Even our Latin teachers made a valiant attempt to localise, by introducing us to a youngster called Caecilius who spent much of his time entering dining rooms and standing in kitchens, presumably to reassure us that ancient Romans were just like British schoolboys really.
Only the Greek teachers seemed adamant that there could not possibly be any resemblance between us and Thucydides or Plato. All we got in Greek lessons were sentences about Spartans pursuing Persians across bridges which was something none of us were very likely to do in our daily lives, and which might explain why not many of us got very far with that language.
But what a pity I never had the opportunity to learn my foreign languages from the authors of the Lonely Planet phrasebooks. This series is taking the concept of localisation to a new level, teaching us the phrases that people really say in the modern age.
Just take a look at their latest Italian phrasebook - the "Going Out" chapter in particular. Gone is that old stuff about aunts' ear-trumpets being struck by lightning. The titillating supposition instead is that the phrases should represent the point of contact between ourselves and those raunchy Italians. If we learn to speak like them - we will be like them.
It starts innocently enough with "What's on tonight?" and "I feel like a drink (stroll/dance etc)". But then the scene changes to a nightclub, where suggested useful phrases include "You're so amazing (cool etc)" and "Did you check out that girl (guy etc)?".
We then progress to the euphemistically-titled AFTERWARDS section. Here, Italian speakers start saying things like "Let's get some fresh air", and "Do you want to come to my place?" - and are met by the possibility of rebuffs ranging from "You're not my type" to "F--- off" (the latter sounding much nicer in Italian).
Curiously, this is followed by a whole series of Afterwards sections in quick succession, which presumably says something profound about how Italians conduct their affairs. But this is the real stuff: "You turn me on" is promptly succeeded by "Let's go to bed" where - before we know it - we are feverishly flipping through the pages for the right ways to say "This feels good!" and "Please don't stop!".
Strangely enough, this outburst of gritty realism is then side-tracked by an improbable little discussion about sexuality in which we are offered the opportunity to say things like, "Sorry, I'm a drag queen". But that turns out to be a temporary departure. In the last page and a half of the section, we hurry through the whole gamut of "I have fallen in love with you", "Let's move in together" and (with much grit) "I don't think it's working out between us".
It certainly sounds more relevant than pursuing Persians across bridges. But the grittiness doesn't end with dating and romance. Glancing through the book I notice handy expressions such as "I'm pissed" and "I feel like throwing up" under the wine section, and - inevitably - "Would you like a drag?" and "What would you say to an E?" under the drugs section (before you scream, we also get the phrases for "I don't do drugs").
I've talked to Lonely Planet who assure me that we are simply getting the kinds of phrases most likely to be spoken or heard in the culture concerned. I assume then that the Arabic and Farsi phrasebooks (for example) do not teach us how to talk about having sex or getting pissed. I imagine that they instead concentrate on phrases like "Sorry my friend I'm not interested in politics". All in the true spirit of localisation.Reuse content