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Advice from Award-Winning Writer

Advice from Award-Winning Writer

Tomoko Imai is from Japan. She was a student in Teacher Lisa Spark’s Writing Intensive Class for ESL Students. This past summer, she won first prize from the San Mateo County Fair for her story, “Playland on the Moon,” in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Adult Exhibitor Category. 

Tomoko speaks four languages.  In the future, she hopes to develop software to help people learn languages.  

Here is her advice about learning English:

Below is how I usually start to learn accents, intonation, pronunciation, punctuation,vocabulary and spelling of a foreign language with no knowledge:

1. Ask a native speaker teacher/ friend to help choose a simple paragraph beautifully written by a professional native speaker author.


2. Translate and thoroughly understand the meaning of the paragraph (professionally
translated text helps).


3. Have it read aloud by a native speaker and record it.


4. Listen to it more than 100 times while you are cooking, working out, commuting, or doing housework, image the meaning while listening.


5. Read the paragraph aloud with the native speaker’s recorded voice, imitating the exact accents, pronunciation and intonations.


6. Mark intonations and accents as if you were writing music notes.


7. Learn the paragraph by heart as if you were learning how to sing a song.


8. Recite.


9. Dictate the paragraph.


10. Correct the mistakes.


11. Practice writing the same paragraph until you make no mistake.

Once a paragraph is learnt by heart, all the expressions and sentences become your own. Surprisingly, you begin to understand the spoken language with similar contexts. I usually repeat this process with different paragraphs until I begin to speak the language to a certain extent.

Concerning practicing advanced English writing as a non-native speaker, I usually first read a couple of texts or articles of the same topic written by a professional native writer and analyze the style of writing. When I want to write a sentence which I can express in my own language but not in English, I first look it up in a dictionary for some word options. Then I read example sentences to learn how they are used. Finally, I search for sentences using the words on the internet to learn the ways the words are usually used to decide which of the word options suits what I want to say the best. I try to avoid direct translation because the way things are expressed is very different depending on the language, and direct translation very often sounds awkward in the language translated. When possible, I try to have my writing corrected by a native speaker and learn the correction by heart.

Read an interview with Tomoko.

Read "Playland on the Moon."