We're planning a trip to Rome. And, as I've said before in this column, with family travel preparation is the most important part of the trip, including writing a list of what to pack. Now I've had to reluctantly add a new item to the luggage. The UK motoring advisory and insurance organisation, the AA, has just brought out a series of phrasebooks for kids, so the seven-year-old twins River and Savanna want to take the Italian version with us to Rome.
I'm not so keen because it could make my life a lot more difficult. It's going to be bad enough trying to get the twins to resist the temptation of gelato. Now they also know the Italian for chewing gum and "Please may I have a chocolate bun?". The AA claims these books are of "huge benefit to a child's academic and social skills". But I'm not sure I need "bog off" or "cool tattoo" to be translated for my twins. Sadly, my teenager might well use "Do you like chatting online?" or "May I borrow your straighteners?". Although I expect the phrase she'll turn to most often will be "Sto morendo dalla noia," or "I'm bored to death".
Are phrasebooks really a communication aid? These pocket-sized samples might be a real physical barrier between my kids and the Roman world they'll be wandering through. Rather than gesture and throw in words from any language in an attempt to chat with another child, I imagine they'll start up any potential conversation by rifling through the pages in their phrasebook. By the time they find "May I have a go?" their new friend will have already bogged off. Recognising this linguistic dilemna, a Collins phrasebook has even included the useful sentence: "Wait, I'm looking for the phrase in this book."
The AA phrase books themselves aren't as clear as they might be. Each entry is written three times - in English, Italian and then phonetically. So "What a great ring tone!" appears as both "Che bella la tua suoneria" and "kay bella lah too-ah soo-onereeyah". The twins presumed the phonetic spelling was another language. River insisted it was Spanish and started testing out his new phrase on a Chilean boy at school whose mobile he envies. So I got hold of the AA's Spanish phrasebook for kids to show him the difference. That only confused him further, as the illustrations of the kids and families in both versions are the same. "I thought they were Italian," he said, pointing at the picture of a group of teenagers captioned with the phrase "Dove v'incontrate?" (Where do you hang out?).
But, I suppose, when we're in Rome we should do as the Romans do and speak Italian. I'm just not sure we should speak the Italian provided in these phrase books. Ciao! AA Phrase Books for Kids are available in Italian, Spanish and French (www.aatravelshop.com) Do you have family travel tips that you'd like to share? E-mail Dea at firstname.lastname@example.org.