Why the cooking contest show Die Küchenschlacht is great for language learning and perfect for 2020. Plus an update on my Spanish progress!

Images credit ZDF

I am convinced that you can’t begin to understand a country and its language without immersing yourself in their reality TV, particularly their daytime TV. Britain created and exported many of the first reality TV shows, and The Great British Bake Off has been teaching Americans strange new words for years.

My German skills have not really been used since I changed jobs – could I awaken that part of my brain with a bit of TV? What would I learn? A friend suggested this ‘comfort viewing’ show – let’s investigate…

Since 2008, in a studio in Hamburg, ‘hobby cooks’ (Hobbyküche), have been gently battling it out for daytime telly fame. Each week, a new cohort of amateur chefs shows up to compete from Monday to Friday by cooking a different challenge each day. This… is Die Küchenschlacht. (Kitchen battle)

The funky title sequence plays out to ‘Respect’ for some reason

Die Küchenschlacht is filming new episodes without an audience, but in this show, they like clapping to music. This creates the weird situation where as few as three people are sort-of rhythmically clapping when a chef walks on set to judge the dishes. The song is Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect’. Their claps echo discordantly inside the empty, cavernous studio, and it feels strange and very 2020.

Another peculiarity for German TV is that each hobby cook has their full name displayed on screen, which I think is a symptom of a more formal style of address. Despite this, the host and the contestants throw “du” around instead of “Sie”.

So what did I gain from a week of watching Die Küchenschlacht? Well, I learned the German words for quail (Wachtel), a new type of mushroom, (Kräuterseitling) and another word for a ‘favourite dish’ (Leibgericht). I also reassured myself that I can understand an entire show and the language hasn’t gone that quickly!

There is just something valuable in taking something you are genuinely interested in (in my case, cooking and reality competition shows) and using it as an opportunity to just immerse yourself in your target language.

Spanish Update

I have started a new intermediate level class! It’s online, by necessity, but they’re group lessons – I have always preferred learning with a group instead of with a tutor. You need people who can empathise with your struggle!

The pandemic and lockdown left me fairly demotivated to learn, but now I am starting a routine of reading one article in Spanish every day, and looking up new words.

My next goal: immersing myself in a Spanish radio station! Does anyone have any tips?