Daily Pampering: ECTACO’s Multilingual talking electronic dictionary and phrasebook

Forget about paying for language lessons, books on tape or private instruction so you can learn to say “Where is the bathroom” in Russian. Now there’s a speaking portable pocket translator that will do all the work for you.

“How do you say…?” is a thing of the past, thanks to ECTACO’s Multilingual Talking Electronic Dictionary and Audio PhraseBook. This $799 speech-recognition tool will help you speak like a local in most languages. Well, assuming you have the intellect to speak the language properly.

There are thousands of voice activated phrases already inputted into the database, and a full text translator will allow you to interact with people in your target language without having to learn the language. The best part? It speaks (so you don’t have to)! All 14,000 voice-activated phrases are spoken in a real human voice to facilitate understanding and includes a massive human-voice talking dictionary.

The ECTACO Partner Alpine 8C900 Grand Multilingual Talking Electronic Dictionary and Audio PhraseBook also comes with a GPS module attached to help you find your way wherever your travels take you, and a C-pen scanner allows you to upload and translate any text directly into your handheld phrasebook.

Now you can practice conjugating your verbs while you travel! Your high school Spanish teacher would be so proud.

Want more? Get your daily dose of pampering right here.

Finding the expat community and what travelers can learn from them

No matter how well-traveled you are, moving to a foreign country and living as an expat is a whole new ballgame. Your priorities and standards change, and hours that you may have spent as a traveler in a museum or wandering a beach are now spent in as an expat search of an alarm clock or trying to distinguish between eight types of yogurt. You become like a child again: unable to speak in complete sentences, easily confused and lost, and constantly asking questions.

Enter the experienced expats who can help navigate visa issues, teach you dirty words in foreign languages, and tell you where to buy pork in a Muslim country. Finding the local expat community is not about refusing to integrate or assimilate in your new country, but rather meeting a group of like-minded people who understand what you are going through and can provide a bridge to the local community and culture.

So what can the traveler learn from an expat? How about where to buy souvenirs that are actually made nearby and well priced, restaurants not mentioned in any guidebooks, bizarre-but-true stories behind local places and rituals, and inside perspectives on community news and events? And those are just the Istanbul bloggers.

Read on for tips on finding the blogs and a few of the must-reads for travelers.Where to find the expats:

  • Expat forums such as ExpatFocus, InterNations, and Expat Blog are good starting points for finding and connecting with expats, though some forums may be more active than others.
  • Local English-language publications: Many big cities have a Time Out magazine in English and local language, often with frequently-updated blogs or links to other sites. In Istanbul, the newspaper Today’s Zaman has an “expat zone” full of useful articles.
  • Guidebook writers are often current or former expats, so if you read a helpful guide or travel article, it’s worth a Google search to find if they have a blog or Twitter account.

Some stellar expat bloggers around the globe:

  • Carpetblogger: sarcastic, insightful blogger based in Istanbul but with lots of coverage on Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Indonesia. Stand-out post: expat guide to duty free shopping.
  • Miss Expatria: prolific writer and instantly-loveable American in Rome, a joy to read even if you have no plans to visit Italy, but you might find yourself buying tickets after reading about her life. Stand-out post: Italian idioms.
  • CNNGo: great round-up of finds in Asia from Bangkok to Tokyo with everything from restaurant reviews to a look at Tokyo’s elevator ladies. Stand-out post: Japan’s oddest vending machines, a favorite topic of Mike Barish, who has chronicled some of the vending machine beverages for your reading pleasure..
  • Bermuda Shorts: Enviable (and crushworthy, too) travel writer David LaHuta covers all the goings-on in Bermuda and all things Dark n Stormy-related. Stand-out post: name suggestions for new Indiana Jones movie set in Bermuda Triangle.
  • Fly Brother: Series of funny and poignant misadventures in Brazil and around the world from the African American perspective. Stand-out post: how an afternoon of seemingly simple errands can take up to seven hours.

The next time you plan a trip abroad, consider reaching out to a fellow American (or Canadian, Brit, etc.) for some advice or even a coffee meeting (assuming you aren’t a total psycho). I, for one, am happy to offer Istanbul tips and tricks, and I’d be even more amenable to helping a traveler who comes bearing Boar’s Head bacon.

Any expat blogs you follow or travel tips you’ve learned from them? Expat bloggers want to share your websites and your insights for travelers? Leave a note in the comments below.

Five types of words and phrases to learn in a foreign language

When traveling to many foreign countries, especially if you’ll be sticking to major cities, there’s no need to be completely fluent in the local language. But knowing a few key words and phrases can make your experience not only easier, but richer as well. While many people in the tourist industry speak English, they’ll still greatly appreciate your efforts in speaking their native tongue. Phrases like hello and goodbye are no-brainers, but a few other, less obvious phrases will be invaluable as well.

The Bare Minimum

Please/Thank you

There’s no excuse for not learning at least these words and phrases. Being able to say hello, goodbye, please, thank you, yes and no won’t get you far in a conversation, but the people you speak with may appreciate your minimal effort.

The Basics

Numbers 1-10 and the general rules for converting to tens, twenties, hundreds, thousands, and so on
Where is?
How much?
What time is it?
I would like. . .
The bill please.
Hotel, restaurant, train station, taxi, toilet, airport, bus
Police, hospital, help
In crowded bars and on the street, knowing your numbers, and being able to ask how much something is, what time it is, for a certain number of something, where something is (and the words for the things you might inquire the location of), or for the bill, will get you what you need with little fuss. You won’t be able to hold a conversation, but you’ll be able to get directions and order food or drinks easily. In many countries, restaurant servers won’t bring your bill until you ask so knowing how to do so will save you time waiting around for the check.
It’s also wise to know a few words for emergencies. You hope you won’t need to know how to ask for help or call for the police, but if you do, you’ll be glad to be able to communicate when it’s most important for your safety and well-being.

Food Phrases
Meat, cheese, bread

You can always sound out the pronunciation of your desired item from the menu, or just point to it at the bar, but you may not end up with what you want. Memorizing the translations for a few basic foods will help point you in the right culinary direction. The words and phrases you’ll use most often may change from country to country but it’s always wise to learn the words for water, beer, wine, coffee, bread, cheese, meat, and plate.

If you have any food allergies, you should also learn how to say “I cannot have. . .” in that language. Many people prefer to just write the phrase down and hand it to the server each time they order a meal.

Avoiding Embarrassment
I’m sorry, I don’t speak. . .
Do you speak English?
Every traveler tries not to stand out as a tourist. But sometimes the strategy of looking like a local can backfire – like when someone approaches you in Barcelona and starts speaking rapid-fire Spanish and all you can do is stare blankly back at him. Instead of staying mute or responding in English, this is the time to pull out the phrase “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Spanish” of whatever the local language is. Likewise, before launching into an English interrogation, you can politely inquire of another “Do you speak English?” in his or her native tongue.

Conversation Starters
What is your name? /My name is. . .
Where are you from? /I am from. . .
This is my husband/wife/child.
You’ll never be able to have an in-depth discussion with a person who doesn’t speak your language. But you can at least engage them with a few rudimentary phrases. Being able to ask people their names and then giving yours, sharing where you are from, or being able to inquire about family, can help them see you as a person like them, rather than a foreigner.
Though many of us would like to speak the local language anywhere we go, it’s often not a realistic option. Knowing these keys words and phrases won’t make you fluent, but they will help you get more out of your journey. If you can’t memorize them all, just make yourself a handy “cheat sheet” that you can pull out when needed.

This location had absolutely tall!

Apologies for the insane article title, it’s one of the results of passing a piece of text through “Blahblahfish“, a fun yet useless re-translator.

The site takes any text you enter, and translates it to one of the 28 languages supported by the translation site, then translates that back to English again.

“This location had absolutely tall” is actually “this site is absolutely fantastic” in English to Croatian and back.

The purpose? None. But it makes for some absolutely hilarious results. The “highest rated” Blahblahfish translation managed to turn “Oh Shit!” into “Human waste of Ohio” when passed through English to Korean and back. Passing “George Bush” through a Latin translator, yields “Agricultural Shrub”.

Of course, if you need a way to justify wasting 10 minutes of your life on creating gobbledygook text, then you could always claim you are doing scientific research on automated translation sites, but the real lesson here is that online translation sites are horrible at doing their job, and that using them for anything serious might be a bad idea.

(Via our friends at Download Squad)

Making the most of your ‘staycation’: Learn a foreign language

With high gas prices and a low dollar the idea of “staycations” is all over the place. Go over to Urban Dictionary and there’s even an official definition of the term that has come to define Americans’ 2008 summer travel season: “A vacation that is spent at one’s home enjoying all that home and one’s home environs have to offer.” But as Jeremy pointed out, the whole thing feels rather lame. He came up with some good tips on how to cut down on travel costs so that getting away from home can still be possible, but what if you really only can afford a staycation? What then?

If summer 2008 is going to be the summer of staying close to home then it’s high time to do something productive with your time off, and just because you can’t travel to exotic lands doesn’t mean you can’t brush up on your foreign language skills. Adding to your foreign language repertoire is a great staycation activity for two main reasons:

  • Thanks to the internet you can do it from the comfort of your own home
  • You might be staying home, but you are still increasing your knowledge of other cultures

Here’s the quick and dirty guide to incorporating learning a foreign language into this summer’s staycation:
Getting started:
Check out websites like 101 Languages or Language Guide. 101 Languages has basic guides to vocabulary and grammar for everything from Polish to Tagalog. Although it offers less languages, Language Guide is a personal favorite of mine because when you move the cursor over the words and expressions you hear the native pronunciation. For a small daily dose of language, sign-up for Travlang’s Word of the Day which selects one word and translates it into over 80 languages.

Using your new skills:

Sitting in front of your computer is all well and good, but if you really want to improve your language skills you are going to need to use them in a conversational setting. A great place to start is Craigslist, where you can search for people that are looking for conversation partners or even post your own ad.

Visit the local library:

If you’re working on a common language like French or Spanish, take advantage of your local library and check out some children’s books. If picture dictionaries are a little too elementary, try tracking down a children’s book translated into your language of choice. When you’ve already read the likes of Harry Potter in English you will have a much easier time diving into it in the foreign language, plus you won’t have to deal with complex sentence structures found in your foreign language college literature class.

See, there’s really no excuse for having a lame, un-educational summer, even if you can’t travel abroad. What are your tips for learning a foreign language when you don’t have the possibility of traveling to the country where it is spoken?