What I want to do is to create a table of the most important words in the most popular languages, English on the left and all the other languages on the right. Something like this:
The idea is some kind of desperation phrasebook. Sure, you probably have Google Translate on your phone already. And then, if you’re visiting a certain country, you might go out and buy a real phrasebook written by someone who actually speaks that language.
My phrasebook is for where these two things don’t cut it for some reason, where a word or two in a foreign language would get you out of some ham. Maybe you drop your phone while you’re laid over in Beijing. Or the wifi is down in your hostel and you need to tell the Russian roommate that someone in a suit came looking for him. Well, when I finish with this pdf, you will be able to look that Russian in the eye and say “Expensive man friend go here.”
I’ve gathered here what I think are the most important 73 English words and short phrases. This is the list I settled on after flipping through a few other phrasebooks on my bookshelf and online. And now I’m just plugging everything into Google Translate.
There are a few tricky homonyms. For instance, I want to include the word you say when you’ve finished your meal and want to pay but I don’t always get the right foreign word with either “bill” or “check”. Also, the phrase “excuse me” has a lot of different meanings from misunderstanding what someone said to pushing past them on the subway to apologizing for some offense you’ve committed.
As for the languages, I’ve taken the top five most spoken language according to Babbel and then thrown in French and Russian, just on the basis of my personal affections. Chinese is what Google translate calls “simplified Chinese”, which I think is Mandarin spoken on mainland China.
For the languages that don’t use the Latin alphabet, I’m including both the word in the foreign alphabet and the pronunciation guide from Google Translate. For French and Spanish, I’m saving space by not bothering with the pronunciation guide; you can just say the word with an exaggerated TV accent as we have all been doing for time immemorial with total success.
I really wanted to include the official IPA pronunciation, rather than the Google translate pronunciation guide. It would have lined up nicely with the alphabet pdf I did a few weeks ago and, besides, I’d like to keep improving my IPA skills. But I haven’t found online IPA translators that are quite up to it and what exists is often behind a paywall.
As I say, I don’t technically speak these languages, except a little French and a tiny amount of Russian, so I hope the Google translations aren’t totally wrong – or, if they are wrong, I hope they’re wrong in a hilarious way. I had the idea of maybe engaging legitimate language teachers / translators to look over my work once I’m finished. That is, I’d pay for a couple sessions with an Arabic teacher on iTalki or whatever and have them walk through my list to see where I’ve gone wrong. But I think that might be later stage. I have to consider the time and expense of course. More than that, I’m not sure I can stand to explain to a bunch of language instructors that I’m working on a phrasebook of six languages I don’t speak so that I can post another pdf on my blog about packing.