September 11, 2013 | Review Period
Not a Fan of Supposedly Practical Language Guides
An emphasis on travel and tourism language is dull and doesn't usually yield great results anyway.
I have returned to a book I got only at the very end of last year’s Portuguese unit and therefore didn’t experience much of before now: Sue Tyson-Ward’s Practice Makes Perfect: Beginning Portuguese with Two Audio CDs. I am not a huge fan of this one, partly because it focuses pretty heavily on practical travel-related vocabulary. The cover, in fact, tells me it is “ideal for travel to Portugal or Brazil.”
Some Good Stuff in Here, But Pretty Dull for My Purposes
On page 7, I learned that um quarto de casal is a double room and um quarto individual is a single room. I really don’t care at this stage.
Now, I love travel. I am totally pro-travel.
However, I have a working theory that many people are put off from language study precisely because they buy these supposedly practical guides to help them with their business or recreational travel and then find themselves very bored learning terminology for different kinds of hotels and train platforms and overseas banking transactions. It is about the least inspiring type of vocabulary you can learn, in my opinion. (Sorry, travel and hospitality industries.)
I am wondering whether any of my readers happen to share this point of view.
This theme has come up on my website before. I am not, as I have mentioned, drawn to phrasebooks. For one thing, they help you ask questions whose answers you have not typically acquired the facility to comprehend, because all you are working with is a phrasebook rather than more meaningful language background.
Have you ever asked a question in a foreign language and been understood (yay!), only to be confronted with a tongue-rattling onslaught of information that leaves you no better informed than before, but possibly embarrassed at your total incomprehension? (Okay, I will concede the point that some benefit can accrue from such attempts, but I maintain nonetheless that phrasebook-abetted communications yield unreliable outcomes.)
Another point I have made previously: it is precisely in tourist-friendly places such as hotels and restaurants and train stations that you are likely to find people who can communicate with you in English anyway.
Therefore, I am more interested in, well, life vocabulary—the stuff I want to talk about normally. Like at a party. Human things. Family, friends, professional interests, recreational activities, books, movies, and so on.
That’s what makes me attached to a language. Learning the word for “sister” is so much more exciting than learning the term for “credit card”!