People learning a new language almost always have the same complaint - you may temporarily memorize words that you learn in a classroom, but you soon forget those words unless you actually have to use the language. Some educators have addressed this problem through Task-Based Language Learning, in which students have to complete a task using instructions provided in a foreign language. Researchers at Britain's Newcastle University have recently put a high-tech spin on this approach - they've created an interactive kitchen that keeps track of what its users are doing, as it uses the French language to guide them in preparing French cuisine.

The French Digital Kitchen has been compared to an automotive navigation system, in that it provides verbal step-by-step instructions, doled out as the user successfully completes each one.

To use the system, users first access a connected computer, on which they select the recipe they want to prepare. As the instructions are given, digital sensors in the utensils, ingredient containers and other equipment register whether or not those instructions are being followed correctly. Those instructions are worded in such a way that they contribute to the student's understanding of French in general.

If the student makes a mistake, the computer verbally notifies them. They can also hear an instruction over again, or hear it in English, by accessing controls on the computer's touchscreen.

The French Digital Kitchen system has so far been implemented in the catering kitchens of Newcastle College, although the Newcastle University team has created three portable versions that consist of a computer and the wirelessly-linked cooking equipment. They would like to see a portable version of the technology available for use in other schools - or even in people's homes - by the end of next year. The researchers have received a European Union grant of EUR400,000 (US$556,000) to develop versions that teach the English, German, Spanish, Italian, Finnish and Catalan languages, along with their respective cuisines.