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Writing for the NT When English is NOT Your First Language

by shadowcristal


DEEP CATACOMBS – So you’ve resorted to the good old way of writing to the Times? You know it. You’ve seen it. It is yet another one of those annoyingly boring ‘How to get into the Neopian Times’ articles. No! Don’t go yet! This is NOT your stereotypical article! This is an article to help you to write for the Neopian Times… if you’re one of those international players. (After all, Neopets has been translated into several different languages.)

Now, this article is mostly for people who aren’t that proficient in English, or don’t have it as their first language. These folks usually don’t live in England, the U.S. of A., Canada or Australia. You may actually be all that and still pretty good at English. And as for you guys in those countries, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s all easier when English is your main language. Just read it for fun or read it because my silver tape tells you so. Got it? Let’s move on.

I’ll be nice and provide you with a little list for the usual article of getting into the NT:

- Original ideas

- Correct spelling and grammar

- Good plot and characters (if writing story)

- Easy, quick and well-understood (if doing comic)

- Get the point across without too much hassle (if doing articles)

Now, let’s look at the real deal. First of all, learn Basic English. You can do that by taking classes, surfing the net (playing Neopets) or use the new Instant-Learn-English Pill! Well, the recommended thing is to take classes. This is ideal if you’re in school and you have English as one of your subjects. Your teacher will help you, correct your mistakes and teach you why you made them. Also, it’s an incredibly good idea to go that extra mile on your English homework. If you’re writing for the NT, why not show it to your teacher and get help on that. Perhaps you’ll even get extra credit for being a diligent student!

The paragraph above was for those people in school. If you’re not in school, you can always take English classes at some local University or High School. Nowadays, English is considered the international language and that’s why it’s important to learn it. (If not for writing for the NT.)

As stated above, surfing the net helps. In the world of Internet, the main language is English. I have encountered some French, German, Japanese, Chinese and Spanish sites, but the big ones are almost always in English. Surf and learn. Be aware of the fact that not everyone can spell right or use a word in correct context. Also, there is bound to be some sites that can teach you English. Wee! No more 2 kg heavy textbooks!

After you’ve learned Basic English, which you probably have done or it would’ve been some trouble reading this article, it’s time to expand your vocabulary. Well, it might be enough to write a story and know all the basic words, but if you are really intent on getting in, it’s Vocab Time!

There are several ways of expanding your vocabulary. But the key word here is reading. Read, read and read for all you’re worth. Sooner or later you’ll learn. The more often you encounter a word; the chance of remembering and using it is better.

The most original way: Books. Read a lot books. Books will help you to pick up vocabulary. Best of all, it’s free! (If you use the library.) Some schools have libraries in which there are books. Ask your local librarian for good English books at your level. Most books have more complicated language than the one in courses. As an added bonus, this is written language in use. That means you’ll be able to pick it up and use it the same way too! A weekly or monthly visit to the library is bound to help, if you pick the correct language level.

Here’s a thing that deserves a category in itself. Dictionaries. They come in all sizes and colors, with different definitions. For starters, there are two kinds of dictionaries. Do you want one language or two? One kind of a dictionary is one of those good old one-language ones. In this case, English words and English definitions. A slice of cake, but you’ll have to have a basic understanding of the language if you want to know something. Now, the second option: English – (insert your main language here). The other language is the one that you’re most proficient in, obviously. A very good option if you’re not so good at English, but fairly good at the language you’re speaking.

There are lots of different kinds of dictionaries out there. Big ones are good when hard words come your way, pocket-sized for carrying around. (And for use in the classroom.) Also, there are even online dictionaries! Just search and you’ll get an instant answer, without having to leave the screen. Try and see which ones work out best for you. As for myself, I use the Oxford Mini-Dictionary. It has an assortment of fairly complicated words and is still easy to carry around.

Hopefully you’ve learned enough language by now, and you’re good at storytelling. Well, it’s time to put your skills to use! Practice writing. There’s always room for improvement. Don’t be discouraged if you are rejected. Try and try again, each time with changes. Don’t make ten copies and send them time after time, edit constantly and look at your work with new eyes.

As others have said before and will say again, the process of editing is vital to writing. Look at your mistakes, delete repetitions, rewrite, give a new twist to the plot, rewrite and just make it better than before. Editing is changing, and life changes now and then. Just accept it, it’s normal and should be done.

Be fair and give yourself the critique you would’ve given your friend or classmate as if the piece was theirs. One good idea is to let it rot until you forget about it, then pull it up and look at it with new eyes. It works best with people with short memory spans. (I have one of about a week or so, so that’s medium for me.) If you can re-tell the story months later after you’ve written it (and it wasn’t all that spectacular), forget this method. Just don’t edit in the heat of the moment, it spoils the creative writing. Try to edit your items on a day when you’re calm and collected, not hyped up with sugar, coffee or anything like that.

If you’re one of those people who fear editing (I know I do), just remember that it is good for you. If you absolutely don’t want to edit your stuff, ask someone else to do it. Let your friend tell you what impression they got from your article, your English teacher what they thought of your story, or your parents if they liked your comic. It’s not a bad thing. As for more experience with editing, why don’t you edit other people’s pieces?

Well, that was pretty much it. Oh no! I forgot! There is one last thing that I’ll have to tell you… You see, phrases may be a problem. There is no easy way, you’ll just have to encounter and learn. Run-of-the-mill doesn’t mean that there is a big windmill running, it means that something is spontaneous. Also, some phrases from your own language translated may sound simply odd in English. For example, there is this word in Swedish (that’s one of my ‘big’ languages) that I really wanted to use here (ta till hårdhansken) which means to be tough. It literally means tough hand, but that sounds too weird, doesn’t it? And don’t forget to the English rules. Capital for the days and months of the week, no capital for nouns. (Mainly for German users.) The longer you work at it, the better you’ll be at this.

The key to become fluent at English and getting into the NT is repetition. If you don’t repeat, you’ll forget. Quoting a spiffy calendar, ‘Humans forget about 60% of the things they learn’, it is very important to review things. Don’t think this is all done and over with the first time, things change. And you’ll have to learn again and again if you do not wish to forget. As time goes on, it might be harder to remember since the factor of aging plays a role too. But it is never too late to learn.

And for the record, yes, English is NOT my first language. It is not my second one either. (That’s why ESL is not fair.) I have been officially educated (schooled) in four languages (five, if you count the six months studying German) whereas English is my third language. And I’m not bilingual; I’m trilingual. Other Times Authors outside the big four English-speaking countries have succeeded, such as articuno_neo and precious_katuch14. If they can do it and I can do it, why can’t you?

Author’s Note: I hope this helped the international players of Neopets to not give their hopes up on getting into the NT. Mind you, there is a Japanese version of the Times also. This article was inspired by a whiny comment from a friend, and put into work after a long time of procrastination. Remember, nothing is ever perfect, and this piece certainly is not. (I’m pretty sure it has some errors somewhere.) Any questions, comments or concerns? The reader is welcome to Neomail the author.

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