Top critical review
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Most useful for emergencies
on December 9, 2007
Berlitz Italian is respectably OK actually, but it's structured to be a lot more useful for you in emergencies and under unusual circumstances than for actual utilizing any Italian(however minimal perhaps) on a daily basis. So, if you're the nervous type, worried about what may happen and you want the Italian for such in your pocket, then this phrase book will suit you. If you want to exchange simple comments with Italian folk, answer questions about yourself in Italian, ask directions (and understand the answers), then Berlitz is not going to be as useful to you as say, Rough Guide Italian, or even Lonely Planet Italian will be.
Lonely Planet Italian, for instance, is basically two helpings of basic grammar followed by many sections of phases you won't likely ever use. For instance, the guide provides several pages each of lists of occupations, nationalities, college majors, items of stationary, colors, insects, flowers, camping terms,and so on. Also provided are pat phrases to employ at a hotel's front desk, at a doctor's, at the optometrist, and eating out, among other mini-sections. The book, in effect, is set up to be taken out to be used once a day, if that.
It's an improvement on Berlitz phrase books, but not by much. Berlitz, in comparison, simply divides their books into 10 or so color coded sections such as: "sightseeing," "relaxing," "shopping," traveling around," "money," "eating out," etc. So, if you want to ask someone a casual question, for example, you have thumb to the "relaxing" section and then choose one of the half dozen choices there. If nothing suits your situation, oh well, tough luck.
Rough Guide Italian, in comparison, is structured completely differently. The first several dozen pages give you numbers, days of the week, time, etc., and a 20 minute course in grammar. Oh no, you might be saying, but it is presented very simply. For instance it presents a handful of common verbs and their conjugations. So on one page you can see how to say "I have," "he has, " etc. and "I like," "he/ she likes," etc. The rest of the book is split between an English-Italian dictionary, an Italian-English dictionary, and a multi-page menu reader. What makes the English-Italian dictionary pages unique, though, is that most every other page (at least) has dialogue boxes relating to the most useful word(s) on that particular page. For instance, when you thumb through the book for the word "live," you get the word itself, but also the phrases "I live in..." and "Where do you live?" It'll take you 10 minutes to find such a phrase in Berlitz or Lonely Planet in their "getting to know others' or 'relaxing' sections. But because Rough Guide is structured as a dictionary, with hundreds of really useful phrases highlighted in boxes within, you can access something you want to say rather swiftly...and actually deliver it just a minute or so after looking for it. Add the grammar section, where you learn useful verbs and how to conjugate their past tenses, and the number section, and you can easily learn to chat with someone about where you are from, where you are going, where you have traveled thus far, what you like/liked, and so on. Likewise, knowing how to say "have" makes it easy to ask whether a hotel has rooms, whether the room has a shower (after thumbing through the book for the word for shower), etc. And when the answer comes back that the hotel doesn't have one, or they say "we have...," you can actually catch what they are saying.
If still not persuaded, next time you're in a bookstore compare a Berlitz, a Lonely Planet, and a Rough Guide language phrase book side by side. If you just want a book for emergencies (say, breaking a leg, etc.) then Berlitz and/or Lonely Planet phrase books will serve you well...in your pocket until you are faced with such a situation, since they do have many more specific terms (like 50 different parts of the the body), but if you really want to be able to say some things in Italian on a daily basis during your trip you'll be much better served byThe Rough Guide to Italian Dictionary Phrasebook 3 (Rough Guide Phrasebooks). Cheers