Cooking is always an exciting lesson for kids learning Chinese. Some of the most enjoyable and memorable lessons are naturally food related. After having studied a lot of languages, I realised that learning a language’s food is always an important step to understanding the culture better as a whole. And boy, Chinese culture is no exception!
Here are three areas you can highlight when teaching food which will ensure you get maximum benefit out of any food lesson:
1. The Verbs and Nouns
Cooking is full of actions and the verbs used to cook can easily be integrated into any food lesson. As the students will likely be performing the verbs they learn, it’s a fantastic time for contextualised learning. By experiencing the actions “on-site”, students will have a chance to learn through adding the senses of touch and smell. And sensory learning will most likely activate their long-term memories. Although you might be tempted to teach a noun list of ingredients, I’d recommend teaching verbs over a long list of nouns. Why? While some nouns will be important, verbs will get younger learners a lot more engaged than a list of static nouns. Depending on how specialised the noun is, verbs generally will have a higher frequency and more practical usages beyond your lesson for new language learners.
2. Table Etiquette
Chinese culture has some significant differences with table etiquette, not only from the utensils but also from what is considered polite and impolite. When teaching kids to use chopsticks, for example, I often run various ‘pickup’ games. Children need to race each other by picking up various items with chopsticks. Such games not only teach kids how to use chopsticks but also introduces a fun and competitive edge to the learning environment. Additionally, eating etiquette can be approached through various role-play situations for students to have the opportunity to choose the culturally correct course of action.
3. The Food
Depending on the age of the children, you want to select food that is appropriate. If you haven’t done a food lesson before, then dumplings is often a great place to start. Make sure you allow kids time to eat and enjoy the food, too!
You might only leave enough time to get through vocabulary and the cooking but not enough to enjoy it! It’s important you allow kids to experience their food creations. Depending on your class schedule this might force you to prep steps in the cooking process before coming to class. It would be discouraging for kids to learn about the food but not fully enjoy it!
So, there you have it! Three simple tips which hopefully will help you get the most out of any food lesson when you’re teaching kids Mandarin!