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Travel Q&A: Going Deutsch in Germany and Beaching in Virginia

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By K.C. Summers
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, July 19, 2009

Q. My girlfriend and I will be in Germany in October for her family reunion. At this point, is it worth my while to embark on a crash language course?

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Fred Miller, Annapolis

A In a word, ja. If you make an effort to learn at least a few words, it will not only facilitate communication, but also endear you to the locals and help erase the "ugly American" image abroad.

In 2 1/2 months, you can learn a lot. You can pick up the basics from a phrasebook, but to help with pronunciation, consider taking a class or using an online program.

Most summer classes in the area have already begun, but the International Language Institute in Dupont Circle (202-362-2505, http://www.transemantics.com) offers private tutorials with open enrollment for $40 an hour. Basic 10-week courses ($340) and a five-week "German for Travelers" course ($160) begin in September. The Goethe Institute in Penn Quarter (202-289-1200, http://www.goethe.de/washington) offers nine-week courses ($395) as well as three-week intensive classes ($395).

Online programs let you learn at your own pace and schedule. Rosetta Stone, for example, uses an intuitive "dynamic immersion" method (no translations). Several levels of courses are available at $259 each, or three for $499. Details: 800-767-3882, http://www.rosettastone.com.

You can also find language-learning programs for free at your local library. With Recorded Books' Byki online program, for example, you can access the system via the Web browser on Windows and Mac computers. Spokesman Matt Walker said that the online program will be available in the Washington area this summer; check your local library for details. The company also distributes language-learning audiobooks on CD, cassette and digital players. Details: 877-828-2833, http://www.recordedbooks.com.

Whichever method you choose, remember that age is a factor when learning new languages. Gail Stein, a French teacher in New York and the author of more than 35 books on foreign languages, offered a few tips for adults: Write down words and sentences to reinforce learning. Try to study right after you wake up or just before you go to bed, when your brain is supposedly more receptive. And when in doubt, improvise. On a trip to Italy, she said, she used her French and Spanish and "mooshed them together and put an 'o' at the end." It usually worked.

My husband's daughter is coming from Hungary for a visit in September. After a day at Williamsburg, we would like to go to a nice, close-by, unspoiled, un-touristy beach for a day. What can you suggest?

Joan Mortner, Fishersville, Va.

This may sound counterintuitive, but try Virginia Beach, about an hour south of Williamsburg. Yes, it's known for its high-rise hotels and honky-tonk boardwalk, but just north and south of "the strip" are two of the most secluded beaches in the area.

The North End, in the northeastern corner of the city, and Sandbridge, 20 minutes south of the boardwalk, have wide, sandy beaches and hardly any crowds. Nearby are the 800-acre Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, False Cape State Park, the Cape Henry lighthouses and Old Coast Guard Station. And when you're ready for action, there's always the boardwalk. Details: Virginia Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau, 800-822-3224, http://www.vbfun.com.

Send queries by e-mail (travelqa@washpost.com) or U.S. mail (Travel Q&A, Washington Post Travel Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071). Please include your name and town.


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