Book Review – OhneWörterBuch by Langenscheidt

Title: OhneWörterBuch
Publisher: Langenscheidt
Illustrator: Katrin Merle
Format: Spiral bound
Written & Published: 2010
Language: German

OhneWörterBuch is a German title, but don’t let that stop you, because the translation is literally “Without Words Book”. It is a tiny book that can easily fit into a pocket, and is slightly larger than my smartphone. Inside are 550 illustrations and diagrams that are useful for travellers. The idea is that you can take the book with you to a country where you do not speak the language, and through the pictures you can form basic sentences to communicate with the locals.

I first bought this book after some friends were cycling around the world and took it with them. They were able to use the book to communicate in most situations and, as a result, they did not have to carry a phrase book for each of the languages they expected to encounter on their journey. Many of the areas they were travelling through are rural and illiterate, and pictures speak in a universal language.

The pictures are divided into themes: time; travel; accommodation; eating and drinking; shopping; communication and media; recreation; common needs; and numbers. On the inside cover is a small explanation of how to use multiple pictures to communicate increasingly complex ideas. These translations are in German, but I assume that most people would understand that a pictures of a snake and a red forbidden circle can be used to indicate that you do not wish to eat snake meat.

Some of the pictures are very clever. In the common needs section are three images of a person using a toilet. The first image is someone kneeling in front of the bowl, the second is someone sitting on the bowl with a brown smear overflowing the side, and the third is someone sitting on the bowl with a red cross on the lower half of the image. I laughed when I worked out what they all meant, but I know if I am ever in the situation where I need to use one of those images, avoiding translation problems will stop a bad situation from getting worse.

I bought this book less than six months ago, and it has already had such hard use that the cover is bent and bits are peeling off. This is not a reflection on the quality of construction, because every page is some sort of sturdy plastic, but rather a comment on how useful it is to use. When I bought it I did not expect it to spend so much time overseas as it has; whenever our friends are travelling, they now take it with them. It will need its own passport at this rate. Because this book is far more versatile than I ever imagined it could be, I am giving it 5 out of 5 stars.

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