A digital kitchen which uses sensor technology to give users cooking instructions in French has been developed.
Language experts and computer scientists at the university teamed up to create the kitchen, which guides cooks using motion-sensor technology and other digital sensors.
“By international standards, the UK is low down on the league table when it comes to learning languages – a problem that inevitably has an economic impact," said project leader Professor Paul Seedhouse of the Education, Communication and Language Sciences department.
“We believe that simultaneously developing skills in a country’s language and its cuisine will help reverse the trend.”
On a tablet or laptop computer incorporated into the kitchen, the user first selects the French recipe they want to follow.
Digital sensors built into utensils, ingredient containers and other equipment then communicate with the computer to make sure the right instructions are given at the right time, or to give feedback to the user if they go wrong.
The user can ask for an instruction or a piece of information to be repeated or translated into English by pressing the touch screen, and all grammar and vocabulary has been carefully selected to ensure that using the kitchen adds to basic proficiency in understanding French.
The project has adapted technology that was initially developed for Newcastle University’s Ambient Kitchen, designed to help people with dementia and also developed with EPSRC funding.
The kitchen builds on the proven technique of Task-Based Language Learning (TBLL), an effective teaching method where students are prompted by instructions in a foreign language to carry out specified tasks.
The digital kitchen, which has been supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council through the RCUK Digital Economy Programme. is designed to be installed in schools, universities and homes and could be available as early as by the end of 2012.
Portable versions of the kitchen, comprising the computer and sensor-enabled kitchen equipment, are being taken out on roadshows to schools across the North East, and three will be installed in Newcastle College and at Institut Français, a London-based charity dedicated to teaching the French language.
An EU grant of €400K has also been obtained to develop English, German, Spanish, Italian, Finnish and Catalan versions.
“Our overriding objective is to make language learning more enjoyable, more effective and, by linking it to the development of another valuable life skill, more educational too,” said Professor Seedhouse.
See the Newcastle University Digital Institute website
See the EPSRC YouTube channel