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Electronic Explorer

Learning the Lingo on the 'Net

August 11, 1996|LAURA BLY

Chances are I'll never brave the illi illi to visit Pitcairn Island, a remote South Pacific outpost settled by Fletcher Christian and the mutineers from the HMS Bounty. But thanks to the phrase book I discovered on Pitcairn's World Wide Web site (http://www.wavefront.com/~pjlareau/pitc1.html), I now know that illi illi means "rough seas" in the patois spoken by the island's 50 (give or take a few) residents. Whether your next foreign destination is as exotic as Pitcairn or as prosaic as Cancun, the World Wide Web offers hundreds of language resources geared to travelers. Granted, downloading a sound clip of "Do you take credit cards?" in Romanian won't prepare you for a week in Bucharest--or replace the need for a paperbound phrase book once you arrive. But if you've got a fast modem and a late model computer equipped with a sound card, the Web is a terrific place to start.

Just ask Michael Martin. Two years ago, the physicist was preparing for a research project in Hungary when he realized he "didn't know how to say a thing" in Hungarian. With the help of a Hungarian-speaking colleague, he recorded sound files of a few travel phrases and transferred them to a Web site, asking good Samaritans around the world to make their own contributions. Today, Martin's Foreign Languages for Travelers (http://www.travlang.com/) provides basic terms and travel-related phrases in 32 languages, from the usual suspects (French, Spanish, Italian and German) to the decidedly obscure (Latin and Esperanto). About two-thirds of the selections allow users to click on a sound file and hear the word or phrase pronounced by a native speaker. Best of all, Martin's well-organized, easy-to-navigate site provides links to a wealth of other language and travel-related sources.

At the Human Languages Page (http://www.willamette.edu/~tjones/Language-Page.html), I found Pitcairn Island and browsed through a Rasta-Patois dictionary. At Travelers' Japanese With Voice (http://www.ntt.jp/japan/japanese/), I struggled to duplicate the dulcet tones of a woman translating "How much is it?" And at Berlitz's site (http://www.berlitz.com), I learned about former President Kennedy's faux pas in his famous "I am a Berliner" speech. By adding a single article to the German phrase, he said "I am a jelly roll." A lesson for us all.

Small bytes: GoWest's just-launched Web site (http://www.GoWest.com) is aimed at outdoor enthusiasts in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. Features include a searchable database of more than 35,000 campsites, detailed biking and hiking trail maps, and regular weather and forest fire updates. A skiing section debuts in September. . . .

White-knuckle travelers, take note: The Institute for Psychology of Air Travel, a Boston-based organization, runs a Web site with tips for fearful fliers and a list of regional resources (http://www.ads-online.com/InsPsyAir/). A new nonprofit organization, the Himalayan Explorers Club (http://www.abwam.com/himexp/), offers wired adventurers a Katmandu Clubhouse where members can send and receive e-mail, plus a database of trip reports and travel advice throughout the region. . . .

Bly welcomes reader comments; her e-mail address is Laura.Bly@latimes.com. Electronic Explorer appears monthly.

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