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Menus from the World

In my school we have been engaged in finding ways and means to open our kids to the world. As an Italian school based in Como, where English is taught as a foreign language and with a population of pupils mainly speaking Italian as their first language, our efforts have been focused on strengthening L2 skills and on using L2 as a key to explore the world, that is, to open our children's mindsets toward other cultures in order to start effective intercultural communication.

We are all aware that when we acquire a new language we are interested in the “here and now”, that is, in topics and activities that belong to our personal sphere of interest: food is one relevant topic that combines direct non-verbal sensorial elements with conviviality and with traditions linked to different cultures, their history and geography. We have developed many events and activities linked to food, ranging from baking American cookies (chocolate chip cookies are the most popular ones), to the typical English breakfast served in a proper restaurant, or our

yearly English dinner, when children invite their families and serve them British dishes. L2 plays a role as a vehicle of communication during our preparation phases and during the events.

Among the various activities on food and cooking, we plan one ethnic lunch a month, both for Casa dei Bambini and for Primary School: ethnic food is a way to produce knowledge about a group of people or a region and to awaken curiosity towards their language and traditions.

At the beginning of each school year we set up a small committee made of our L2 teachers and our grade 4 and 5 kids that will select the countries to be included in our ethnic lunch calendar. Selection is made according to specific criteria that may change every year. For example, years ago we decided to explore the menus of all our Erasmus+ partner countries, from Lithuania and Finland to Spain and Greece. Last year we adopted the criterium of selecting one country per continent in order to virtually travel throughout the kitchens of the world. The language used by the committee is English, as a natural spontaneous means of communication with the L2 teachers and among the children. In addition, English has gradually become the language of all our intercultural events and activities of the school.

The committee then presents our calendar to the different classes: we usually supply each class with a list of menus from September to June and a map of where we highlight the countries that we have selected.

As a second step, the committee chooses the dishes of the menus on a monthly basis. In our selection we use L2 cookbooks and websites or we ask experts (families or teachers who may have lived in the relevant countries, if they are present in our school). We then submit our draft menu to our chefs, who will confirm our selection or suggest some changes based on the difficulty of cooking complex dishes for a large number of pupils and teachers, or on the unavailability of some special ingredients. The chefs sometimes decide to test some dishes in advance and the committee can taste them and make the final decision.

At this point, the committee is ready to present the menu to the different classes, by using teaching materials developed on purpose: flashcards of the dishes and of the main ingredients, flags and maps where to find the country of the month. All this is done using the English language. The committee also teaches some “grace and courtesy” forms both in English and in the language or languages spoken in the relevant country.

When the day comes, we can feel an atmosphere of excitement and expectation in the school. The kids usually invite all the school staff members for lunch and they are ready to explain what food we are eating and where it is from. They also give some basic information about the country.

In the past few years we have observed some interesting phenomena. First of all, children need to be guided in order to appreciate our ethnic lunches, as new flavours or unusual color combinations are not always appreciated. Repeated tasting experiences are important, as senses are subjective, not static and they can change through human perception and practice. Children go beyond their diffidence

towards what is new and different through trials and a lot of encouragement. Support is given by the teachers before, during and after lunch and through all the preparation work that we repeat monthly. Preparing for the experience together with the kids is a way to overcome diffidence or open disgust. We also read books about tasting, the funniest ones are “D.W: the Picky Eater” by Marc Brown and Dr. Seuss's “Green Eggs and Ham” which we also exploit from a language point of view.

Our Lunches from the World offer a lot of follow-up activities that the children can carry out by using L2: copying the recipes and making a personal intercultural cookbook by the end of the school year, making surveys among classmates about their appreciation of the menus, or even learning about the language and traditions of the relevant countries. We leave all our teaching and learning materials on the

shelves so that the children can choose what to do and when. The use of L2 is not compulsory but gently and constantly encouraged.

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