How to Use Your Love of Cooking and Food to Learn a New Language
Learn a New Language, Go on a Culinary Adventure, and Discover Other Cultures—All at the Same Time!
I am a language teacher. One of the most common questions my students ask me is how to learn a new language—and actually get fluent?
Well, it helps to find a great language course. And, creating an effective language immersion program that you can do at home is awesome too.
But the real secret to successfully learn a new language is to use your passions. In my experience, the students that had the most success took what they liked and made it into a language learning activity. Using the things you love to do to learn a language is a way to stick with language learning for the long haul.
And if you’re passionate about food, you’re in luck.
Language Learning Using Your Passion for Food and Love of Cooking
Foodies have a unique opportunity to turn their passion into a powerful way to learn a new language because there is no better way to connect with a culture than through its food (except, perhaps, through its music).
Food can be a powerful teacher. Recipes are a great source of new, useful vocabulary, especially for food, household objects, and kitchen verbs. While you’re learning a new language, you may also be learning some new skills in the kitchen. And, to top it all off, you’ll get a delicious meal at the end of your “studying”.
So without further ado, here’s a quick start guide on
How to Learn a Language Through Food and Cooking
1. Start With a Language Class
If you’re just starting out on your language learning journey, you might not be able to just jump right into reading recipes. It’s smart to get the basics first.
A language course can be a great way to build your foundation. Starting a class in the language you want to learn—even if you have already been studying a bit on your own—will help you make sure you have the grammar basics down, that you understand how to conjugate verbs, have some basic vocabulary, and so on.
Pimsleur is, of course, ideal for this.
Since it is based on Dr. Pimsleur’s effective teaching method, Pimsleur teaches you core vocabulary and language basics quickly. Rather than memorizing random grammar rules or long lists of vocabulary, Pimsleur focuses on teaching in a more practical way, emphasizing real conversational practice, authentic listening exercises, and so on.
And, since it’s also engaging and fun, you’ll enjoy adding it to your study routine.
So start there: use a language course to get up to at least a basic level in your target language.
2. Read Recipes in Your Target Language
The next step is to start reading recipes in your target language. Recipes are great reading material because they’re usually short and they use simple, clear language.
Here are a few tips to make the most of recipes for language practice.
- Learn the most commonly used verbs in the kitchen. Before diving into blogs, videos, and cookbooks in the language you are learning, it is worth quickly studying some of the most common culinary verbs so as not to feel lost or frustrated in your first attempts. Verbs like mix, wash, peel, boil, bake, chop, slice, season, cook, and grate, among others, will be useful to know before starting to read recipes.
- Look up words you don’t know. Once you start reading recipes, you’ll inevitably come across new words. Even when you reach an advanced level, you’ll still be regularly discovering new vocabulary. When you see a word you don’t know, look it up to find out its meaning. Then try to associate it with the recipe. For example, if you’re learning “boil” associate it with an image of the bubbling pot of hot water on the stove. Research shows that using memory techniques like associating words with visuals enables better learning.
- Write the new words down in a vocabulary journal. A vocabulary journal is a great way to remember new words or phrases. It is really just a personal dictionary—a place where you record the words you learn. There are a bunch of apps that allow you to record words easily, (Quizlet, Google Keep, Brainscape, Anki, or Evernote are all possibilities), you can make your own vocabulary app, or you can even simply use a paper notebook. In your vocabulary journal, I encourage you to add additional information, synonyms, antonyms, and example sentences.
3. Watch YouTube Videos
There are about millions of Youtube channels out there and the majority of them are not English. You have virtually unlimited potential to watch interesting videos in your target language, and especially those about food.
Try, for example, watching cooking tutorial videos. While it can be a bit more difficult listening in your target language than it is to read it, YouTube videos usually are still quite accessible at lower levels because you can always pause the video, rewind it, or change the speed so it is slower. If you’re still having trouble, try putting on subtitles in your target language.
Here are some Youtube channels that feature delicious recipes in the languages most commonly studied by Pimsleur students:
Top Foreign Language YouTube Cooking Channels in Different Languages
Las Recetas de MJ – Spanish (Castilian)
Hervé Cuisine – French
Fatto in Casa da Benedatta – Italian
CALLEkocht – Omas Rezepte – German
厨房菜谱 – Chinese (Mandarin)
Party Kitchen – パーティーキッチン – Japanese
4. Watch Cooking Shows on Netflix
Netflix provides a ton of opportunities for language learners. Watching a TV show or a movie, for example, is great because it gives you a visual context for the language to help you understand what’s happening.
If you’re a foodie, you’ll find a wide variety of shows about food and cooking on Netflix.
To listen to those shows in your target language, you can change the language manually on Netflix. Or, try this Google extension which allows you to watch Netflix in a number of languages together with translations and a built-in dictionary.
5. Bring Your Food to a Language Meetup
Food brings people together; it is meant to be shared. So why not share your new creations with other language learners?
Meetup is great for this. It allows you to find other language learners in your city. You can get together for regular conversation practice and to commiserate about being a polyglot. You’ll make friends quickly if you bring a delicious treat to share!
Can’t meet up in person? No problem! There are a number of apps that allow you to meet other virtual learners of your language. Some possibilities include:
Check out our advice on virtual conversations and taking your language practice online as well as how to make your online language exchange successful.
Ask your new friends about what they like to eat and for recipe ideas. And be prepared to share your own!
What Should You Learn to Cook?
Great, so now you’re convinced that food could be the key to learning a new language quickly. But what should you cook?
If you aren’t very adventurous with your tastes, look for meals that remind you of the dishes you are already familiar with and know that you like. This is also a good strategy if you don’t consider yourself an experienced chef.
If you are a bit more daring and love to try new things, then the sky’s the limit. Look for dishes that are typical of the cultures that speak your target language.
Here’s some inspiration from our blog to get you started:
- Latin American Spanish: try making Mexican margaritas and poblanos.
- Castilian Spanish: check out these Spanish peasant recipes.
- Japanese: learn about the 5 building blocks of Japanese cuisine.
- French: try one of these winter soup recipes.
There are, of course, a ton of other recipes around the web, including:
- Brazilian Portuguese: Brazilian feijoada
- Italian: Pizza Margherita
- German: Sauerbraten mit Rotkohl und Kartoffelklößen
Know of any other great foreign language recipe and cooking sites? Feel free to share them in the comments!
Language is Embedded in Culture
Besides offering new and rich vocabulary, recipes are also a fantastic way to learn more about a people’s culture, habits, and tastes. So explore! The world is full of exotic, spicy, sweet, and delicious foods that you have yet to discover.
If you put food at the center of your language learning, you can improve your cooking skills and learn a language at the same time!