Did you ever wonder how French toast got its name? Did the French culture really ‘invent’ it? In fact, the delicious dish known today as French toast in America was actually first created before France was even a country! Ancient records have shown that the Romans would dip stale bread in milk and eggs and fry it to make otherwise tasteless bread tastier—nothing was wasted as far as food was concerned! Over the years, it has been called German toast, Spanish toast, etc. depending on the country where it is made. In France today, this dish is called ‘pain perdu’, or “lost bread.” When immigrants from France came to the US, the dish was associated with their heritage, and the name “French toast” came into being.
Food + Family = Culture
Food is such an integral part of any culture, reflecting the history, geography, and traditions of a country. It can tell us a lot about daily life and cultural values. For kids, it can be fun to learn about the eating habits of people in other countries and make comparisons with their own family dining traditions.
An apple—or a baguette–a day…
You can get a glimpse of world food traditions by visiting this site which displays what a week’s worth of groceries looks like for families around the world. You can see the variety of meats, drinks, vegetables, breads, and grains from different parts of the world. Kids will also notice how the abundance and variety of food choices change from one culture to another. While this is only a glimpse of the world, it can provide a starting point for conversations about culture that can help children better understand the world in which we live in.
In addition to considering the typical foods from around the world, be sure to look at the clothing, houses, and décor of the families. Where can you find the similarities and differences?
If you are new to the Living Language blog, let me share with you what it’s all about!
On my blog you can learn about world cultures and languages and how to help kids explore them. As parents, we look at many daily experiences as learning opportunities–I tap into these same experiences with a language-learning twist!
Lots of research shows how readily kids pick up new languages at a young age, but most elementary schools do not yet provide regular language instruction. But there are lots of ways to make world language part of your daily life, even if you are not a fluent world language speaker yourself. So join me on my journey to make world language fun for families, with tips, resources and activities for Living Language and enjoying culture in everyday life!
So how did I end up on this path? Almost by accident! I intended to become a French professor and bounced around academia for a while before volunteering to run a French club at my son’s elementary school. You can read more of my story here, but the short version is that I began expanding my own horizons, learning about other languages and cultures so I could share it with the kids. As I learn new things, I share them in my blog so families like yours can have fun exploring the world too!
Thanks for visiting, and stop back again soon! I’d love to hear about YOUR language and culture experiences as well!
I’m all about Everyday Language–learning and using world language words in everyday contexts to show kids that learning can happen anywhere AND it can be fun, too! Take a look at this simple project and see how easy it is to connect language and culture with a fun family activity.
Spring is just around the corner, and what better way to get inspired than to create bunches of fun flowers to decorate your home. These quick creations don’t need water, sun, or plant food–just a little folding and twisting to make a neat bouquet!
Simply take a few small squares of tissue paper (about 6-8 inches square) and stack them flat on the table. Beginning at one side, fold the stack of papers accordion-style. Next, tightly twist a green chenille stem (or twisty tie) around the center of the folded stack. Gently separate the folds of the paper and open them up to create the flower ‘petals.’ Visit this site to see illustrated instructions of this project.
Turning crafts into learning props
Now that your flowers are complete, use them as props in games and activities to help you learn about world languages and cultures.
For simple games to practice words in another world language, try these ideas!
Use color words or number words to count and sort the flowers into groups.
Hide the flowers around the house and have children find flowers of certain colors, or give clues to the hiding spots using room or furniture words.
Make extra flowers to give away to family members or friends, practicing family vocabulary.
Did you know that flowers are part of many world cultural celebrations?
In Nice, France, they celebrate Mardi Gras with a parade of floats made of flowers, then toss the flowers to bystanders as they pass by.
In Genzano, Italy, Corpus Christi Day is celebrated by creating a long flower petal carpet through the town streets using intricate designs. When the festival is over, townspeople disperse the petals by walking along the flowery carpet.
The Chiang Mai Flower Festival in Thailand is known for its elaborate flower floats that parade through town.
Learn about more flower festivals from around the world here. Host your own flower parade and celebrate Spring, wherever you live!
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has spent a busy afternoon with a group of kids and felt exhausted afterwards! It is exhilarating to be part of their non-stop energy, but while they seem to have an infinite supply of it, we adults tend to run out a bit sooner. Sometimes the anticipation of tiring out can lead us to squelch the energy of the young kids. We might prefer a quieter learning environment with more structure to the active games that kids love and enjoy. Finding a balance can be tricky, but here are a few trips to help focus young energy into productive learning games that engage kids.
Shopping in person, not on paper
Since language is meant to be used for communication, get kids involved in actually communicating with one another! Rather than sit and ask a neighbor how they are doing, station kids around a room and have them walk around, introducing themselves or surveying how others are feeling. Rather than match food pictures and words on a worksheet, have children ‘shop’ for items on their shopping lists by visiting ‘storekeepers’ who hold certain items in their ‘stores’ around the room. The simple act of moving around to accomplish a task can help instill the actions, words, and context into the learning experience.
I learned this lesson quickly in one class where a young boy was constantly interrupting the quiet discussion, shouting out unrelated responses, and generally being very fidgety. As soon as we started moving in a task-related activity, he was instantly engaged, completing his task far sooner than the other students. He asked if he could help out the others and went from student to student, helping with pronunciation, giving directions, and communicating in the target language more effectively.
Every teaching moment can’t be filled with action. But incorporating movement into each class helps engage kinesthetic learners in a fun and interactive manner. What active games help your kids learn? Share your ideas in our comment section below!
Perhaps it’s my academic background, looking to analyze seemingly normal situations to find the hidden meaning, but I was struck by a cartoon episode I saw the other day involving a bilingual unicorn/dog couple and their friends. Lady Rainicorn, the Korean-speaking unicorn on Adventure Time, was conversing with her doggie husband, Jake, when Jake realized that he was the only one who understood her. He divided his time between her and his friends, but they did not all hang out together. Jake realized that it would be better if his friends could understand Lady Rainicorn’s language, so he found a ‘universal translator’ that enabled her words to be translated into English. The only problem was, instead of hearing her speech in her own high, sweet girl voice, the collar can only translate her words into three voices called ‘nightmare’, ‘old man’, or ‘nerdy alien’, with the old man setting being the only one that everyone could understand. See a 90-second clip of this episode here. While Jake’s friend was glad to understand the unicorn now, Jake is unsettled because her translated voice doesn’t really represent who she is.
More than words
Translation programs have been around for a long time, and are becoming more sophisticated as technology improves, much to the dismay of language teachers! However, as Jake notes, there are certain aspects of conversation that do not translate well or do not accurately represent what is being said. It may be that a single word in one language has many specific variations in another language, such as the oft-quoted theory that Inuit groups have dozens of words for ‘snow.’ Similarly, in Mandarin Chinese, you cannot speak of family as ‘sister’ or ‘uncle’ without specifying if the sister is older or younger, or the uncle is from the mother’s or father’s side, by marriage or by birth. These language complexities give a lot of insight into the culture of a particular group and without a good understanding of the cultural context, we may miss out on a lot of meaning through simple ‘translation.’ In fact, a recent study shows that language is related to our cultural behaviors: we may be more inclined to save money or find our way in unfamiliar places based on what language we speak.
When thinking about learning a new language, consider the pros and cons of a simple translation tool–are you in a desperate situation that needs quick communication to resolve a problem? Then break out Google Translate and see if it helps. But if you’re planning on traveling to learn about a culture or getting to know a new international neighbor, take the time to learn about the language and its insights into culture. You’ll be speaking in your own voice and connecting on a deeper level with your conversation partner!