WHEN traveling, I feel it’s always in the best taste to at least try to speak the local language, however much one may butcher it.
During my time Beijing, the Lonely Planet phrasebook I brought along was a big help. But truthfully, an untrained ear trying to pronounce Mandarin’s tones meant I got a lot of blank looks when I ventured beyond “Ni hao” (Hello) and “Xie Xie” (Thank you). So I ended up doing a lot of pointing; this made for some interesting surprises – like pointing to “breakfast,” without a clue of what might come to the table.
This is the central idea behind the Point It travelers dictionary, which I picked up at the MoMA shop in New York a while back. This thin book is divided into basic categories – Food, Hotel, Transport and Shopping, etc. – with each section featuring photos of things like place settings, animals, modes of transportation…anything you might need to find the word for.
Though the photos look like they’re from circa 1970, this looks to be an extremely useful reference – there’s no need to carry around a bunch of dictionaries if you’re crossing through countries, and I imagine one could just pick up on words as they went along, instead of trying in vain to pronounce poorly-romanized words from phrasebooks.
Sadly, I’ve yet to have a journey where I needed to use the book. Whether it’s the travel essential the publishers claim it is, I’m not sure, but you can bet it’s coming with me on my next international flight.