Most reviews of the app contain praise such as ‘a must-have for travelling language lovers’ and ‘worth installing on your phone before you go on holiday’. Language writer David Crystal hailed it as ‘an excellent idea’. A more extensive review is the following by Dutch linguist Sterre Leufkens, originally published in Dutch at a linguistics blog and reproduced here with permission of the author:
Better than the Einstein House
Language lovers can enjoy themselves no matter where they go; after all, we’re surrounded by language everywhere. But besides spontaneous speech, there are also museums, exhibitions and monuments related to language, literary prose, poetry, authors, books and so forth. Gaston Dorren, who’s made a name for himself in language blogging circles, felt frustrated by repeatedly missing out on such places, which are often little-known and overlooked by travel guides. He has now tried to set this right by publishing his own language tourism app, the Language Lover’s Guide to Europe. If you have an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch (iOS 4.3 or higher), you can purchase it for € 2.69. There is also an Android version available (Android 2.2 and higher) in your favourite app store.
Frankly, I didn’t share Dorren’s desire. I’m a sucker for language and I adore museums, but I don’t feel much enthusiasm for the combination. I remember visiting the Einstein House in Berne and finding it as dull as dishwater. His theories fascinate me, as does his position in science, but getting acquainted with the exact appearance of his desk or the pen Albert used for writing – I dunno.
However, this is where the app’s first great merit comes to light: it brings your enthusiasm out. I suddenly found myself checking out every area I occasionally cross, to see if there was anything language-related to be had there. And it turned out there was a lot to be had, a lot more than just the one predictable museum that, based on my own negative experience, had first sprung to my mind. Ah, of course: the charming translation monument on Spui Square in Amsterdam! And yeah, the bilingual street signs in Chinatown, I find those delightful, too. Hebban olla vogala on the pavement of Brederode Street? I should have a look one of these days. Right, the Multatuli House… I wonder if that’s an Einstein House of sorts? Anyway, I should recommend it to this friend of mine who loves Multatuli.
The descriptions of all these places are quite short – which is pleasant (because as a reader, you want to know right away what’s worth your while and what isn’t) but sometimes disappointing, because you would like to learn more. On the other hand, the assortment is huge: I find it hard to imagine one person finding information about so many ‘attractions’ (for want of a better word) spread all across Europe. Equally interesting is the information given about each country: languages spoken, details about dialects, etcetera. Personally, I particularly like the private comments Dorren adds to places he has visited himself.
There are, I should say, some gains to be made: the app is slow at times and will occasionally shut down (on my iPhone 4, I should add in fairness; it was optimised for the iPhone 5). Information about some geographical areas is rather scanty and the app could be smartened by adding such features as a Facebook ‘share’ button. But seriously, these are minor quibbles, for the idea works beautifully. I’m convinced that today’s language buffs love to exchange fun facts and observations – hence the success of language blogs, Paulien Cornelisse* and language game shows on TV. And there’s no need for a university degree either: everyone can share their passion for language. Gaston Dorren enables app users to do so and even invites them to send in their own contributions: there is a button that will send an email to Gaston in person. How very now: sharing is the new having!
* Dutch comedian, author of two best-selling books on language.