Edible Alphabet: Learning English and Connecting to Culture Through Cooking

By Liz A. Wed, December 9, 2015

Edible Alphabet is an English-as-a-Second-Language program offered by the Free Library's Culinary Literacy Center. The mission is twofold: to teach participants how to cook nutritious meals and to teach English language skills through hands-on education.

Food is universal—it cuts across cultural differences, uniting people in all walks of life. Our program accounts for differences in learning styles, nutritional and consumer practices, and classroom expectations among English language learners.

About Edible Alphabet:
Edible Alphabet is a six-week series that provides a meaningful and enriching classroom experience. We are partnering with the Nationalities Service Center (NSC), a non-profit organization that has provided social, educational, and legal services to immigrants and refugees in the Greater Philadelphia area since 1921. Students from NSC are from a wide array of countries of origin and have a range of English language skills. Edible Alphabet complements the students' existing classes at Nationalities Service Center. 

Our classes are taught by both a certified ESL instructor and a chef to maximize the building of nutrition education, language skills, and consumer literacy simultaneously. The curriculum helps students identify ingredients, kitchen tools, and cooking implements in English and how to categorize ingredients according to their food groups; teaches common cooking verbs and food adjectives; and leads students through preparing and cooking recipes. The class also gives students the opportunity to share conversation in an informal, familiar setting: around a table, at a shared meal. 

Here’s what the staff at Nationalities Service Center had to say about our first six-week class:
“While occasionally interactions in the U.S. are unfamiliar and stressful to clients, cooking serves as a reminder that many things remain the same and that they possess the tools necessary to survive here. Cooking class therefore serves as a comfort to our clients as well as an educational tool.”
– Bridget

“Once the cooking began, those students who normally feel uncomfortable in a classroom fully participated in the lesson. Many students with less English fluency, who often hang back in English class, demonstrated their expertise in cooking without hesitancy or self-consciousness. …This was a wonderful break from the usual routine that engaged students on many levels and taught useful skills relating to language, teamwork, nutrition, and conversation.”
– Rachel

Edible Alphabet students
Edible Alphabet students


What a fantastic program! How can volunteers become involved?
Erica B - Philadelphia Wed, December 09, 2015
I am interested in participating in this program and bringing several consumers who are learning better communication skills and independent living skills.
Rachel Gucwa - Philadelphia Fri, January 01, 2016
Hi, I read the article about your organization on the NPR website and I thought it was very cool. I learned Spanish in a kitchen, and spent a lot of time helping others learn English in the same environment. For me, the comfort and playfulness of cooking is what helped me relax enough to really start to learn to interact in a practical setting with a foreign language.
Ryan - San Francisco Fri, January 22, 2016
How can I find this cooking class in Jacksonville?
Soonhyang Kim - Jacksonville Sun, January 24, 2016
Hi! I've been wanting to participate in something like this in my area--this is a brilliant idea! How can we get this everywhere it's needed?
Cori - Ann Arbor, Michigan Mon, January 25, 2016
This is amazing! How can I get involved and volunteer?
Charles B. - Philadelphia Mon, January 25, 2016
I wanna learn how to really cook.
Amer Hasan - Philadelphia, PA Sat, February 20, 2016
How can I get involved & volunteer?
Amer Hasan - Pennsylvania Sat, February 20, 2016
Hi there - I own a company that teaches english to food industry workers. I'd love to connect with you and see if we can find a way to collaborate. Hope to hear from you! Rachael www.eslworksnyc.com
Rachael Nemeth - Brooklyn, NY Thu, January 05, 2017
I have a masters degree in teaching TESOL. I have 12 years experience in public schools and I have worked for a caterer and have catered meals myself. I would like to help with your program.
Bruce Rapsher - Queen Village, Philadelphia Wed, March 01, 2017
A great idea. How can I register and/or volunteer?
Daniele - Philadelphia Wed, July 19, 2017
I'm very interested in the class and would like to get more information and register for the class. Can you please provide contact information. Thank you.
Elena Rodriguez - Philadelphia Fri, December 15, 2017
Thank you for this article. It brought me to tears thinking how cooking is breaking down barriers to communication and promoting global communion. I am trying to do the same in Los Angeles, and am starting with my videos. See them here https://learnenglishwithchefjoanna.blogspot.com/
Joanna Barajas - Los Angeles, CA Fri, January 26, 2018
Dear, My name is Humberto, I'm Brazilian and I've seen your website announcing a program where people can learn to cook and at the same time learn to speak English. I'm writing now using Google Translate because my English is still not very good. My daughter is studying in Temple and will still be in the USA for at least another 3 years. I would like to know how my wife can enroll for these classes and if they can send us the schedule of this program. Can you help us ? Thank you
HUMBERTO SILVA - Manaus, Brazil Thu, February 15, 2018
Hi - I'm a founding Team member of SanctuaryKitchen.org, a non-profit in New Haven, CT. We offer supportive and empowering opportunities for refugees, immigrants and asylums to gain income through culinary events (leading cooking classes, preparing supper clubs, etc.) and provide forums for cross cultural exchange. We have about 40 cooks from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, The Democratic Republic of the Congo working with us, but almost all have no or beginning English skills. I am also a certified ESL teacher and would like to create a program similar to this. I would love to not have to start from scratch and wondering if the Edible Alphabet curriculum is one that can be shared if we provide the obvious credit?? Would anyone be willing to talk to me? My email is above, and I'd appreciate an opportunity to connect. Thank you for your inspiration! Donna Golden, PhD SanctuaryKitchen.org
Donna Golden - New Haven, CT Tue, July 03, 2018
My name is Stephanie and I am a casting producer at Good People Casting in LA. We specialize in finding people who aren't actors for commercial projects. You can see some of our work here: www.goodpeoplecasting.com. I am currently casting a commercial for Evernote (www.evernote.com). I am looking for men and women between 22-40 years old that are working for organizations having to do with immigrants and/or immigration issues. We would love to find someone at Edible Alphabet because we think what you're doing is not only interesting but also really important. Anyone that would be interested in auditioning for this commercial does have to be able to communicate in English and must be legal to work in the US. Filming will take place August 20th-24th (very likely just 1 or 2 days within this range). It will pay $3,000 for the days of shooting and for the usage of the commercial. Filming will come to you; this will shoot in your town (or whoever they choose) in order to portray your life authentically. These details will be settled once we get closer to filming the commercial. Please let me know if there's anyone from your organization that would be interested in participating/auditioning. It is important that the person we consider is a great talker and charismatic. Feel free to send pictures of people who are interested or have them get in touch with us directly, and we will start setting up short interviews via Skype. Please let me know if you have any questions. Thanks, Stephanie Berman :: Good People Casting www.goodpeoplecasting.com 6103 Melrose Ave Los Angeles, CA 90038 cell:: 847.372.8941
Stephanie Berman - Los Angeles Thu, August 02, 2018
Is this program still going on? Is there someone I can call to get information about how the program is doing, or other related information? I'm an ESL instructor, whose Chinese wife loves to cook, and who also loves to cook...
Kevin Nelson - Eureka, California Mon, October 08, 2018
We are currently working to update the website for Edible Alphabet. For more information about the program, please email kitchen@freelibrary.org.
Lindsay Southworth, Edible Alphabet Program Manager - Culinary Literacy Center, Free Library of Philadelphia Mon, October 15, 2018
Can you tell me if the Edible Alphabet is still in existence> thanks
Sally Sampson - Phil Thu, January 10, 2019
Excellent information you have shared, thanks for taking the time to share.
Cleaning Services - Canada Tue, September 17, 2019

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