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Back in high school German classes, we were handed a weighty dictionary and a grammar-heavy textbook and left to fend for ourselves. Trust us, it didn't help when we finally got to Germany. If only we'd had iPods back then, we could have downloaded the new iPod phrasebooks from Collins publishers.
The new "digital phrasebooks" come in all the main western European languages, plus Polish and Mandarin, and come July, they'll add Japanese, Turkish and Finnish to the mix. For less than $10, you can see and hear 500 useful phrases that really are useful: from "Where can I charge my cell phone?" to "Is there a danger of avalanche?"
If you're not convinced, they even let you start off with a free demo--we checked the German one and it had basic phrases all the way up to "This is my partner." Seems they've got everything covered.
We're always on the lookout for the next travel tidbit that's going to ease our trip. If you're headed abroad for a holiday getaway in France, China or Japan, look into getting yourself some spiffy Lingolook Flashcards. The size of a passport, Lingolooks offer travelers the most useful phrases to help them get by in a language that might not necessarily be their native tongue.
The cards are double-sided and fan out neatly in your hand, making them discreet enough to carry, but easy enough to refer to if you get really stuck.
Inspired by a moment when they were lost in Japan, Lingolook's founders realized that asking strangers for help from a 10-point font guidebook on the street is, well, just awkward. The cards are easy to understand and you'll likely remember the 75+ included phrases quicker too.
Buy a set for $12, and you'll also get a free e-version, which is perfect for displaying on Blackberries, iPhones and PDAs. Italian and Spanish versions are on the way in '08. Just imagine, you'll blend right in with the locals--at least linguistically.