Languages That Don't Use the ABC's

I hear you—brushing up that high school Spanish is one thing, tackling Mandarin Chinese, with its tones is another.

In cases where you don't think you'll get the pronunciation down, consider a set of cards you can show people abroad to help communicate with your new buddies. This can be very helpful with non-ABC languages; even if your pronunciation is a bit off, you can scribble down the words in bad French and probably get your point across. Not so in languages like Japanese, Chinese, Thai and others.

You can make up cards that say in English “May I take a picture here?” on one side and the target language on the other. I don't know of anyone selling these cards per se, but large bookstores can carry flash cards intended for language students that do the same thing.

In addition, when shopping for a guide book, look for a section with common phrases written in the target language, and then bring that along when touring. You might also bug a colleague who speaks the right language to write some phrases for you, or see if a local college or university can connect you with a student from the target country. Perhaps an offer to dinner could repay him for the help, or a promise to bring back some goody from his home country in return for the help.

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