Linguacuisine

Combining technology, languages, culture and cuisine

by Sharyn Collins

As editor of this magazine, I very much enjoy doing interviews with interesting people from the world of EFL. These interviews usually involve exchanging questions and answers, mostly in the form of emails flying backwards and forwards from the far-flung corners of the world, but recently, I had the great pleasure of doing an interview face to face in my home city of Newcastle upon Tyne. Here, I spoke to Paul Seedhouse, Professor of Education and Applied Linguistics in the Department of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University UK.

If that wasn’t enough, I also had the joy of cooking lunch for Paul and myself in the purpose built kitchen in the dept.; food and EFL, what a great combination!

The purpose of my interview was to talk to Paul about a free app called Linguacuisine which he and his team have designed to help people learn a language through the joy of cooking. Paul explained to me that the best way to learn about the app was to follow a recipe from it, so I chose Italian, as it’s a language I hadn’t studied and therefore everything would be new to me.

So, standing in front of a screen, although this can be done on a smartphone, I started my Linguacuisine Italian language and cooking lesson. The app gave me a list of ingredients and then a voice started to take me through the cooking process. Everything was in Italian of course, but there were subtitles and translations whenever I needed them. I was also given a bit of culture information about Italian cooking and about the particular dish. Thirty or so minutes later, Paul and I sat down to “Involtini alla contadina” and I had a lovely lunch and made quite a good start on my journey to learn Italian.

After the meal, I interviewed Paul to fnd out how Linguacuisine had come about.

Paul, in a few words could you tell me the aim of your app?

Linguacuisine is part of project to promote digital literacy, languages, cultures and cuisines. The aim of the app is to deliver a real-world, immersive learning experience involving touch and all 5 senses. This cannot be appreciated by simply reviewing the app online, so you need to put an apron on, try a recipe in a foreign language and see what you learn!”

Did the idea come about through your own love of cooking?

Not really, the idea came about in quite a strange way. At Newcastle University, we are very fortunate in that we have a department of computer science which actively invites other departments to collaborate with them. I went over there one day and saw that they had a digital kitchen set up to help people with dementia to cook for themselves and therefore live in their own homes. The utensils had sensors on them, the fridge had sensors which could tell what food was in there and then there was a screen which could provide a recipe to guide people through the cooking process. I was not only totally amazed by this but realized that we could use a similar model for language learning.

Not really, the idea came about in quite a strange way. At Newcastle University, we are very fortunate in that we have a department of computer science which actively invites other departments to collaborate with them. I went over there one day and saw that they had a digital kitchen set up to help people with dementia to cook for themselves and therefore live in their own homes. The utensils had sensors on them, the fridge had sensors which could tell what food was in there and then there was a screen which could provide a recipe to guide people through the cooking process. I was not only totally amazed by this but realized that we could use a similar model for language learning.

How did you fund the project?

We applied to the European Community and fortunately, we were given the funds from the Erasmus plus fund. The kitchen itself cost 6000 euros and we soon realized that it wasn’t economical to install these in colleges and so we started to think about a cooking app. This meant we could take our idea worldwide by producing something that could be just as effective online. This would then be task-based learning which could be taken out of the classroom.

So where are you now with the app?

We now have over 500 recipes online in fifteen different languages and the beauty now is that the app has started to take on a life of its own. Anyone with an interest in languages and cooking can upload a recipe and a video of themselves cooking it. Who knows? We may have some linguistic celebrity chefs who might gather a following of their own by way of the app. We have a moderator who keeps a check on what is happening, but so far it has been a great success. We have even had recipes from ancient Greece and Rome, sadly

So how can our EFL teachers and readers of this magazine become involved?

Well, if you are EFL educator and you love to cook, why not send in a video of yourself cooking a favourite recipe from yours or another country? The app is easy to follow, there are sections for listing ingredients and utensils and for step by step cooking instructions. There is also a section where you can join our worldwide online community and discuss other people’s recipes and post information, stories and photos. Members can do the same for your recipe, so it’s a good way to make friends in other countries.
It seems that there is no limit to where this app can go and I can personally say that using it to cook my Italian recipe was the first but not the last time I will be using it.. Many thanks Paul and I wish you and your colleagues in the department much luck with this project.

Linguacuisine