Messaging system a lifeline for expats lost for words

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 November, 2008, 12:00am

New to town and have trouble ordering chilli with your prawns? SmarTone has come to the rescue.

The mobile phone operator is working with amateur Aussie linguist Dean Head to put his well-regarded book Fonetic Cantonese Made Ezee (below) on its SMS messaging system.

Simply type in a word, send it out as a text message, and your mobile will receive a text reply in phonetic Cantonese together with the Chinese characters so you can say it, show it or hide it and pretend to your friends you know Chinese. Type 'fruit' and you will get sahn gwaw.

Mr Head's book is full of useful everyday phrases and words, spelled out in easy-to-pronounce phonetics, followed by the proper Chinese characters.

SmarTone and Mr Head hope to start the new phone service in the next month or so. 'We have now put the entire book onto SmarTone's SMS messaging system,' Mr Head said.

'For example, when a person tells a taxi driver jim sah joy, it's close enough to Tsim Sha Tsui for the driver to understand. Our service aims to help many people in Hong Kong, Macau and southern China communicate their way through most aspects of life.'

There are no naughty words, although the new phone service does include such indispensable terms as loy sing noy yee (lingerie) and on more (massage).