Disclaimer: There have been more interactive, communicative and, all in all, more interesting lessons in my career. Unless you are genuinely interested in the topic or a diehard fan of this blog, you might be better off watching the ice hockey semifinals. On the other hand, the lesson did meet its aim and was useful for the student.
Reading food labels was our next topic and made up part of several lessons on food. It was also another in a sequence of lessons on receptive skills. I would normally balance skills in my syllabus, but it was important for my student to be able to read what is inside a food product and it tied well with the previous topic of shopping.
I had never taught anyone how to read nutritional facts. I have never seen it in any coursebook nor had any of my students been interested to learn. Nevertheless, I can understand why it is important. Being a cautious and environmentally aware person, I read food labels of most suspicious (e.g. biscuits and other snacks) products when I go shopping. One may also need to read food content for dietary and health issues. Even though the language is rather complex, I couldn’t simply tell my student to wait until he reaches a higher level. It had to be taught, and it had to be done in spite of the fact he was a beginner.
I started off by looking at some real products. I also searched some information websites for the public and browsed some e-shops to see what information they provided.
I identified the following language areas:
- The text of food labels in Czech supermarkets often comes in several languages, most frequently in Slovak, and also in Polish, Hungarian, and other Central European languages, but often not in English or French, which are the languages my student speaks.
- It can sometimes be difficult to determine where the Czech text ends and the Slovak one begins and I needed to point this out to my student.
- Each product contains an oval mark with the code of the country where it as made.
- Other than that, there are two types of information: Contents/Ingredients, i.e. what actually is inside the food, and Nutritional values – info on the amount of protein, fat, carbohydrates, and fibre.
I prepared an empty white yoghurt pot to take to the class and I downloaded product info sheets on three products: white yoghurt, a type of tofu spread with herbs and a can of chilli beans with corn. I had not adapted the product sheets much and I think it was a mistake. It would have been smart to unify the wording of each sheet to avoid two different words for the same item. For instance, jedlá sůl (edible salt) x sůl (salt).
The lesson itself wasn’t particularly stunning as far as methodology goes. The student read the Czech texts and I explained in English what they meant. I wasn’t too proud of the procedure, but I think the student was happy to quickly find out about the meaning of the words without having to look them up himself. Since we share a common language, English, it just seemed a straightforward solution.
We began by looking at the yoghurt pot and read/translated most of the information. My first idea that we would look at the easy language only came to nought as the student asked just about everything on that pot. Examining it with a large magnifying glass, he fired questions about: nasycené a nenasycené tuky (saturated and non-saturated fats), sacharidy a z toho cukry (roughly translated as sugar content of which sugars – go figure), DDD (recommended daily intake) as opposed to the average daily intake, etc.
We then went on to examine the three product sheets. We also talked about words for the “bad” ingredients – palm oil, corn syrup, additives, etc.
After the lesson, I added the words to Quizlet and instructed my student to study them only passively. I didn’t think he would be likely to have conversations about the recommended daily dose of protein, so he simply needed to understand the words.
For the follow-up lesson, I designed a reading exercise. I downloaded product information sheets for: three types of biscuits (one of them contained palm oil), three types of pickled cucumbers (one contained artificial sugar), and three cheeses (each from a different country).
The first task was to find biscuits without any palm oil, which was easy. For the pickles and cheeses, I had not provided any instructions. I wanted my student to be in control of his criteria. I simply wrote:
You want to buy some cheese and pickles for a small party. Which do you choose and why?
Simple as the task was, my student got quite involved and took great care to study the product info. He then made an informed choice, selecting the pickles with the fewest ingredients, and a Czech cheese, again with simple ingredients and little salt content.
In the reflection stage, he spoke about studying the Quizlet set and how he had understood what the majority of the words meant, and we agreed we would move on to Restaurants – ordering food and booking a table. This is where things became a bit complicated and next time you will hopefully read about some real teaching – grammar, reading numbers and pronunciation.