Food for Thought

Grocery Cart

What groceries do you buy each week?

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?


Making new friends at the Ultimate Blog Party 2013

Bonjour, Guten Tag, Hola, Ni Hao, Ciao, Salam…..

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!

Cartoon Culture: Part 2

Listening with new ears

Say what? The problem with translation

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!


Pardonnez-moi: Learning Cultural Etiquette

Communicating with words and more

Learning to communicate involves more than just knowing what words to say. There are questions of how you say those words, when to use them appropriately, and also how to express yourself with your body,  hands, and behaviors.  I watched a World War II film recently in which an Englishman spying on German soldiers inadvertently seals his fate. He orders three drinks by holding up his middle three fingers–rather than using a thumb and two fingers as a German would–and this simple gesture gives him away.   Now, most cultural ‘faux pas’ won’t cause life or death consequences, but knowing the cultural etiquette of a country you are visiting can help you avoid embarrassing situations and manage the expectations you might have!

It’s about time.

In Greece or Brazil, punctuality is not extremely important; however, in Luxembourg you are likely to offend if you are not on time for a meeting.  Knowing the cultural expectation will help you know how to respond if you get out the door behind schedule.

Nice to meet you.

In many cultures, conversations begin with questions about how your family members are doing.  Take the time to answer and inquire about the other person’s family–these are not considered personal intrusions, but rather expressions of concern, respect, and politeness.

Don’t get touchy.

Russians might use lots of hugs, back-slapping or other physical displays when conversing, while Taiwanese are more reserved and may nod rather than shake hands upon first meeting.  In some countries, people stand very close when talking.  To others, this may feel like an invasion of ‘personal space.’

Take time to learn about the cultural etiquette of different countries.  This site offers many examples of behaviors to expect when greeting, meeting, dining, and visiting other countries.  After reading about other places, what examples of cultural etiquette can you give for YOUR country?  List your thoughts below in our comment section!

5 Ways to Teach Kids Global Awareness

Many top educators agree that global awareness is an important part of a child’s education.  As the world becomes more interconnected, children need to gain the knowledge and communication skills necessary to actively engage with people from diverse cultures and traditions.  But what is the best way to achieve this, especially for younger children?  Here are some ideas to help you and your family become a more globally-aware household!

Great Global Links and Ideas

To learn about current world events:

  • DOGO News offers an international article page with current events as well as fun, quirky stories from around the globe.
  • National Geographic Kids features a People and Places page that posts interviews with world citizens, explanations of different world traditions, and news on environmental issues.

To connect with local cultural groups:

  • See if your city is home to a Sister City International chapter,
  • Perhaps there is a chapter of a cultural group such as the Alliance Francaise in your region.  These groups sponsor local educational events, often for free, that teach others about the language and customs of international cities.
  • Attend local ethnic festivals in the summertime! The sights, sounds, and taste (yum!) of local festivals is a great starting point for learning about the history and diversity of your own community!

To explore your family heritage:

  • Take a trip to the library to research the country or countries of your ethnic origin!
  • Learn to cook an international food related to your family’s ethnicity
  • Play a traditional game–there are many ways to engage in cultural practices, and who doesn’t like to play and eat?
  • Interviewing relatives who have first-hand knowledge of the “old country” is another great way to strengthen family ties while learning!

To learn a language, one word at a time!:

Learning a new language doesn’t have to be a daunting task!  Start small, with common words and phrases that you can use in everyday contexts.  Please, Thank You, Hello–these are great ways to get used to new sounds in another language.  Pick a country or culture of interest to your family and learn a few words each week.  Practice them at the dinner table while enjoying a new recipe from the country you have chosen!

  • Digital Dialects offers learning games in many world languages.
  • Explor-A-World offers free greetings lessons along with activities the whole family can enjoy!

To lend a helping hand:

Another important part of global awareness is teaching kids that they can make a difference in improving the world around them.  Connecting your child’s interests to the charitable work is a great way to get them thinking about how they can make a difference.

  • If gardening or animals are a favorite topic for your tot, for example, consider learning about Heifer International.  Their website features kid-friendly games and information on how Heifer helps families escape poverty through gifts of agricultural tools and animals.
  • Other kid-friendly charities include Smile Train and Hoops For Hope–by donating allowance or helping to organize a community giving event, kids can learn that they CAN make a difference in the world!

What other ideas can you share about helping kids become more globally-aware?  Leave a comment below!