Book Review: Small Talk: Western Europe

Kerry Dexter's picture

Multilingual Phrasebook Review

Small Talk: Western Europe
Lonely Planet
commissioning editor Karin Vidstrup Monk

Three by five inches square, 128 pages  -- and ten languages? Yes. The basics -- and given the length of the book, they are quite basic -- of Danish, Dutch, German, Italian, Greek, Turkish, French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish all fit in, and it’s a format that’s quite practical. Of then ten languages, I know four well, one somewhat, a few phrases in two, and few words in two more and one, not at all, all of which gave me an interesting base to evaluate how useful the book might be to travelers.

For each language, useful phrases, sentences, and subjects are arranged the same way. There’s an essentials section, where you learn how to say yes and no, ask do you speak English? and a few things like that. Next is a section called chatting, with subsets on introductions, making conversation, invitations, meeting up, and likes and dislikes. Then there’s a part on eating and drinking, one on shopping, one on exploring (asking directions and dealing with transport, basically), working, and emergencies.

Strong point: English sentence, sentence in the language, and phonetic pronunciation are each right next to each other on the page. Many guidebooks, including some of Lonely Planet’s, have some of these elements on separate pages. Another good point: for the non Roman alphabets of Greek and Turkish, the phrases as written also appear right on the same page.

Weak points: especially in the section on chatting, they teach you how to ask questions, but there’s not much help in understanding answers. That makes sense, in a way, as the answers will necessarily be quite individual, and using gestures and so forth may be quite helpful. Still it is something to be aware of.

Half and half point: pronunciation guides for the languages I know seemed a bit clunky -- however, if you said the words this way, you’d be understood. I expect the same is true of those languages I don’t know. Point to remember: speak and listen carefully.

In addition to the language trainings, there are several extras: a very basic map of western Europe, a somewhat generalized calendar of events and festivals, and 24 Hours in the City section, with suggestions by day part for a top city in each country. There's also a topic by topic index.

This really is a small pocket-sized guide. If you’re traveling where these languages are spoken and need to navigate the basics, it should prove a helpful and convenient companion.



Kerry Dexter is the Music Editor for Wandering Educators.

Kerry's credits include VH1, CMT, the folk music magazine Dirty LinenStrings, and Ireland and the Americas. She also writes about the arts and creative practice at Music Road. You may reach her at music at wanderingeducators dot com