Last updated at 12:40 BST, Thursday, 18 July 2013

Staff blog


About the blogger

Jen is a producer at BBC Learning English. In this week's blog she explains how some key phrases can be useful when you're travelling.

Travelling abroad

Hello readers. Jennifer here.

Knowing the right vocabulary and phrases can be very important when travelling. If you find yourself in trouble, having some key phrases can get you out of hot water - something which I needed on a recent trip to Italy.

I was visiting Cinque Terre with a friend. The area is on the west coast of Italy, and features picturesque villages hidden between mountains and a beautiful coastline. You can walk between the villages through the mountains or along the cliffs, or you can travel by the regional train service, which runs fairly regularly.

On the day I was due to return to England, the heavens had opened and it was raining very heavily. I ran to the station and was due to catch the train at 10.08am to return to Genoa; I would fly back to London from the airport there the following morning.

Stormy weather in Cinque Terre, Italy

It rained heavily in Cinque Terre

However, when I arrived at the station, there was obviously a problem. Lots of people were waiting on the platform and staring at the arrival and departure boards. It seemed that there were problems with the trains caused by the wet weather. There were no trains leaving, and lots of other passengers were in the same boat. The problem was, I can't speak Italian.

The arrival/departure board

The arrival/departure board. Would my train ever arrive?

I needed to ask these things:

"What is the problem?"
"How long will the train be delayed for?"
"When is the next train to Genoa?"
"How can I get to Genoa if I can't use the train?"

Unfortunately, I had to sit in silence and try to understand what was going on.

I sat for two hours - the delay was driving me up the wall, so I went and had a coffee in the station: any port in a storm. The departure boards were still showing a delay. I was very worried that I would be stuck and that I would miss my flight.

Suddenly, out of the blue, a train pulled in. There was still nothing on the departure boards, and I still couldn't speak to the station staff, as they only spoke Italian. I had no idea where the train was going, or if it was the right one, but I took a leap of faith. I ran and jumped on it! I really hoped it wasn't the end of the road for my journey home!

Jen on a train

Was this the right train?

Luckily for me, it was the right train, and I was finally on track again. I found out later that the rain had caused flooding in the mountain tunnels, so most of the trains couldn't pass through.

The moral of the story is: learn your key vocabulary and phrases before you go on holiday - you never know when you might need them!


to be in hot water

to be in trouble or danger


beautiful (when describing a landscape)

the heavens had opened

it started raining


a landing alongside railroad tracks

arrival and departure boards

the screen which announces where trains are going to and at what time

in the same boat

having the same problem/ in the same situation

driving me up the wall

making me feel angry

any port in a storm

any safe place in a difficult situation

out of the blue

something that happens suddenly and unexpectedly

a leap of faith

trusting that something is right

on track

going in the right direction


lesson/ something that can be learned from an experience

End of Section

Now tell us what you think

There are a number of transport-related idioms in this text - can you work out what they are? Can you use them in a sentence?

Please note that we are not able to publish all comments and comments may be edited.


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    • 1. At 1:59pm on 29 May 2013, marwiti30 wrote:

      First,many thanks to all people and teachers here for your efforts and useful lessons that benefits me a lot.I would like to add transport-related idioms as I miss the boat that means failing to take advantage of an opportunity.cart before the horse means putting the cart before the horse is doing things in the wrong order.

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    • 2. At 3:22pm on 29 May 2013, mauros wrote:

      I'm Italian. When you are in Italy you never need to feel in hot water. Just ask us using your own language and moving as most as you can your hands, hands can be really useful with us (to conversate of course...), you also must to watch the mouvement of our hands. We do our best to understand the problems of our foreign guests and to be helpful, for us a different language is never a major problem, for you our noisy and too direct way of living could be annoying, but in certain situations, such as when the heaven has just opened, you'll easily endure it.
      By the way...this works mainly in Italy...I had to learn English to travel abroad...hands were not enought.

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    • 3. At 5:28pm on 29 May 2013, Remi wrote:

      It was really good for you to come back in time.
      But, to me, it seems that your story tells that irrespective of whether you can speak Italian or not, you had to continue to
      wait for the train you got on.

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    • 4. At 5:54pm on 29 May 2013, pappananna71 wrote:

      I'm italian and every day I go to work by train. Unfortunatly delays happen very often. I suggest to read news on this link but only in italian language. If you know your train number you may see where it is and where it is going and the delay. Have a next nice trip in Italy!

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    • 5. At 7:21pm on 29 May 2013, plinio wrote:

      It's very strange! in Italy everybody speak english very well ;)
      however it happen very often that the trains are late or deleted in Italy.
      In London because of problems with the plane I had to take off 2 hours late. I was very scared and I would have liked to ask for some information but my english, as you can see , is not so good

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    • 6. At 8:25pm on 29 May 2013, Tahir wrote:

      uzz i feel cold :D

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    • 7. At 02:13am on 30 May 2013, nanangadirahmadi wrote:

      Hi Jennifer, glad to see U to be safe and back to London. It was a great story and lesson for us . I believed all the readers need not only about stories but more than that, experiences....we are in the same boat in this case. :)

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    • 8. At 10:29am on 30 May 2013, Dmitry wrote:

      I think this piece could be headlined "The rain and the train" :-)

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    • 9. At 2:48pm on 30 May 2013, RadyMihailova wrote:

      It was very usefull. Thank you for the story!

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    • 10. At 08:28am on 02 Jun 2013, Hasib wrote:

      Dear Jen,
      It was a nice narrative I read, I am so eager to travel and see beautiful areas. I will try to do not face in the same boat..Thanks.

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    • 11. At 1:05pm on 02 Jun 2013, sakuramail wrote:

      Hello, Jennifer!
      Good to know you got back to London safe and sound!
      Your posted phrases as well as your experinces are very fantastic and helpful. We need to prepare someting to get out of hot water, especially in foreign countries.
      I'm an Japanese, so I must know something useful vocaburary and information about where I'm going to visit.

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    • 12. At 3:29pm on 02 Jun 2013, Alexandr wrote:

      Hi Jen, I like travelling as you. Thank you for your work at BBC. I am delighted with you as a presenter of video stories and I am your keenest fan. But this time your story seems to me quite weird. Firstly I have some reservations about Italians who can't speak English. Doesn't young Italians learn Einglish at school? Couldn't you just have spoken out loudly in English who could speak English when you were staring at the departure board realising that something was wrong? It is quite realistic approach and needs no excuse when a person being in the face of danger to miss its flight to London. Another side of the point the situation you described you were in is exactly the one your skills to be open, friendly and to freely converse were worth its weight in gold. As a teacher of English (in past) you are to teach students or pupils about how to get a message across and comminicate. Other way acquired knoweledge of foreign language to them is useless. So, you demonstrated lack of communicative skills and almost failed if not the miracle came about. The moral of your story you wrote down at the bottom I'd determined in a slightly different way – don't be shy when you intent on going home alone, use all the realm of opportunities from real world, be persistent in making efforts and you'll get with flying colours. By the way where was a hand of your friend you were visiting Italy with?

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    • 13. At 1:40pm on 07 Jun 2013, soccertop11 wrote:

      Two words funny n useful

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    • 14. At 8:39pm on 07 Jun 2013, slawomira wrote:

      I have learnt English with BBC for one month and I love your blogs, your dialogues and your discussions. They are great. It is a language the people speak actually - I hope so, because I never been in the UK. But I have some thougts about your journey to Italy. You spent a few days there and what language did you spoken at all? In restaurants, on markets, in cafes and so on?
      By the way - in the most european countrys the people learn two foreign languages in the school. What languages did you lernt?

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