It just so happens that food and language learning can be a perfect combination. If you've seen the film version of Eat Pray Love, you may remember the scene where Julia Roberts expertly orders a meal for her and her friends in Italian after a few weeks of exploring all of Italy's culinary joys.
Food is an inherently cultural expression and a wonderful way for you to not only learn more about the culture, but also the language.
Here are some ways that you can eat your way to learning a new language:
Go to an Authentic Restaurant
No matter where you live, there's likely to be an authentic restaurant owned by foreigners whether it's Italian, Greek, Thai, Indian, Chinese or any other ethnicity. If there is a large number of immigrants from their country in the community, sometimes, they'll have a menu that's in their native language. In that case, you can copy the menu and translate it. You can then try to order food in its native language with the staff.
They may be willing to help you with your pronunciation and even answer some of your questions on what certain words mean. People are often welcoming when someone is trying to learn their language. Chances are, you'll find assistance and maybe even new friends with this method. If this isn't the case, don't force things or take it personally. Maybe they're just busy working.
Check out some recipes from the country whose language you want to learn. This will help you understand more about the food traditions there. You'll learn some new vocabulary. You could try recipes first in English, and then, as you get better, try your hand at mastering a recipe written in a foreign language.
Watch Foreign Cooking Shows
Every country has cooking shows. Find out which ones are popular in the country whose language you want to learn and start watching. If you look for the videos on YouTube, you'll often be able to enable Closed Captioning, and sometimes even subtitles. If you only have access to Closed Captioning, you'll have to spend more time on Google Translate until you understand what's being said. In Brazil, for example, the show Mais Voce hosted by Ana Maria Braga is the number one cooking show in the country. Here's a video of her show on YouTube for you to see how you can enable closed captioning. Repetition is key to language learning. So don't just barrel your way through a bunch of shows. Choose one and spend a good amount of time with it. The great thing about a video clip is that you can pause it as often as you like. Eventually, you can turn off the subtitles and test yourself for:
•Listening comprehension. Do you understand what's being said?
•Pronunciation. Can you repeat what they're saying?
•Vocabulary. How many words are familiar to you?
The ultimate test, of course, would be for you to cook the meal they're teaching by following the cooking instructions in the native language.
Write down food vocabulary on flashcards and test yourself on them. You can do this in stages to successfully build vocabulary. Start with 20 cards. Then do 20 more once you've memorized the first 20. Continue to do this in 20 word increments until you reach 100 words. Then mix all of them together and test yourself on all 100 words.
Label Your Kitchen
Make labels with foreign words and place them on food and kitchen items. Make sure you label as many things as you can, including refrigerator, stove, spatula, pots and pans, plates and more. That way, you can be reminded of the language every time you go to eat something.
Write Your Grocery List in a Foreign Language
As you prepare your grocery list, why not write it in the language you're trying to learn to continue reinforcing the vocabulary you have?
Of course, the best way to learn a language is total immersion. If you have the ability to travel to the country where you're trying to learn a language, there's no better way to practice your new skills than lingering at a cafe in Paris, or a tapas bar in Barcelona or a sushi bar in Tokyo. This is where you'll get hands on practice and discover if your pronunciation is up to par. It will also test your listening skills and most likely give you new lessons in that country's authentic cuisine direct from the source.
No matter which language you want to learn, there's a way for you to do this through food. Enjoy and bon apetit!
Marry McAleavey is a former ESL teacher and currently works at The Essay Service writing company.