Practical stuff

If you're thinking of going walking in Alpine countries, here's some practical detail to help get you started.

Language

Plenty of people have visited the Alps and got by with miming and gesturing - it can be great fun! But if you want to chat with people then it's time to get out some language tapes. In my experience, French and Italians don't speak much English (there's no reason why they should after all....) In the Tyrol, Italian and German are both spoken. Germans and Austrians (German-speaking) quite often manage some English, as do Slovenians - Slovenian sounds beautiful and it's not hard to pick up a few sentences. The majority of Swiss speak Swiss German, which is sufficiently different (sounds, constructs and words) to confuse you at first, 20% of Swiss speak French, which is close to normal French, and a small number speak Italian and Romansch.

There are some good (and some frankly wacky) podcasts on the Internet to help you learn the basics of a language, and if you want to brush up intermediate language skills, there are plenty of foreign language Internet radio stations to listen to.