Travel site of the week:

This week Nigel Tisdall looks at a site offering free language tuition

Report Filed May 1998

Useful sites


THE Web site of Travlang, which is dedicated to helping travellers learn foreign languages, is a wonderful example of how the Internet can foster global fellowship.

It offers free tuition in more than 60 languages ranging from Arabic to Zulu, along with a huge library of dictionaries and links to numerous linguistic and travel-related sites.

Navigating the site is encouragingly simple, though some users will dislike the American voices and plethora of brightly coloured national flags that fill the screen. After clicking on Foreign Languages for Travellers on the home page, English-speakers will find it pays to click on the "text only" option, which gets rid of these interfering graphics.

From here you simply select the language you speak, then the one you want to learn. The range is astonishing - and ideal if you want to impress your friends with a little Basque or Hawaiian, or become fluent in Farsi, Welsh or Esperanto. Each language is split into sections such as basic words, shopping and travel, and you can ask for a little quiz to test what you've learnt.

For some languages - including German, Portuguese, Japanese and Gaelic - you can even hear the relevant phrase spoken out loud, which can help avoid misunderstandings when you launch into "where's the bathroom?" in Polish.

Inevitably, some of this is amusing. I liked the way ads for Alaskan cruises cropped up in the Swahili section, and when I followed a link to some basic Thai phrases, I was invited to learn "krai kai kai kai" - "Who sells chicken eggs?"

Another section of Travlang is devoted to dictionaries and includes, for example, English to Afrikaans, Czech and Latin. Dedicated linguists can download Ergane, a multilingual dictionary program that translates words and short phrases using Esperanto as a go-between.

I preferred to check out the Aussie slang page, where I learnt that "garbo" is a dustman and a "cane-toad" a Queensland rugby fan. My favourite link was called Sounds of the World's Animals - you might think that cows go "moo", but in Finland they go "ammuu" and in Thailand "maw-maw". Was learning languages ever so much fun?