I had a very interesting day yesterday, 24 October 2011, at the French Institute (Institut Français), London. I had been invited by Professor Paul Seedhouse, Newcastle University, to give a short presentation on the History of Computer Assisted Language Learning to lead into his presentation on an exciting new interactive approach to language learning, The French Digital Kitchen. The French Digital Kitchen is a situated language learning environment in which a computer in the kitchen communicates with students, instructing them step-by-step in how to cook French cuisine while teaching aspects of French language at the same time, namely the essential vocabulary and grammar that are used in such an environment. The underlying pedagogy is Task-Based Learning (TBL), an established approach to teaching foreign languages whereby learners are prompted by instructions in the target language to carry out specified tasks.
As a first step, the students are presented with the grammar and vocabulary, and then they practise using what they have learned in the kitchen. Utensils and ingredients that are used in the kitchen are all labelled in French, and motion sensors are embedded in the utensils and the containers for the ingredients, which track the students' actions and prompt the kitchen computer to give them spoken instructions for each step in the process of preparing the food. Students can ask for instructions to be repeated or translations into English simply by touching the computer screen. Students work in pairs and are encouraged to communicate with one another in French.
As well as watching the presentations, we were treated to a demonstration of the portable version of the kitchen, with volunteers from the audience following the instructions in French for preparing a delicious clafoutis aux poires, which was then cooked in the French Institute’s kitchen and presented to us at lunchtime – a “tangible and edible product”, as Professor Paul Seedhouse described it.
The project is now being extended, thanks to European Commission funding, to develop materials in English, Spanish, Italian, German and other languages.
Videos demonstrating the project are available on YouTube:
French Digital Kitchen Dissemination Video
The Talking Kitchen that Teaches you French
Further information is available at the Digital Institute website at Newcastle University.