Travel Phrasebook: Your guide to foreign languages

Ever see National Lampoon’s European Vacation? There’s this hilarious scene where Clark Griswold and his family are looking for house number “six” on a German street.  Clark thinks he knows the word for “six” in German – hint: it’s sounds a lot like another, naughty word – and when he goes to a door and tries to communicate this, he gets a door slammed in his face.  Hilarity ensues.  The point: speaking in a foreign tongue is a lot like that Head and Shoulders shampoo motto: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Saying a word wrong could get a door slammed in your face, or worse: a hand slapped in your face, or even a visit from Interpol.  This is why Travel Phrasebook is so helpful.  It can save you from public humiliation and/or a meeting with the American ambassador.

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Travel Phrasebook is just that: a PDF phrasebook that will make you sound competent, perhaps even cool.  You can learn 100+ professionally translated phrases in all kinds of languages, including Spanish, French, and Chinese, as well as 10 at a time in popular categories. Best of all, you can download the phrases to your laptop, iPhone, or mobile device.  Or you can just print them and take them with you! The phrasebooks themselves are gorgeous (screen shot below); it provides general stuff (“What time is it?”  “Nice to meet you”) with Numbers, Common Questions, and Common Problems (“Why are you laughing?”  Ahh…if I only had a dime for every time I had to ask that question.)

Travel Phrasebook also serves a very large and desperate market: bumbling, fanny-pack wearing (American, ahem) tourists who would rather not deeply immerse themselves in a language, but rather get a handle of the key phrases.  And let’s be honest: they’re already wearing fanny packs and would look even worse reading from a thick, clumsy analog phrasebook; at least now they can look remotely cool by referring to their mobile device.  (But I kid: these phrasebooks are ideal for folks of all ages and proclivities, especially young people just out of college.)   And of course, sorting the phrases by category makes things even easier.  For example, when you go to a restaurant, all the common phrases are in one place (“The bill please,” “I am vegetarian,” etc.  I did not see “Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup,” but why even put it out there, y’know?)

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One phrase book is only $2.99.  You can get two – and a third for free – for only $5, and all twelve for a mere $10.  Not bad!  Currently the phrasebooks are heavy on the Southeast Asian regions; languages include Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Malay, and Indonesian.  Europe is represented by Germany, Italy, Spain, and France.  What more do you need, really? (Just kidding, Belgium!)

So, from a first-time user perspective, I was instantly drawn in.  I really liked the sample phrasebook, plus the iPhone/iPod screenshots.  They laid it all out there, yet the layout was simple and no frills-y.  And of course, the price is unbeatable.  Now if only this stuff was around 10 years ago.

Flashback time…

1998.  I was the Ugly American in Paris, trying to buy film.  You’d think it would be an easy enough conversation, but I made no effort whatsoever to speak French – too intimidated – and rudely made the clerk (try to) speak American.  Lucky for me, the clerk was totally amazing – the rude French stereotype is a lie – and I wasn’t utterly humiliated.  And talking to girls?  Totally out of the question.  Where to even begin?

If I had Travel Phrasebook back then, I could have slid over to Marlene, a dark-haired, beret-wearing beauty – my fanny pack hidden by my bulky USA sweatshirt – and whisphered, “faut-il laisser un pourboire ici?” (that means “do you have to tip here?”)  Our eyes would have met and when I wasn’t checking back with Travel Phrasebook every 30 seconds, we would set the Parisian night on fire.  Within three days, we would have married and settled in the coastal town of Biarritz.  Marlene would tend to the garden, I’d get into carpentry.  Ah Marlene, though I never met you, I’ll never forget you.  Nous aurons toujours Biarritz!!

Travel Phrasebook has been lambasted by the cold triumph of reality. The site’s offline, leaving would be travelers lost in translation.