Nearly everyone knows English so if you can read this, you're pretty much safe in any modern city across Europe. However to completely seal the deal on traveling you should try speaking with the locals in their native tongue. It's not hard and you don't need to be fluent. Übung macht den meister!
Ja, Ich spreche Deutsch!
Duolingo is a pretty amazing and free language learning tool. In the past I've used classroom sessions, Rosetta Stone, and podcasts and although all of those helped out, they all cost time and money. I feel Duolingo sells itself because it's free and does a decent job getting you introduced to a language. There's no one method to language learning that solves every problem. So a mix is the best solution. I use Duolingo to practice my skill set and keep the simpler stuff fresh in my mind. Spending 1 hour every day can turn you from someone who can't communicate with the locals to someone who can start up a conversation or order in the native language.
Rosetta Stone is one of the most well known language learning software solutions out there. Reviews are divided between positive and negative reviews. So what makes Rosetta Stone so polarizing? Well first it's fairly expensive. I purchased the 5 level series for $350 and paid through installment plans. That made it easier and avoided some of the sticker shock. People feel you're not getting the best value for your dollar, I disagree. Rosetta Stone does a lot of really good things that a lot of these software packages and audio guides don't do. They allow the user to learn the same way they learned their first language. Through total immersion and adaptive reasoning.
What this means it that there's no English used and you start off learning based on words and pictures. The early stuff reminds me a lot of Sesame Street but then gradually gets more challenging. You're matching pictures to words and phrases. What Rosetta Stone lacks is a good understanding of grammar. I found myself constantly having to use Google to answer questions I had with why something is said this way and not that way.
Languagepod101 is a great way to listen to native speakers having actual real life conversations. The problem with lesson based language learning systems is that you're just repeating the same things over and over and you start wedging yourself into a specific conversation. These podcasts open up your vocabulary and sentence structure so you can hear how words are used in other situations. Languagepod101 first gives you a 4-5 minute conversation in the native lagnauge at the native speed. Then they slow it down sentence to sentence, finally they break it down per sentence and then translate it. After the lesson they will give you cultural tips on visiting the country.
After getting the intro with Duolingo and the vocab of Rosetta Stone, I use Germanpod101 to really solidify what I've learned so far into real life practical conversations.
Languagepod101.com - $30 subscription