ABOVE: To walk the walk (or dance
the dance), do you have to talk the talk? It never hurts to try, even in
a country like Denmark.
by Durant Imboden
Many first-time travelers
to Europe worry about making themselves understood. Others aren't fazed in the
least by language problems, having read or heard (incorrectly) that most
Europeans are fluent in English.
In his delightful book, Neither Here Nor There, Bill
Bryson puts language worries in perspective:
"I don't want to know what people are
talking about. I can't think of anything that excites a greater sense of
childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost
everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can't read anything,
you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can't even
reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence
becomes a series of interesting guesses."
Still, I've always found that learning at least a little of the
local lingo makes a trip more pleasant--even in countries like Denmark or
Portugal where nobody expects a foreigner to be able to say more than
"Hello," "Good-bye," and "Where's the toilet?" So,
before you leave for Europe, learn some language basics or polish your rusty
high-school skills with the help of these Web sites:
Languages for Travelers
Before heading off to Europe, get acquainted with the local lingo. Our article
includes practical language-learning tips and links to related sites.
Learn a Language in Europe
A language vacation can be a life-enriching experience. Read my advice on how to
find a language school, what to expect, and what one of us experienced as a middle-aged
language student in Siena, Italy.
Hide This French Book 101
Hide This Spanish Book 101
Berlitz has published "a countdown of the 101 hottest expressions" in two
languages. The inexpensive books make great bon voyage or buen viaje
gifts for hip travelers and semester- or year-abroad students.
Fodor's Living Language
Hear common travel phrases through your computer's loudspeakers in French,
German, Italian, or Spanish.
Languages for Travelers
Scroll down past the ads to the search section, where you can select
phrasebooks with recorded audio in many different languages.
This site offers free machine translation of 27 languages plus 97
online dictionaries for languages that range from the familiar (German,
French) to the esoteric (Frisian, Breton). It also has an inernational
directory of human translators.
Download language courses in MP3 format, with text (for your PC) or without
(to burn on CDs). The first chapter of each course is free.
(An Introduction to Romansh)
Switzerland's fourth language, based on "the people's Latin," is
spoken by about 48,000 citizens and a small number of Italians near the Swiss
From Switzerland for Visitors, an introduction to Swiss-German
From Laura Lawless, a site for Francophiles and aspiring
Hyde Flippo's site covers everything from
dictionaries to dialects.
Michael San Filippo serves up articles and links for travelers and
Gerald Erichsen's site features a
"Word of the Day" and other learning aids.
Featured link (Italian lessons)
Parlo con Carlo
If you're looking to learn conversational Italian and can't afford
to live in Italy, ask Carlo Pescatori--a former chemist who resides in
Venice--to deliver live
lessons via Skype. (Carlo also rents three
Venice vacation apartments in
the building where his family lives.)