To phrase or to follow
I was given a Mandarin phrase book as a leaving gift, which is convenient, as I had completely forgotten about buying one, and I also tend to be quite reluctant when it comes to paying a what is usually ridiculous amount of money for a teeny tiny book. The same goes for travel guide books, except that you have to pay even more money for an inconveniently large book.
I’ve had a bit of a read through my phrase book the last few nights, and I’m beginning to wonder if it is, indeed, actually more valuable than a country guide book. To me, as someone who is going to stay in one place for a while, it is obviously worth more, but to the average traveller?
Obviously a little book with some common usages in it will never replace a full language course, but they are invaluable as introductory material, memory-joggers, and something to point at when the locals have no idea what you’re trying to pronounce. And they’re conveniently pocket-sized.
The downside of guide books is that they often contain out-of-date or irrelevant information, no matter how recent your version is. The publishers often don’t pay the writers enough to double check all the information in new editions, and depending on which countries you’re travelling through, things may change at drastic rates between each publication (prices, businesses, transport, even laws and visa regulations).
A phrase book could definitely never entirely replace a good guide book (and I always bookmark the language sections in mine), but I think that increasing communication with the local populace (and hopefully gleaning some helpful information from them) can never be a bad thing.
When you travel, try to ask real people for information more often, instead of referring to your travel guide every step of the way. You may find some of those hidden local gems that many travellers just dream of!