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!

Spring forward…Fun with Flowers and Foreign Language

Playing and learning

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!


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?

Website Wednesday: Visions of Europe

Photos from around the world

A Window to the World

Each Wednesday, we’ll highlight a website that has useful information, techniques, or resources for early language learning. This week’s website is Europe Pictures, a community of photos from Europe.

We often look to link new vocabulary to situations with which students are most familiar: describing family members or talking about a recent vacation or birthday party. Familiar situations certainly do give children an opportunity to make connections between their own experiences and new words, but often the cultural context of the vocabulary is lost in the shuffle. Finding culturally relevant information for kids can also be tough–not all sites are kid-friendly or contain easy-to-find cultural content.

Europe Pictures is a great site for two reasons: first, the photos are royalty-free and available for free download for any private or commercial use. Second, the photos are categorized by country and region, with thumbnail images on each page to help you easily locate relevant scenes. You can even upload photos of your own travels for others to view! Display the photos on a screen for a class, or download and print them for use on posters or flashcards.

3 Ideas for Using Photos in Language Learning

Here are some ideas for using images from Europe Pictures in lessons for kids. In all examples, children can use authentic images of these world cities to learn about other cultures and make comparisons to their own culture:

  • Using images of a city/region that show seasonal changes, have children identify the seasons and weather in each picture. Use color, weather, or month vocabulary to describe what they see in the images.
  • Print an image on a large piece of paper and cut it into several pieces. Using directional vocabulary or prepositions, have children put the pieces of the ‘puzzle’ together to reveal the destination. Decide what clothing they would need to pack to travel to this region.
  • Identify similar images from several countries/regions (i.e. images showing houses, seashores, landscapes) and have children discuss the similarities or differences between the images using descriptive and comparative vocabulary.

The photos included in Europe Pictures are often submitted by amateur photographers who do not use fancy digital techniques to enhance their images. As a result, the images are less flashy than those you might buy from a stock photo website, but it often represents a more ‘everyman’ quality of life in Europe with scenes of neighborhood picnics, or local hiking trails. After all, the Eiffel Tower is just one landmark in a country full of diverse people and scenery! Take a peek at Europe Pictures and see what it has to offer!