Italian phrasebooks, travel dictionaries, and language-lessons-in-a-box

Learn the basics of Italian, whether just the words and phrases useful to a tourist, or an entire language learning course in a box

This page covers four ways to get a handle on Italian for your travels:

Italian phrase books

Italian-English pocket travel dictionaries

Learn Italian - Italian courses in box, CD, and computer form

Tips & links

Useful links & resources

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Pocket Italian
Web Translators
Here are some free online translators, handy for finding words and pasting in chunks of text from Italian-only websites:
• Google Translate
• Babelfish
• Bing Translator

Free language lessons!
The venerable BBC provides free audio and video language courses at:

Italian phrase books
Rick Steves' Italian Phrase Book and Dictionary
• Eyewitness Italian Travel Phrasebook
• Lonely Planet: Italian Phrasebook
• Berlitz Italian Phrase Book

Translator apps

Unlike the vast majority of translator apps for the iPhone—merely interfaces to the Google translate engine—those listed below work without Internet access (so you won't incur huge roaming fees); the boldface are the better choices in each price range:
World Nomads (free)
• 24/7 Tutor (free)
• Cool Gorilla (99¢)
• Word Roll (99¢)
• Odyssey ($9.99)
• Lonely Planet ($9.99)

The computerized travel phrase book
Lingo Voyager 5 translatorIt's the size of a calculator, and it literally speaks 20 languages. The Lingo Xplorer 52 Talking Translator knows 1,000,000 words and 100,000 useful phrases in 52 languages. What's more, it can speak them in a native's crisp, local accent.

This makes it a much better learning tool than puzzling over the pronunciation guide in a Berlitz, and also provides a wimp's way out of actually learning the lingo. Just walk up to a hotel clerk, select the right phrase, and the Lingo will ask for the price of a double room on your behalf.

But wait, there's more! (Always wanted to say that.) It has a built-in FM radio, world alarm clock, voice recorder, calculator, calendar, metric and currency converter, and eight games for long train rides (since Mine Sweeper and Sudoku are the same in any language). My favorite phrase: "I have been bitten by a dog" in German. $249.99 from Magellan's.

(There's also cheaper Lingo Eurotalk 6-Language Translator does 360,000 words and 20,000 phrases—plus currency and metric conversions—in English, Italian, Spanish, French, German, and Greek for just $99.85.)

iTRAVL® Multilingual Communicator and DictionaryAmazonOr you can really upgrade into the realm of Star Trek instant translators and get the Ectaco NTL-8C iTRAVL Talking 2-Way Multilingual Language Communicator and Electronic DictionaryAmazon.

You speak into it, and it (a) recognizes your language and what you said, (b) translates it into any of eight other languages of your choice, and then (c) spits it back out in the foreign tongue. Wow.

It knows 3,370,000 words, and 14,000 travel phrases, in English, Italian, French, German, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Chinese, and Spanish.

You can carry on entire, albeit stilted conversations by asking a question in English, having it repeat your question in Italian for the local, then they say their answer in Italian and the iTRAVL translates it into English for you.

Oh, and it also comes with a built-in language teacher so you can actually learn some Italian, plus a talking calculator, cultural notes, time zone maps, and Fodor's restaurant, hotel, and sightseeing info on 50 major destinations on five continents and the CIA World Factbook. Did I mention it can play MP3s and audio books (some travel ones are already included)?

There is, of course, a price to be paid for this technological Wunderkind: $499.95 from Amazon.Amazon

Kwikpoint point-and-choose translator cardOr go really low-tech (and cheap: about $16) with the laminated, foldable Kwikpoint card covered with cartoonish pictures off all the things a traveler might need—double bed, taxi, AAA battery, ice skates, pig, computer printer, toothpaste, cheese, gas station, can opener, policeman, etc. You just unfold it like a map, point at the thing you want, and throw on the local word for "please?"

Useful links

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Airfares, Cars, Trains, Tours, Packages, Cruises, Lodging, Itineraries, Info, Packing, Prep, Comm

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