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!

Language Learning with Food

Get a taste of a new language and culture

When you think of “food” and “learning,” what comes to mind? A cooking class? Getting a candy treat for a job well done? Given the rise of both food allergies and childhood obesity, food has been pretty much expelled from the classroom in most schools. However, food is an integral part of our daily life and our culture, and we learn a lot about other countries from their food traditions. So how can we incorporate food into learning in a healthy, informative, and fun way? Here are a few activities to use when learning the names of different foods in another language!

3 ideas for food-related language lessons

  • Using the printable materials from, teach children the names of different kinds of vegetables, fruits, meats and grains. Have them sort the vocabulary on the plate, grouping foods in categories. Decide which combination of foods would make a balanced meal.
  • Pretend you are shopping for a meal at the market and you have a budget. Assign different foods a price, and ask children which items they can buy to stay on budget. You can adapt this for younger kids (using whole numbers) or older kids (decimal prices and/or multiplying numbers) to help practice math skills while learning the language words.
  • Ask students to bring in a recipe of a favorite family dish. What foods are included? How does the dish reflect their traditions or culture? Learn language words to describe the dishes: hot, cold, spicy, sweet, etc. Make a take-home class cookbook with copies of the recipes organized by category.
  • Using food vocabulary and cooking verbs/commands, create two sets of flashcards. Pick a card from each pile and make a list of steps for creating your imaginary dish. Do you have to “peel the chicken” or “slice the rice?” When you have 5 or 6 steps, demonstrate the actions for the class or draw a picture of the completed funny dish!

Have fun and get creative with language and food! Bon app&#233tit!

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.

Changing perspectives: a look at webcams

A great vision of world culture

Landmarks around the world

Despite their limited travel experiences, most of the kids that I know can recognize the Eiffel Tower in one second flat. The iconic photo of the Eiffel Tower against the background of Paris is the image that comes to most people’s mind when the word “France” is mentioned. It is an amazing structure–but there is a lot more to Paris and the Eiffel Tower that you can learn about by shifting perspectives a little bit.

Take a virtual trip

With today’s technology, many traditional landmarks are outfitted with webcams that provide viewers with a new perspective when learning about the structure and its surrounding landscape and culture. Cameras either store periodic photos in a montage or show live images, allowing you to see exactly what is happening at the moment. Here are a few sites that can provide fascinating visual footage of those ‘postcard perfect’ images:

  • The Official Eiffel Tower Website: This site has lots of detailed information on the history of the construction and its importance, but what I find most fascinating are the 360 degree photo galleries taken from different angles outside of and on top of the Tower. You can zoom in and out and scroll to the left and right to see what it would be like to stand at the top of the tower and look out over the rest of Paris. Rather than stare at the tower itself, children can get a feel for how large the city of Paris is, see the different architectural styles of the city’s buildings, view the Seine River winding its way through the city, etc. It’s a great way to get a ‘flipped’ perspective of a classic structure.
  • The Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany: This site offers a live webcam perched atop the castle as well as an archive of images that show the castle in different seasons. (Scroll to the bottom of the linked page, and click on Webcam; the click on ‘Archiv’ to see past seasons.) When I tell students that we will be viewing a live image of the castle, they are surprised when the screen shows the castle at night–it takes a few minutes for them to realize that ‘live’ in Germany is usually 8 or 9pm because of the time difference! Rather than seeing a famous poster of the castle stuck at one moment in time, the live webcam lets them see how the castle overlooks the town below, how the changing weather affects the views, and children can get a close up of the castle’s architectural features.

Experiment with different landmarks or cities around the globe–what new perspectives can you find via webcams?