My experience with this set has been more positive than that of some other reviewers. I purchased it a year ago before my first trip to Italy. I'm using it now to help with pronunciation in the adult ed class in beginning Italian I'm taking. I chose it over other available language tapes because of the reasonable price, an emphasis on traveler's Italian, its compact packaging, and the inclusion of the 288-page Fodor's Italian for Travelers: Phrasebook Dictionary. (The latter title is available separately and has received favorable reviews on Amazon.com.) In addition to the phrasebook, the set consists of two 45-minute audiocassettes and a 32-page audioscript of everything on the tapes. My Italian teacher has listened to portions of the tapes and praises their overall quality, especially the diction and accents of the female and male speakers.
The contents of the first tape are: (1) Useful Expressions, (2) At the Airport, (3) Finding Your Way, (4) Accommodations, and (5) Socializing. The contents of the second tape are: (6) Dining Out, (7) Personal Care, (8) Health Care, (9) On the Road, (10) Communications, (11) Sightseeing, (12) Shopping, (13) Activities, and (14) General Information. All but the first and last sections begin with a brief (6-10 sentences) dialog in Italian between a native (banker, customs officer, waiter, hotel clerk, etc.) and a tourist. The exact English translations of the dialogs are in the audioscript but not on the tapes. Each dialog is followed by drills that break down and expand on the elements of the dialog. Each sentence, phrase, or word is spoken once in English then repeated twice in Italian. I found that the pauses after the spoken Italian gave me enough time to repeat almost everything I heard after some practice. Most of the drill sentences are 4-8 words long.
I played the tapes through once while reading the audioscript without practicing the drills. Then I transferred the set to my car where I listened to the first tape several times to become accustomed to the sounds of spoken Italian. I didn't try to repeat anything after the speakers except the simple words and phrases of the Useful Expressions drill. A few of these are familiar to many English speakers--"Ciao," "Prego," Arrivederci," "Buon giorno". See, you already know some Italian! After I'd played the first tape through several times, I began to practice the drills. Once I was repeating most of the drills with confidence, I began playing the second tape. Again, I listened to the dialogs and drills several times before I began to repeat the words after the speakers. Occasionally I would check the audioscript for a translation or the breakdown of a sentence. Most of the time, however, the meanings of the dialogs and drills became clear through repetition.
I want to conclude my review by emphasizing what these tapes are not. These are not the drills that you listened to in high school and college language classes. They are not intended to help you conjugate verbs; develop an extensive Italian vocabulary; perfect your pronunciation; or discuss politics, literature, sports, and other topics in depth with Italians. They will not take the place of structured classes in Italian taught by native speakers. However, if you purchase these tapes and use them as the publisher recommends, you will be able to use basic Italian phrases and sentences to ask and answer simple questions. When you visit Italy, you will find it easier to make travel arrangements, order meals, ask directions, shop, book hotel rooms, and make yourself understood in an emergency. And, while many Italians speak English, they will appreciate your efforts to communicate in their language, and will respond accordingly.
(Note: the material discussed above was previously published as Living Language Traveltalk Italian.)