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

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