Dinner with the SPI Language Team
Food is often the social spark that brings people together. I learned very quickly when planning events in university that if you want people to show up to a meeting or presentation to always provide food, and just mention in the flyer that there will be free food and chances are more people will show up than if there is none. In my experience food also sparks language learning, and meals are especially great vehicles for hunting language.

Food and meal times are so perfect for language learning mainly because it’s a time that people are gathered together with common ground, (hopefully!) delicious food, and the language that you are learning is useful in every day situations, a.k.a. other meal times. In particular, it’s a great time to learn or practice the words for “want,” “have,” “give,” and “take” because there are several moveable props at your disposal that actually need to be passed around the table. Dinner tables and kitchens are also great for language because of the props. They are familiar objects that are useful to be able to discuss, there are many things that are the same (several forks, knives, and spoons), there are similar objects in different sizes (small spoons and large spoons, small bowls and large bowls), they are easy to pass back and forth, and in the case of the WAYK house with our color-coordinated dishes it is clear which object belongs to each person.

Color-Coordinated Dishes

Over the summer while we were learning chinuk wawa our dinner conversations often turned into chinuk time where Casey and I hunted for new words or showed off what we’d learned that day. For several weeks in a row we cooked, or attempted to cook, dinner in chinuk and spent a good portion of our following meal time speaking in chinuk. I think I can attribute about 50% of the chinuk I learned this summer to meal prep or meal conversations. One night in particular I remember that we did a demo hunt for a Summer Language Intensive visitor, Christina, and I learned several words at dinner simply by discussing glasses of water. We discussed who each cup belonged to, whose cup was full, half-full, and empty, who wanted more water and who was finished. In about 20 minutes I had learned several new words that were useful to several everyday situations and conversations.

As we learned more Unangam Tunuu our chinuk time decreased because we spent more time thinking in Unangam Tunuu and as a result tried to incorporate more Unangam Tunuu into the WAYK house. We used several short Unangam Tunuu phrases we learned such as greetings, inviting people in, asking how someone was doing all summer, but the first time that we really had a spontaneous Unangam Tunuu conversation was at the end of July during breakfast. One of the local members of the Summer Language Intensive team, Sonia, had begun joining us for breakfast in the morning so she could get a ride up to the civic center. That morning Evan decided to practice some of the terms he’d learned the day before playing Go Fish and announced in Unangam Tunuu that he wanted more oatmeal cake and asked Sonia to give it to him. At that moment we all kind of looked around the table and chuckled at the realization that we finally had enough language to have a real conversation in Unangam Tunuu, which was a major milestone. We all got excited and decided to discuss what we wanted and asked for items to be passed around the table in Unangam Tunuu. Conveniently, because we had been using some food and kitchen items as props in lessons we could already talk about the apples (which were a topping for oatmeal) in Unangam Tunuu but we did have to substitute in a few English nouns that we tweaked to fit in better like “oatmeal cakax̂” and “berryax̂”. What was most significant though is that we actually knew the all the verbs and correct conjugations to make the language work. Since then we’ve incorporated Unangam Tunuu into more conversations around the house, but I don’t think it was a coincidence that the first time we used Unangam Tunuu in a full conversation outside of a ride was during a meal.

Unangam Tunuu Breakfast

Post authored by Robyn.

Written by Evan Gardner