And yet, on we try. When traveling, I think it's both good and necessary to know some key phrases in the local language so you can, at the very least, behave politely and ask for help if you need it. (And by help, I mean the bathroom. And also cheese. And ham croquettes.)
I've tried just about everything over the years--classes, workbooks, software where you speak into a super cool (uuuh, I mean nerdy) headset. Nothing's REALLY worked wonders, but there are a few things that have helped me navigate language barriers when we travel. Obviously everyone learns differently, but here's my take on what's what out there!
The Everything-but-the-Kitchen-Sink Method: This is where I just sort of aggregate weird, mostly free, teaching tools: mini lessons from friends with skills, Youtube videos, the back pages of travel guidebooks where key phrases are hidden, and workbooks I randomly pick up at Barnes & Noble when I'm feeling sassy enough to want to break out a no. 2 pencil. Which is always. I'm currently attempting to teach myself a few Moroccan Arabic phrases this way, as a lot of the big resources out there focus on Modern Standard Arabic, which is a tooootally different ball of wax. We'll pretend I didn't spend three weeks studying MSA before figuring that out. #notsmart.
Rosetta Stone: It's true. I gave into the Stone. At one point when George and I were planning our never-embarked-upon Routes Tour to Poland and Germany (Long story short, a sewer pipe exploded, which meant our vacation fund was, quite literally, flushed down the toilet.) I got all convinced I was gonna become fluent in German with the goal of, you know, being able to order copious numbers of Bavarian soft pretzels and interpret full episodes of Bernd das Brot. Aaah, dreams. The premise of Rosetta Stone is that it's "immersive" and you're supposed to learn to speak, basically, as a child learns--without getting bogged down immediately in detailed grammar lessons. I spent months and months with that software--mostly cause it was so darn expensive that I didn't want to give up--and the only thing I remember is, not surprisingly, how to say I'm hungry: Ich habe hunger. That's it. It's all I got. Oh wait, also that Schweinefleisch is pork. Am I a sensing a theme here?
Mango Languages: This is currently my favorite tool for trying to pick up a few words or key phases for traveling. My library carries this amazing database, too, which means I can access it online, 24/7, for the low low price of, oh right, NOTHING. I've messed around here in French, Russian, Polish, Croatian, Thai, Arabic, and more. (Mango currently offers courses 64 different languages.) My memory still totally sucks, but the meager number of phrases I can utter in any of these languages are absolutely the result of Mango. Mango works by pretty much breaking down words and phrases into individual syllables--both visually AND audibly--so you can really understand what you're hearing and saying. Then it just drills those same words and sayings into your head by pure repetition. This is what seems to work for me; just smack me in the face with it. Plus, Mango offers a number of different types of lessons in any given language--they've got courses to prep for a quick trip abroad as well as more intensive training in, say, business lingo. Which obviously I will need never.
So there you have it. I am a terrible language learner, and yet I remain undaunted. In fact, I'm downloading the free language-learning app Duolingo to my phone RIGHT NOW in the hopes of brushing up on some French before Morocco, too. Who knows, maybe with my handful of sketchy phrases in Moroccan Arabic and French, I might be able to cobble together a sentence that lands me a delicious hunk o' cheese.
What works for you? How do you pick up new language skills for travel?