READERS seem to agree that Chinese phrase books are of questionable use (this column passim). Becky Last, however, has sent me a copy of the Speechless Translator - a compact booklet in which a variety of useful English words are expressed as Chinese characters. 'Vocal communication is disregarded entirely on the basis that it probably won't be effective anyway. I can vouch for its use, since I spent two months this summer on an Exodus expedition into some of the remotest parts of China, including the Takli-Makan Desert, where Mandarin is treated with contempt by proud minority groups, but the characters are familiar even if the dialects are incomprehensible.'

Ms Last says that the Speechless Translator allowed her to have many pidgin 'conversations' which could never have happened with a normal phrase book. The imaginative point- and-communicate guide is a prototype which has never been issued commercially: go-ahead publishers take note.