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!

Website Wednesday: A Time Explorer’s Adventure

Educational Games for Digital Natives

Your mission: locate lost artifacts from ancient civilizations while avoiding dangers! Does this sound like your kind of adventure? Then check out the British Museum’s Time Explorer’s Adventure game at
Click on the Kids Discover block to find games suited for children that take you back in time to learn about Ancient Egypt, Rome, Mexico and China. Using simple navigation tools (such as the keyboard arrow keys), kids can explore a virtual Aztec temple, for example, learning about the life of ancient people and the artifacts that they left behind.

Level up!

For today’s “digital natives,” games are a commonplace part of their lives–and I’m sure many parents would prefer that kids learn something while they play! The British Museum site offers just such an opportunity. One benefit of game-based learning is the motivation of the player. Rather than penalize kids for a ‘wrong’ answer, they are encouraged to problem-solve to achieve the game’s goal and move on to the next ‘level.’ Motivation comes from the excitement to see what challenges the next level holds! In fact, many proponents of education reform are encouraging the use of more game-based curriculum to help with everyday skills in math and reading.

So don’t scoff at EVERY game your child might play on-line–there might just be some learning going on!
What educational games are your family’s favorites? Leave a note in our comments section below!

Your Community in Pictures!

Share your culture with a community scrapbook

What does YOUR community look like?

If someone were to ask you to put together a scrapbook of your community, what would you include? Would you take pictures of local landmarks? Favorite eateries? Portraits of the residents? A community is made up of not just people and places, but also language, history, and cultural practices. When we want to learn about another place, we read about it. But today’s technology allows us to experience culture in a new way!

Example: Learn about life in Bulgaria

In Radomir, Bulgaria, a local school set out to teach its students about their native culture. Another goal was to help students learn to express themselves better in English. The resulting project is a FANTASTIC look at a small Bulgarian town, as described by its own residents. On the website, you can learn about Bulgarian traditions as well as festivities and celebrations throughout the year. The students put together an entire website with some great presentations and videos that describe many aspects of their lives in Radomir. Check it out here!

  • How can you help kids create a similar project? Whether you are working with a class or with your own family, start by identifying popular activities and traditions in your town. Visit local sites. Interview residents. Remember that the what may seem typical or commonplace to you might really spark the curiosity of someone who lives around the world! If you are learning a new language, include some phrases or sentences that help describe your town to others.
  • Curious about other world cultures? Visit the Next Vista Global Views website for videos made by kids in other cultures.
  • Want to make your own community video or website? Visit Richard Byrnes blog “Free Technology for Teachers” for lots of great resources, including ‘how-to’ videos on using free technology to make websites, videos, and blogs.

Merry ThanksWeenAkuh!

Holidays around the world

We’ve arrived at that time of year when people are not sure how to greet one another. We may not know if another family celebrates Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa–or nothing–so we often opt for a simple “Happy Holidays” which seems to cover most possibilities! Unlike adults, children don’t worry about whether their greeting will offend or be inappropriate for a classmate. They are CURIOUS about the traditions of others and eager to share their own cultural practices and learn from one another. Simply asking another person, “What traditions do you celebrate this time of year?” opens the door to a conversation without judging or making assumptions. Here are a few holiday traditions that are common in several world cultures:

    • China: Many Chinese celebrations center on nature and seasons rather than religion. In December, families celebrate the Dongzhi Festival (Winter Solstice Festival) with feasts and family gatherings.


    • Italy: La Befana, the kindly old witch, brings children small gifts on Christmas. Children also take time during the season to write their parents letters telling them how much they love and appreciate them.


    • Morocco: Based on the Islamic calendar, Muslims celebrate the Islamic New Year in November or December and celebrate the Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday in January or February.


    • Mexico: One Mexican Christmas tradition is the Posada. Families reenact the journey of Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem by taking part in neighborhood processions that stop at house to house until an “innkeeper” lets them in. The Posadas take place each night between Dec. 16-24.


    • India: For five days in November, Hindus celebrate the Diwali Festival, or Festival of Light. Originally a celebration of the last harvest before winter, families light clay lamps and enjoy food, fireworks, and celebrations of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.


    • Sweden: The Christmas holidays begin in December 13 with a celebration of St. Lucia’s Day. Young girls wear a crown of greenery with lighted candles on it, and participate in parades and family gatherings.

This winter, take some time to learn about the traditions of your friends and neighbors!