Spanish for Travel Writers Essayist Tim Brookes was recently sent to Guatemala to write a travel article. The problem is, he doesn't speak Spanish — and the beginner's books don't teach what he really needs to know.
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Spanish for Travel Writers

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Spanish for Travel Writers

Spanish for Travel Writers

Spanish for Travel Writers

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Essayist Tim Brookes was recently sent to Guatemala to write a travel article. The problem is, he doesn't speak Spanish — and the beginner's books don't teach what he really needs to know.

Essayist Tim Brookes recently accepted an assignment to write a travel article about Guatemala. There was only one problem: He doesn't speak Spanish.

TIM BROOKES: Spanish is not one of my languages. French? (French spoken). German? (German spoken). Latin? (Latin spoken). Spanish? No. I've been a bit uneasy about visiting countries where I don't speak the language ever since 1989 when I was in communist Czechoslovakia.

Around midnight, my train pulled into a station, a loud speaker made a long announcement and I realized I had no idea whether it was saying, the train standing at platform one is for (Czech spoken) and all stations to Vishkov(ph) or possibly, the rear portion of this train will now be uncoupled and pushed off a cliff.

My local bookstore had two whole shelves of Spanish dictionaries and phrase books, none of which was called Spanish for travel writers. Half of them were already out of date during the Hoover administration. In one, the entire section on Spanish for the business traveler consisted of six lines such as, I am a traveling salesman, and, am I able to manufacture this product in your country?

At the other end of the shelf was a very different group of books that took the readers' needs to the opposite extreme with titles like, "Streetwise Spanish" and "Spanish for Homies." But I knew that if I tried any of these phrases in Guatemala within 30 seconds, someone would be uncoupling my rear portion and pushing it over a cliff.

In the end, I bought one of each kind of book and managed to leave them both in Vermont. I needn't have worried; everyone in Guatemala was very helpful. And thanks to them, I am now able to offer future travel writers this brief, but helpful phrase book.

More coffee please, I've got to write a thousand words by lunch time.

Unidentified Woman: (Spanish spoken)

BROOKES: Can I have a receipt? My editor won't reimburse me without one.

Unidentified Woman: (Spanish spoken)

BROOKES: Can you direct me to a local restaurant moderately priced but full of atmosphere that no other travel writer knows about?

Unidentified Woman: (Spanish spoken)

BROOKES: Does anyone here know how to work a digital camera?

Unidentified Woman: (Spanish spoken)

BROOKES: Do we have to fly in an airplane this small?

Unidentified Woman: (Spanish spoken)

BROOKES: Please slow down, I am older than I look.

Unidentified Woman: (Spanish spoken)

BROOKES: When you say the volcano is active, does that mean we have a chance of being incinerated?

Unidentified Woman: (Spanish spoken)

BROOKES: I have very much enjoyed my visit to your country, can you now please put me on the plane home and stick a large drink in my right hand?

Unidentified Woman: (Spanish spoken)

HANSEN: Tim Brookes is the director of the writing program at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont.

Unidentified Man: (Spanish spoken)

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