Saturday, January 09, 2010

Phrasebooks, stock phrases and intermediate language learning

... plus a hypnosis follow-up

A while ago, on HTLAL, I ran across a reference to Spanish for Travelers by Lewis Robins. Apparently, the for Travelers books are just about impossible to find. I got one on Amazon marketplace for $2.50, but the next cheapest one on offer was $25 or $30. Anyway, these books have about 360 phrases on a variety of topics, laid out in a special format for you to give yourself vocabulary tests with them.

The thing that struck me with Spanish for Travelers is the range of structures in it. For a beginner, I'm not sure what would happen trying to keep some of them straight. You could learn them by rote, but it would be hard to make sense of how they work. However, for me, it was very handy to have a handful of ready sentences with the subjunctive and a number of others with formal imperatives. It occurs to me that phrasebooks pose some of the same problems for people new to a language. But again, the range of structures (Could you please..., Would you be able to..., I would like to have... - a buffet of Michel Thomas "handles") provide a great quick review for someone who knows the basic structures but would like to see them in context. So perhaps an odd exercise is worth considering: Instead of using a phrasebook to learn a language, use it to review and find gaps in your everyday vocabulary after you're at an intermediate level.

* * *

The hypnosis article from last week drew some interesting responses. If you're interested in hypnosis and language learning, check out the comments for different perspectives. And if you've had success with hypnosis and language learning, I'd love to hear about that in the comments.


Anonymous Fiona said...

That's the only way to use phrasebooks, in my opinion.

Just using that for knowledge isn't enough, but if you are traveling and need a phrase or you just want to see how something is put together, they are pretty good.

I personally like using them for Anki, they are good for finding sentences to use as input. =)

7:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I might go ahead and purchase those references you listed. I want to go back to my Spanish and those 360 phrases might come in handy. Thanks for the tip. BTW, I visited your blog because it is listed in the top 21 language blogs of the Net. Congrats!

I have a French to English blog and build lexicon of terms used in various industries and fields of activity. Hope you can visit one day:

Thank you!

5:47 PM  
Anonymous Ramses said...

Just use a Spaced Repetition System like Anki ( to learn and remember those phrases.

If you're looking for more sentences, I can recommend these cheap (but good!) books:

11:48 AM  
Blogger Enzo said...

I agree, the phrase books, or travel references make great anki decks with their situations, sentences and topic specific starting points. If you haven't checked out the "Jiffy Phrasebook" series by Langenscheidt, it is fairly well organized and useful. My copy is super old, 1986, so you might find it out of print or their updated "pocket" phrase book series.

4:37 PM  
Blogger gbarto said...

Thanks for all the comments.

The 2 things I like about Spanish for Travelers are 1) it's short and 2) it's formatted in a way that makes it easy to quiz yourself - no need to port phrases anywhere! However, the 1001 books are indeed great for this sort of thing. Thanks for pointing them out.

5:26 PM  

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