Katy Holland: Au revoir 'Allo 'Allo – give your little linguists a head start

Are we there yet? My mini-linguists have iPhone language apps coming out of their ears

Did you read that mortifying survey from Owners Direct last week, which listed all the language gaffes made by British holidaymakers abroad? It was enough to make your toes curl, so I'll spare you the details.

But it was also enough to get my kids reminiscing about all my crushingly embarrassing attempts to speak French/Italian/Spanish when we're travelling. I've never claimed to be a linguist, but I'm pretty adept at putting my pied dans ma bouche whenever we go on holiday.

Which is why I made a brave attempt to make amends last summer in Spain, by packing a load of dictionaries and learning aids in an attempt to get the whole family habla-ing Español before the week was out. My mini-linguists had iPhone language apps coming out of their ears (see coolgorilla.com for a huge choice, including phrasebooks – from Japanese to Portuguese – and also a range of Dorling Kindersley city guides), but they still showed no signs of being able to get further than ordering pizza margherita – and yes, it is the same in any language.

But all that apathy ended once they found a dusty old phrasebook in our villa. Published 50 years ago, the phrases within provided so much entertainment that they were actually enthused for the first time.

I'm proud to report that they can now say "Porter, take my luggage to the taxi" and "In this trunk I have my personal clothing" in Catalan.

But you don't need to go back 50 years to get the kids having fun while learning.

Newer, up-to-date phrasebooks, such as the Berlitz Start Up packs in French, Spanish or Italian (berlitzpublishing .com), can be entertaining and educational too.

They come with a music CD, for use in the car while en route, which contains rock, pop and hip-hop songs, and kids' interviews. In just an hour it covers all the basics – "from meeting up to getting around, from shopping to celebrating". And the accompanying booklet includes a complete script to follow while you're listening, as well as lyrics and a selection of the handiest words and phrases.

The AA's selection of children's phrasebooks is also to be recommended for getting the kids engaged. We recently used the Italian Phrasebook for Kids (http://shop.theaa.com /store/), which was published last year: it's full of wit and humour, and best of all, the "child friendly" pronunciations with every phrase mean that even adults can make themselves understood. That's no mean feat, in my book.

k.holland@independent.co.uk

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