosting your foreign language communication skills.

Before going to a foreign restaurant for the first time, try making note cards with simple phrases that you’ll show the restaurant workers in order to give them an idea on how to best serve you.

For those that have food sensitivities or dietary restrictions, this would definitely be useful as you can effectively communicate your needs through writing.

For example, say you’re visiting a restaurant in France and you’re a vegetarian. You could write down a French phrase such as this:

“Bonjour, je suis un végétarien qui signifie que je ne peux pas manger des produits contenant de la viande. Cela inclut poulet, bœuf, porc, veau et le poisson. Merci. “

This sentence translates to:

“Hello, I am a vegetarian which means that I can’t eat any products containing meat. This includes chicken, beef, pork, veal and fish. Thank you.”

Show this to whoever is serving you so they can better accommodate you during your time there.

Word to the wise: If you have severe allergies to foods, make sure you write down the names of these foods in the foreign language. Keep a look out for these words on menus. Don’t forget to let the server know that you absolutely cannot consume it.

Even if you don’t have any dietary restrictions, common phrases such as “where is the restroom?” or “check, please” are still very useful to write down on a note card to keep with you while out and about.

After you’ve used the note cards long enough, try to practice using those phrases without the note cards. Pay attention to how people interact with you so that you can get into the habit of conversing with them. With time, you’ll be able to effectively talk to natives without the cards.

5. Play the Food Matching Game

Everyone knows that playing games to learn languages is as effective as it is awesome. Here’s a fun and simple game you can play any time you want that doesn’t require any apps or things like that. All you need is a bunch of sticky notes.

Food Matching Game

How to Play: Take foods that you already have in your home and try to match them up with the word in the language that you’re trying to learn.

For example, say that you’re trying to learn Japanese and you have strawberries, milk, bread, carrots and chicken in your kitchen. You can make sticky notes with the Japanese vocabulary and try to correctly place them on corresponding objects within a certain amount of time.

In this case:

strawberry         ichigo            イチゴ
milk                    gyuunyuu      ミルク
bread                 pan                 パン
carrots               ninjin              人参
chicken             tori-niku         チキン

This is a great interactive activity for you to use to increase your vocabulary and it doesn’t take a lot of time to prepare at all.

What’s also so wonderful about this game is that you don’t have to stick to just the subject of foods (although food is an easy and fun starting point).

Once you’ve got food and food-related words down, trying using the same method to learn about other items around your home. Remember to pace yourself and stick to simple categories like food, clothes, appliances, furniture, colors and so on.

Learning a language can be hard. However, it can also be really enjoyable and pain-free if you apply some of these concepts along with a few other tips found on this website.

Since everyone eats, starting out with food is a nice stepping stone to learning more complicated foreign words and sentences until you feel comfortable enough to branch out and learn other topics.

These strategies will be great to implement with friends or family, but they’ll work even if you want to learn another language all by yourself.

Good luck on your journey to learning a new language!

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