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Language Guides for Travellers August 29, 2007

Posted by Edwin in Pimsleur, Speaking, Vocabulary.

I walked into the library the other day and saw a CD by Pimsleur. It was a French language guide for travellers. It had only one CD!

I borrowed the ‘Pimsleur I’ (or part of it, I believe) from the library a few months ago. There were so many CDs to go through and it was just plain boring to me. I returned it after a few days.

This time, Pimsleur in one CD just caught my attention. So I checked it out. It contained Unit 1 from the original ‘Pimsleur I’, and a few traveller’s scenarios such as at the passport counter and checking into the hotel. That was it?

I am not against Pimsleur. I think it is good for beginners and it trains you for proper pronunciations. But it is the idea of “language guide for travellers” that makes me laugh.

Here is my point. Don’t ever let anyone give you the sense of quick language acquisition. If you are travelling to a foreign country and you know nothing about their language, don’t expect to read one of those guides and be able to perform basic conversations with the locals. This is a naive thinking, and I can tell how true it is from my own experience.

I have some traveller’s language guides on my bookshelves: one for Italian, one for Japanese, and one for German. I bought them over the years because I needed to travel to those countries (well, my wife bought the Japanese one, but I was the one ended up reading it). Throughout my trips, there were only 3 words that I could practically use in each language:

  1. Hello
  2. Thanks
  3. Bye

You can learn these words without buying those guides! If you want to impress the locals, they are good enough to show your sincerity. Perhaps in the case of emergency, you would be interested to know a few more useful words such as ‘passport’, ‘money’, and ‘hotel’. Basic exchange with the locals like checking into the hotel or asking for direction in those scenarios? Forget it! Fire whatever you can memorize, but don’t expect you can comprehend whatever is coming back at you.

If you want to learn more about the language, buy a beginner’s guide to the language, hire a tutor, or less favourably, attend some classes. Expect to put some time and hard work on it!



1. naturegirl - September 7, 2007

Yop, especially because when the locals see that you have such difficulty with their language, they will immediately switch to English.
Actually this sometimes annoys me, because even when I really spend a lot of time learning a foreign language and then I’m eager to practice it, they still switch to English because they see I’m a foreigner. That happened to me a lot in France and I wish that would change.

2. Coalition Of The Willing « Tower of Confusion - September 7, 2007

[…] 7, 2007 Posted by Edwin in Cantonese, Speaking, French, English. trackback Naturegirl left a comment on my previous post, mentioning a common scenario, where you want to practice your target language, […]

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