Language Learning in the Wild

Foreign languages are generally taught within a classroom setting using textbook exercises. Despite its wide usage, there are a number of problems with this approach. Students are only able to “rehearse” the language, rather than use it practically. The classroom setting also makes it difficult for students to immerse themselves in the foreign culture. Studies have shown that Task-Based Learning, in which students utilise the language they have learned within a practical setting, is a far more effective way to learn languages.

For this project, we worked with researchers from the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences to turn the Ambient Kitchen into a platform for Task-Based Learning of French. Originally created to assist older people and those with cognitive impairments in their day-to-day lives, the Ambient Kitchen technology was adapted to offer users a recipe in French. It uses motion sensors to ensure that they have understood each step, and supports the user by repeating or translating instructions where necessary. Students can apply their skills practically and with tangible results, making the experience of this Task-Based Learning more rewarding than the traditional classroom setting. With cookery as the context, they are also able to experience something of French culture, as the recipes offered by the kitchen are classic French dishes.

We carried out a study among 46 staff and students from the university to assess whether the kitchen had a positive, negative, or neutral impact on the way they learned French, and to see how people with varying levels of fluency in the language responded to the learning environment. This provided insight into how we might improve the technology and influenced its adaptation for the ongoing European kitchen project.

See also: iLAB: Learn Kitchen

Press release: French kitchen is recipe for success


Date: Jun 2010 – Nov 2011

Funding: EPSRC: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Digital Economy Programme £162,525

Researchers: Paul Seedhouse (PI) – School of Education Communication and Language Sciences, Patrick Olivier (CI).                                                                                     Dan Jackson, Thomas Ploetz, Jack Weeden, Saandia Ali – School of Education Communication and Language Sciences.

Collaborators: Newcastle College, and CILT: The National Centre for Languages.