Beginning Spanish

Hola a todos!

I guess you’re here because you want to learn Spanish, well you’ve come to the right place. Learning Spanish was one of the most rewarding things I have done in my life. Now, while I won’t go into the details of why I decided to learn Spanish (yet), I can tell you that no matter what your reason for learning this beautiful language is, you won’t regret it.

This is a guide on how to begin learning Spanish. I won’t go into much detail, and I won’t discuss grammar or try to teach Spanish at all, however, I will give you a few tips on how to begin, and resources that I used to get to a level B1 in 6 months.

A little background on my level and how I reached this far:

I started to learn Spanish in 2013 after reading a beautiful poem by Bécquer titled ¿Qué es poesía? .  So, in my final year of school I began my journey of learning Spanish, and subsequently went on to study it in University. After 2 years I moved to Spain to study in one of the most prestigious universities in the world, La Universidad de Salamanca (keep an eye on my blog for a post about my experience there) and that’s where I really embraced the language. So anyway, enough about me, now it’s about you and how you can begin to learn el español!

Disclaimer: I have a level C1 Certificate in Spanish, so although I am not at native level, my level is still high.

 

Step 1: Listen to some music

Don’t go straight in for grammar books and apps! I find that these things only make people feel disheartened when they begin, as they can be so full of information and big words. I began Spanish by listening to some good Spanish music. My favourite Spanish band is an Indie band from Madrid called Vetusta Morla; check out their music here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5TUIStPW0w . This creates a general interest in the language and makes it feel more alive. There are some great Spanish music playlists on Spotify which you can follow too.

Print out the lyrics of some of your new favourite Spanish songs and translate some of the words little by little to English. This will show you how words are used naturally without having to discover it from a book. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself singing along to the music like a native!

 

Step 2: Invest in some good books

Now that you have found some music that you like and have started to get a feel for the language, it’s time to invest in a good book. Here is a list of the 3 books that I started out with in Spanish, which helped me to get to a level B1 in just 6 months:

Aula Internacional 1: http://www.internationalbooks.ie/mcart/pc/viewPrd.asp?idproduct=3701

  • This book was useful as it was not your average black and White grammar book, but rather a colourful book which was easy to use. However, it lacks a bit in grammar content, so I bought some other books which were purely grammar.

 

Collins easy learning Spanish grammar and practice: https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780008141646/easy-learning-spanish-grammar-and-practice/

  • This is a grammar book that I used when I was a beginner. It gives great explanations and provides a very complete verb table full of useful verbs for beginners.

And that’s it for textbooks and grammar books! These books helped me a lot and I used them to help me to translate songs and poems.

I think my biggest advice to give you when you’re learning Spanish is to find something cultural that interests you, and immerse yourself in it, whether it be music and poetry like I chose, or tv dramas and books, if you concentrate on it and try to learn for yourself what the words mean and how the grammar is used, you’ll learn very quickly.

 

Step 3: Study a little bit each day

I understand time is a big factor when it comes to learning a language, however don’t let your lack of time stop you. Personally (as nerdy as this sounds) studying Spanish was my hobby. Wherever I went, my Spanish books went too, and whenever I was alone, I listened to Spanish music. But perhaps you don’t have as much time as I had (even though I was in my final year of school) and you just have 10-30 minutes each day to study, well, this is enough! It may take you longer, but if you listen to Spanish music on the car on your way to work and set aside a small section of your time in the evenings, if you study for 30 minutes every day you’ll be surprised at how much you can learn.

Apps on your phone can also be helpful for busy people who may not have time to sit down and study. Now although I didn’t use apps so much as I prefer to use books, I did sometimes use them when I was on the go. The app which I used was Babbel , I found that it was very interactive and provided me with lots of examples of everyday Spanish.

 

Step 4: Speak with natives

Now that you can speak a few words, can probably introduce yourself and speak about basic topics, it’s time to start speaking to locals! This is defiantly a lot easier for those who live in cities. Most cities have several language exchanges and events going on each week, if not each day, and most cities do have native Spanish speakers living in them, whether they be from Spain or from South America. However, if you, like I did, live in the countryside, this can be more of a challenge, nonetheless, the chances are that if you’re reading this you have WIFI, and thus have the power of the internet at your fingertips! Most of my best friends from Spain are people who I met over the internet. If you use apps like Hello Talk you can meet Spanish speakers (aka hispanohablates) with ease.

It is a lot easier to learn a language if you communicate with speakers of the language. I was lucky enough to quickly make Spanish friends and I went to Spain to visit them, which provided me with an excellent opportunity to speak and practice. Even if it is just online, you’ll be surprised at how much you can learn.

 

Step 5: Be confident

You’ve come this far, and at this point you probably can sing along to some Spanish songs, and have mastered the grammar basics, now it’s time to show off your new skills and be proud! My top advise to new learners of a languages is to be confident! You will make mistakes, if you didn’t, then probably you’re a robot. Make mistakes, learn from them and carry on. I made countless mistakes when I began to learn, but I would study to see where I went wrong and correct myself. This is the best way to learn, te lo prometo!

 

Well I’ll finish this small blog entry here. I hope that it will give you some motivation to learn un poco. There is no timeline with this. Don’t rush yourself or worry if it’s taking you awhile to pick up the language. Just go at your own pace and most of all, enjoy yourself! Learning Spanish can be so much fun and rewarding, just study a little each day and you’ll be hablando en español before you know it!

Check out my blog in the coming weeks for a follow up on this post, where I’ll go into more detail about what grammar and vocab to learn and when, and also I’ll talk about my experiences in Spain!

Hasta luego!

 

 

 

MEXT Application Procedure: A step by step guide

Hello, and welcome to my second blog post; a step by step guide to the MEXT scholarship application procedure! Second to the research plan, this a rather difficult task to complete, and I am sure that the secretary at the Japanese embassy was tired of getting emails from me desperately seeking help! Luckily, I successfully completed the application form, and so, I am here to help you complete it too! Just like my last blog post, my top tip is to ask your embassy for advice if you need it, as regulations can vary from country to country, however, I hope this blog post can help you out in some way, so let’s begin!

DISCLAIMER: I am writing from my point of view, about what worked for me and my own personal situation. While many of the steps of the application procedure can by followed be everyone, there are some steps which are different to each individual, therefore I advise always checking first with your own embassy before submitting your application.

MEXT provides guidelines to the application process; the 2019 application guidelines can be found here: http://www.studyjapan.go.jp/pdf/applications/2019/2019_Guidelines_Research_E.pdf  . However, these guidelines can be quite overwhelming, so it’s a good idea to print it and read it slowly, highlighting key points. The first few pages discuss the criteria you must meet to apply for the scholarship. The guidelines to the application process itself begin on page 5.

Application Procedures:

  1. Application Form – The application form can be found on studyjapan.go.jp . My recommendation is that you type this out rather than fill in with pen as it is much easier to read and adds an element of professionalism. Another key thing to remember when filling in the application form is the passport photo. Do not forget to print out 3 copies, sign the back with your name and nationality and paste to the form. Apart from this, the form is quite easy to fill out and can be completed within a matter of minutes.

 

  1. Placement Preference Form – Here you must select 3 professors with whom you would like to work should you receive the scholarship. Do not overlook this step, as you cannot change your preferences once you submit the form. For extra advice on this, I spoke with a Japanese professor from my university who recommended me 3 professors whose research was compatible with my own. It is important to make sure that the professors that you select work in the same field as your research, and speak either English or Japanese (it is important that you can communicate with your professor after all!). Don’t worry yet about contacting the professors, you should not do this until after you have been advised by your embassy that you passed the interview. However, this is not to say that you can’t begin to contact some potential professors to ask them about their work and tell them that you are applying for the scholarship, in fact, during my interview I was asked what I have done to choose my professors, so it is a good idea to show that you have been proactive during your selection.

 

  1. Field of Study and Research Plan – It is crucial that you remember to attach your research plan. On this blog post I won’t expand further on this point as my previous post went into detail on how to write an impressive plan. You can find that post here: https://midoriwhite.wordpress.com/2018/06/30/the-journey-begins/ .

 

  1. Certified grade transcript for each academic year from the last university attended – You must provide an official academic transcript which shows your grades from each semester. Don’t worry about getting this posted from your university, I got mine online, making sure that they were signed by the President of my university, and had my university stamp and logo on each transcript. This is essential when submitting any sort of paper work for the scholarship, everything must be official and professional. A very important part of this step (which I forgot to include, but thankfully was reminded by the embassy to email forward) is the official grade scale applied by your university so the embassy knows what your grades mean. So, make sure to include an official grade marking scheme (to prove that the page is official it must have your university logo and address on it).

 

  1. Graduation certificate or degree certificate of the last university attended – In my case, and in the case of most, I had not yet officially graduated university by the time the applications closed for the scholarship. Therefore, as I have a pretty good academic record, and have proved to be a reliable and hardworking student, I could get a letter from the President of my university stating that I would graduate university that year. This is enough to provide for MEXT if you have not graduated yet. To get this letter, I simply went to the academic advisory in my university and requested one, and by later that day I had already received the certificate by email.

 

  1. Recommendation letter from the president/dean or the adviser of the current university or the last university attended or the university currently attending – MEXT provides a template for the recommendation letter, however they advise that the adviser can follow whichever template they like. I advise that you politely ask, in person, a professor in your university with whom you have worked in close proximity with before. Choose a professor who knows you well, and who knows your strengths, so it will be easy for them to write a very good recommendation letter for you. In my case, I asked a professor who had taught me since first year, and who had helped me and worked with me throughout my 4 years at university. Remember to ask your professor many months in advance, as you must write the address and name of the university on the envelope as well as getting your professor to sign the seal of the envelope. It is very important that you get your professor to sign the seal as in Japan this is standard in many work places, and it is a requirement from the university.

 

  1. Medical certificate – Oh, so so rigorous! When I showed the medical certificate to my doctor he was shocked at the amount of detail that we must provide. MEXT supplies this form on the website and it must be followed as is. It is very important to start this months before, as you will be asked for a report on your lungs, your blood type, and even your bowels! Bring the form to your doctor and they will take it from there, you just need to provide the facts and the samples.

 

In my case, these were all the documents that I had to provide, however there are a few more steps which you can include if they apply to you, such as a recommendation letter from an employer, or an abstract of your thesis. You can check this out on the first link that I included above. Overall, the application procedure is quite difficult to complete as it has many steps and much detail. Therefore, I advise beginning the procedure at least 2 months in advance, especially the medical form and the recommendation letter from a university advisor, and of course several more months for the research plan. Apart from this, you must remember to provide 3 versions of each document; 1 original and 2 documents. You’ll finish with a great big stack of pages, and you can be amazed at yourself that you have accomplished so much!

On a closing note, I hope this blog post has been informative and you have more of a clear idea of how to complete the application procedure! Please feel free to ask any questions or leave any comments below, it would be great to hear if you have any more ideas for a blog post, and I would love to hear your opinions!

 

Have a good day,

 

Cliona!

MEXT SCHOLARSHIP: Where do I begin?

Applying for the MEXT scholarship can prove to be quite the task, even compiling the information so you can select the right scholarship can be tricky; however, with help from your embassy and online tips and tricks, it becomes a lot easier.

That’s where I come in. Just a few months ago I too was frantically searching on the internet for tips on how to write a good research plan, or how to apply for the MEXT scholarship. Thankfully after much hard work, I went from being completely clueless to sitting in front of 3 interviewers asking me why I deserve this scholarship. So here is my step by step guide of how to begin applying for the MEXT scholarship. I am writing for those who are applying for the Research Student Scholarship, for other scholarships, please contact your embassy for guidance.

 

Where can I begin?

I first discovered the scholarship in late November 2017 as I was searching for ways to study in Japan. When I found this scholarship, I could not believe my eyes. Immediately I contacted the embassy for information, which is my first piece of advice. Contact your embassy as soon as possible and ask them for the relevant information. Although online forums and blogs *cough cough* can be useful, each country has a different system when it comes to the MEXT scholarship, so it is a great place to start by getting the information from them.

 

What about the research plan?

It can be quite daunting when you read that you must submit a research plan as part of the application, especially if you have never done one before. I suggest starting your research plan many months in advance. I began mine in December and had it just finished for the deadline in June. It is a good idea to give yourself lots of time, so you can have several people read it. I met with a university professor in a related field to my research in January, and had it proof read each month until June to make sure it was perfect.

 

How can I write a research plan?

I must advise you, I am definitely not an expert when it comes to writing research plans, and I would advise getting a university professor to give you some guidance; however, my research plan was good enough to secure me a place in the exams and in the interviews, so perhaps you may want to take note. MEXT provides a template for the research plan which must be followed, however, I also added elements to mine, which worked in my favour. The following is a brief layout of my own research plan:

  1. Present field of study

In this section it is important to discuss what you studied in university, making sure to highlight modules you may have taken which link directly with your project. For example, I studied Political Science in university, and as part of my degree I took a module in Asian Politics. I mentioned this in my field of study, and it was brought up several times in the interview by the interviewees. So, make sure to link your field of study with your research.

  1. Your research topic in Japan

I approach this section as if it were a blurb of a novel; I highlighted the key points of my research and I wrote a paragraph on it. Point 2 should use words which grab the attention of those who decide if your research is worthy of further pursuit. You should mention briefly what your research is, other literature on the topic, your methodology, and your end goal of the research. You can expand on these in point 3.

 

  1. Research plan in Japan

This is the point where you must discuss in greater detail each aspect of your research. I began by expanding on point 2, introducing my research. Bear in mind that this research plan must fit into 2 pages, so you don’t have to go into rigorous detail, just enough to cover each aspect of your plan with some detail.

Following this I briefly mentioned what previous literature had discussed on the topic and how my plan was different. Remember that your research must be unique and bring something new to the field! I continued by discussing my methodology and how I would conduct it once I arrive to Japan. Basically, this is saying how you are going to research, such as how you will gather data, is it qualitative or quantitative and so on.

Next, it is very important to highlight why your research must be carried out in Japan, after all, it is only fair that the scholarship goes to someone who must complete the research there. There must be a clear reason why it is necessary to do the project in Japan. Perhaps it would give you a better view into their political system, or allow you to carry out the necessary tests; whatever it is, you must provide a clear reason of why it is essential that your research be carried out in Japan.

Once you have discussed all of this, it is also nice to mention what you can give to the community once you are in Japan to promote your culture (this was also picked up on in the interview). Here you could mention that you would organise cultural events, languages exchanges and so on, basically whatever great ideas you have to connect your country with Japan would be a good thing to mention here.

Following this is wrote a paragraph on my research objectives, which highlighted what I hoped the end goal of my research would be. It is important to show the embassy that you have a goal for your project, it shows that you have ambition and a motive. It is also good to mention here how your project can make links between your own country and Japan, however this is not a must. I followed this paragraph by providing 6 bullet points to summarise my research goals, these being: 3 research questions which I wanted to answer, and 3 research objectives. This adds a clear summary to the end of your plan, and shows that you have a clear idea of your research plan.

I added an additional page to my research plan, which my university professor was highly impressed with. The additional page was a timetable, which gave a detailed description of the research that I would like to carry out, divided into semesters. I broke my project into 3 sections, and gave each section a slot on the table, which was divided into when I would read previous literature, when I would carry out my methodology and so on.  Although it is not a requirement to provide a timetable, it certainly adds an element of academic professionalism and shows that you have thought out your project well.

 

I hope this brief blog on how to do a research plan has been helpful. It is my first entry on my new blog. Please if you found this useful, subscribe to my blog! I will be adding more content such as how to complete the application procedure and my interview experience.

Have a great day,

 

Cliona!