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The Great Spanish Bake Off… almost

How teaching students traditional British cooking (no giggles please) boosted their language learning

Baking learning EPALE

Ross Clarke is a freelance lifestyle journalist and education advisor based in Spain. He has taught English as a foreign language to learners at all levels in the UK and Spain and advised on all aspects of higher education in the UK. He teaches ballroom dancing in his spare time and specialises in CLIL (content and language integrated learning).

It’s not often I find myself buying 12 packs of butter. Not just because of the strange looks I get from the cashier but I don’t usually need to make that many Welsh cakes. But as I piled up my trolley in the Spanish supermarket it dawned on me what I’d agreed to do. Two days, 300 students, 15 cultural workshops, one of which was British baking that I had volunteered to teach. Couldn’t be that hard, right?

 

Getting ready

It wasn’t until I spoke to the project leader that I realised I was in for more of a challenge than I first thought. The school had no food technology or catering rooms, but I could use a biology lab. The school didn’t have any cooking equipment either. After reading through books and ideas, I came up with Welsh cakes. Simple flat cakes cooked on a griddle and only needing five basic ingredients. They also had the added advantage that I’d been making them since I was a child back home in Wales with my grandma.

Ingredients weren’t a problem – flour, butter, eggs, sugar and currents (ok, in truth the supermarket only had sultanas) were easy to come by, it was the equipment that required special thinking. The head of extra-curricular activities, a very accommodating man called Claudio, said I could borrow his electric griddle and a quick ask around the English teachers provided me with enough mixing bowls of varying shapes. No one seemed to have a rolling pin but two bottles of vino tinto later, and I had two shiny empty green glass rolling pins.

 

Getting our hands dirty

After a complete antibacterial spray of every conceivable surface in the lab, I was ready. In came the first group looking rather timid. I split them into groups of 3 each in front of an empty mixing bowl and started to explain a little about the history of baking in the UK (the first series of the Great British Bake-off had only just aired in the UK), about my Welsh heritage and about regional cuisine. I asked if they could think of a typical dish or recipe from their country or region, before explaining what we were going to do.

A member from each team came to the front to collect and weigh the ingredients ­– albeit on the dubious scales I had managed to find. I asked them if they knew what each ingredient was and where it comes from (Jamie Oliver, eat your heart out) and then showed them how to make breadcrumbs. I wish I had taken a picture of their faces, a mix of shock, disgust and delight as they realised it meant getting their hands dirty, especially when they had to add the egg to the mix. They all rolled out their dough and cut out six shapes using a range of glasses and cups, before allowing me to cook them on the griddle, while following instructional English and commands as well as the language of the kitchen.

 

Lessons learnt

After they’d washed up I continued the lesson talking about the importance of hygiene in the kitchen, and encouraging them to share their opinions on the importance of healthy eating. It threw up lots more questions and was great to see them using vocabulary that they had learned in class regarding health literacy and the food pyramid.

For me, cultural activities like this help put a language in context and are a much more fun way of learning – and teaching! It also helps those who, like me, are kinaesthetic learners and ingest information better by doing. I’ve found that when students get to focus on something practical and see how language is used in real-life situations rather than seeing anonymous faces in a textbook acting out situations. They not only grasp a lot of language indirectly, but also become much more enthused and engaged.

For my students living in Spain, their future English journey has and will most likely lead them to the UK for work, study or pleasure or the tourism industry in Spain. Cultural understanding and awareness as well as the ability to converse using a wide range of vocabulary will give them the best possible chance of success.

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