For Taiwan teen novelist English is an art, not a tool

“The path to success is paved with adversities, but that’s what makes it so special,” says seventeen-year-old Taiwanese author Hermione Lee.

Lee’s first novel, In the Name of the Otherworld, was released by World Castle Publishing on September 21st. It is a recipient of the Literary Titan Silver Book Award, which, according to Literary Titan, is “bestowed on books that expertly deliver complex characters, intricate worlds, and thought provoking themes”.

In the Name of the Otherworld hit #1 on New Releases on books.com.tw (博客來) on the day of its publication, and is also available on Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, and Eslite Bookstore.

In this young adult fantasy adventure novel, Lee delves into topics such as bullying, gender stereotypes, self-discovery, and many more common issues young adults face in their daily life. Readers may identify with the protagonist Alexandria Richardson as she gradually learns to love herself, reconcile with her past, and recognize her potential and worth.

In the Name of the Otherworld is the first book of a trilogy. The sequel, Marvels of the Underworld, is under contract, while the third book is already completed. Lee is currently working on her fourth novel, which is also targeted at young adults. She aspires to become an English professor and influence her future students by fostering a profound love for English in them.

“It is my dream to revolutionize the English educational system in Taiwan,” says Lee. “I hope the kids will learn English not by studying the laws of grammar but by reading books and viewing English as a form of art instead of a tool to communicate with foreigners,” says Hermione Lee.

“Many people, from the teachers to the parents, only care about tests, putting a heavy emphasis on memorizing English vocabulary words instead of its linguistic beauty. Such a stressful way of learning will not encourage good writing and can only yield bad results,” Lee said.

It is also Lee’s wish to motivate more adolescents to exercise their creative energies instead of smothering them with schoolwork. By sharing her own experience with more people, she hopes to wield a positive influence on them and leave her mark on this world, paying it forward and helping more teens realize their dreams. Age, after all, is merely a number. 

Hermione Lee spoke to Taiwan English News about her experiences growing up in Taiwan, yet being able to master the English language to the point where, rather than passing mundane corporate English tests, she was able to pass a much greater real-life test of having an English novel published in the United States.

“When I was very young, my parents taught me English by reading storybooks to me. I grew up learning English through reading more and more books, eventually deciding to write one at 13. Because of this, I never got acquainted with grammar rules, although I can write grammatically correct sentences and articles,” Lee said.

“When I was six, I started reading the Magic Tree House books, a series of children’s historical fantasy adventure books. The plot and characters kindled a love for books in me, which swelled into an everlasting interest for reading.”

“I must have read thousands of English books by now, and although I’m busy writing my fourth book, I still take time to read. Some of my favorite books are Bridge to Terabithia (Katherine Paterson), Nineteen Minutes (Jodi Picoult), the Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling), and Defending Jacob (William Landay).”

Lee said that she lives in Taiwan, and has never lived abroad. Her only experience of immersion in the English language is through books, other media, and occasional overseas travel.

Speaking of English language education in Taiwan, Lee said:

” Language is not only a tool, but most importantly a form of art. We should learn a foreign language not for the purpose of getting good grades, but by focusing on its linguistic beauty.”

“It’s sad that we don’t treat English like a mother language here. In Chinese textbooks, we are introduced to figurative language, such as similes, comparisons, anthropomorphism, metaphors, alliteration, onomatopoeia, and many more. Sadly, not many schools teach kids the aesthetic aspect of the English language. I didn’t know English could be as artistic as Chinese until I started to read more novels. You’ll see a great deal of aesthetic language in my book, especially when it comes to descriptive writing.”

“The chilly evening breeze hummed and teased at the rustling leaves. Tall trees shrouded by night loomed over us, casting ghostly shadows on the lichen-coated ground. Twilight reigned the sky, and the towering columns of trees around us darkened a shade every few minutes, giving off an eerie sense of foreboding.”

From In the Name of the Otherworld Chapter 8. 

On advice for English students in Taiwan, Lee says:

“Don’t try to learn English. Make it a part of your life and blend it into your interests. If your interest happens to be reading English novels, well, good news for you. Just grab a book and get started!”

“If you like movies, try downloading the screenplays while watching the movie to expand your vocabulary. If you like sports, switch the TV channel to a NBA basketball game and try to follow what the commentator is saying. If you like music, search for English songs on YouTube and take a good look at the lyrics. If you’re a K-Pop fan, go online and read articles (in English, of course) about your favorite K-Pop group, and listen to BTS’s speech in the UN headquarters. If you like online games, try downloading some in English and learn as you play. Don’t torture yourself with the learning process, enjoy English and make it a part of your life.”

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