Today I’m going to answer your questions – from university application tips, to my career, to Japanese phrases that don’t translate to English, let’s answer all of your questions today! 

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A few weeks ago I asked my Instagram followers and podcast listeners to send me any questions they wanted to ask me! It’s been nearly 4 months since the last time I did this, and in that time the podcast has grown a lot. There are a lot of new listeners and I’m sure a lot of new questions people want to ask.

I had an amazing response, and so many of you asked me questions! Today, I’m going to try my best to answer as many as I can! Make sure you listen to the whole of this episode, as I’ll answer questions ranging from tips for university applications and listening comprehension, to my personal life. I’m sure there will be some things you are interested in or curious about! 

Make sure you follow thinkinginenglishpodcast on Instagram so you don’t miss out on the extra content and future QnAs! Also, please leave a rating on Spotify or Apple or wherever you listen. Now let’s take a look at your questions!

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I have to write a letter of motivation to apply for a PhD. Got any tips? (Giulia Cherchi)

When you write a letter of motivation or personal statement, you need to answer 2 main questions – why them? And why you?

The first question should cover why you want to study the PhD (career goals, how it will benefit you, why that subject) and why you want to study at that specific university (be very specific – talk about courses, facilities, professors, the reputation of the school etc).

The second question – “why you?” – requires you to show your qualifications, experience, skills, and commitment. The key word is “show” – instead of just saying you are highly qualified show them with examples and evidence!

You can also use the letter of motivation to explain anything that would not be obvious in the rest of your application but you consider important.

However, don’t fall into the trap of just listing your achievements and qualifications (that’s for a cv or resume). Instead, carefully select your most important, impressive, and relevant information- and try to incorporate these qualifications into a letter

I said there are two main questions – but the best personal statements or letters of motivation are able to connect and intertwine these points.

A (very) simple structure for a paragraph could be…

1. A point about why you want to study in that department

2. A reason why you are the perfect fit for the department (perhaps you have similar research interests)

3. Provide evidence to demonstrate this reason (such as, your master’s thesis was on a certain topic or you worked on a successful project in the same area)

I hope these tips help!

How do you think the war in Ukraine will end? (Idapaluszczyszyn)

This is a really difficult question to answer. I guess I know a little more than the average person about international relations and war studies, but I’m no expert. In fact, I think most experts would struggle to predict the end of the war in Ukraine. 

However, I don’t think that there will be any clear, decisive, or quick end to the conflict. The issue is that neither Ukraine nor Russia are in a position to “win” the war. Ukraine has suffered devastating destruction, entire towns have been reduced to rubble, and millions of citizens have left the country. Although it is clear Russia is not able to take over the whole of Ukraine, they have now changed focus to a few key regions in the South and East of the country. It will be difficult for Ukraine to “defeat” Russia at this time. 

On the other hand, Russia has already lost this war in many ways. Russia’s military has been shown to be poorly trained, poorly equipped, and unable to defeat the Ukrainian army. At least 5 or 6 top Russian generals have been killed, and Russia has lost a lot of military equipment. Moreover, the country is now cut off from the global economy. If Russia’s goal was to turn Ukraine into a Russia supporting country, they have clearly failed. 

The problem now is that neither country can really “win” (depending on how you define “win” I guess), but also that neither country is willing to lose. I think the conflict will continue for a while, and the result will be an unstable Ukraine which is closely aligned to Europe, and a weakened Russia now embarrassed by the weakness of its military. But it won’t be an easy end to the conflict.

How did you end up in Tokyo? (Marib_71)

It’s a bit of a long story on how I ended up in Tokyo. I’ve written some details before on the blog, but I’ll give a short explanation now as well!

In 2016, I was in my final year of university and looking for jobs. I loved studying and really wanted to enter graduate school but couldn’t afford the tuition fees, so instead decided to work for a few years before trying to do a master’s degree! One of the jobs I applied for was as an Assistant Language Teacher at elementary and junior high schools in Japan.

I also applied for roles in India and Thailand, but the job in Japan was better paid and had a more secure contract – so I decided to move across the world for two years. I lived in rural Japan for 2 years until 2018 and loved it – I was fascinated by Japanese language, politics, society, and the entire Asian region in general. 

After saving for 2 years, I finally had enough money for a master’s degree – and I enrolled in the Asian Politics MSc at SOAS, University of London! During my time at SOAS, professors recommended a number of scholarships to me for further study, including a research scholarship in Japan. I applied, was successful, and now I’m in Tokyo!

This was a very short explanation, and maybe one day I’ll give a more detailed explanation – it was definitely not as simple and straightforward as I just made it seem. 

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Could you say a little about English vs Japanese culture? (Marib_71)

I think I could probably do a whole series of episodes on the differences between Japanese and English culture. In fact, I could do a whole episode on culture itself! What you have to remember is that there are cultural differences not only between societies, but within societies. I lived in rural Japan for two years – that place was very different from Tokyo where I live now!

Despite this, there are a lot of cultural differences I have noticed over the past few years. People in Japan tend to be less direct in their language, and when I worked in a school I noticed people were very reluctant to say “no.” Japanese work systems are based on hierarchy and experience rather than ability. People don’t eat and walk at the same time. Gratitude, politeness, and respect are very important here. These are just a few I could think of right now!

Do you have any plans to have meetups in Tokyo? (mygradschooljourney)

Sure, why not?! It sounds like a cool idea. If anyone listening lives in Tokyo or nearby, reach out to me and we’ll try to organise a meetup in a park or café! I’ll put something on my Instagram as well if you are interested!

How many languages do you speak? (Marafonsatolab)

English. Well, I guess English is the only language I would say I speak well. I can also speak average Japanese and bad Mandarin Chinese. I also know a few words in some European languages!

What do you think of climate change? What could we do in our daily lives to tackle it? (Msommacampagna)

What a great, but difficult, question! I wish I knew the solution to climate change and could tell you all now. And I have to confess that my life is not always the most eco-friendly – I could personally do a lot more. 

However, I also have a slightly controversial opinion on this issue. What should people do in their daily lives to tackle climate change? Well, you could stop using plastic, drive an electric car, or stop buying food imported from other countries. But I don’t think it really matters that much. 

This is not because I don’t believe in Climate Change. The opposite is true – I think climate change is the biggest problem facing the world right now; and it is almost certainly a problem we made ourselves. I don’t think it matters because I don’t think individual actions can do enough to solve the problem. 

Let me try to explain. You could try to stop buying products with plastic packaging at the supermarket. However, it is probably more significant if the supermarkets themselves stop selling products with so much plastic. You could buy some solar panels for your house. But it would probably be more effective for the government to invest in clean energy sources. 

Big businesses and governments have been very successful in convincing us all that individuals should change their lives because we are causing climate change. The truth is though that major industries cause significantly more damage to the environment. Without countries and companies committing to being more environmentally friendly, there is probably nothing we can do in our daily lives to stop climate change.

Or, perhaps you could spend your efforts trying to convince major oil companies, Chinese cement manufacturers, and coal using countries to be more environmentally friendly.  

What’s your favourite phrase in Japanese?  (Villagegreenenglish) 

Great question – I’ll give you all a few Japanese words that don’t have direct translations in English. Perhaps you could incorporate these into your vocabulary. 

Wabi Sabi = in Japanese aesthetics and art, wabi sabi is the acceptance and appreciation of imperfect things – things that may be broken, misshapen, or not perfect but are still considered beautiful

Tsundoku – buying lots of books but never reading them. It literally means to let books pile up! 

Ikigai – something that gives you a sense of purpose or reason to live

What’s your profession? By the way thank you for all your helping to teach English (Frenhoferc) 

I guess I mentioned this earlier, but I’m currently a research student, podcaster, and occasional English tutor. I don’t actually have a career – so if anyone is hiring please give me a job!! Hopefully one day I’ll be able to turn Thinking in English into a career, but I’m not very good with making money at the moment.

My question is can you share your opinion about the Hungarian election? What do you think about Viktor Orban? (Sandor Joszai)

Another difficult question – and another topic that I’m certainly not an expert on! I was thinking of doing some research and writing an episode on “illiberal democracy” after the re-election of Orban, but I haven’t got round to it yet. 

For those of you who don’t know, Viktor Orban is the Prime Minister of Hungary, and was re-elected for his fourth term in office. This makes hime the longest-serving leader in the EU, and his party increased in popularity during the past election. 

Orban is quite a controversial figure and leader in Europe. Political scientists would describe him as an “illiberal nationalist.” Since being elected in 2010, Orban has changed the constitution to benefit himself, limited the power of the courts, taken control of the media, and been accused of corruption. Orban also suggests that he is defending Hungary from the EU, left wing politics, and George Soros (a well known Jewish billionaire who was born in Hungary). 

Orban has also been very critical of Ukraine and their President Zelenky in recent weeks, and has a long friendship with Russian President Putin. Some analysts suggest that over the next few years he may try to take complete control of Hungary’s courts and legal system. 

What do I think of Orban? Well, I wouldn’t have voted for him! And I’m not a fan of right-wing nationalist governments – they always make me uncomfortable. But, you have to remember that the world is currently experiencing a rise in illiberal nationalists – Brexit in the UK, Trump in the US, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Duterte in the Philippines, Poland has become increasingly illiberal in recent years, Modi in India, Le Pen was seen as big challenger in France, and countless other examples. 

How to improve my listening comprehension? 

So I can’t remember who asked this question – you sent me an Instagram voice note but I cannot find it anywhere now. But I think your question was about how you perfectly understand the podcasts when reading the transcript, but struggle to fully comprehend everything when just listening. 

This is a problem all language learners face, and something you probably will always have to face. There will always be words, phrases, or grammar that you don’t understand – and this is true in your native language as well. However, we don’t panic when we don’t understand something in our native languages, instead we check or guess the meaning. And this is something English learners need to get used to when listening to English – you won’t understand everything all the time, but you need to be able to comprehend the overall meanings and ideas. 

I struggle with listening comprehension in Japanese everyday. I’m taking a Japanese debate class every Wednesday at the moment, and last week I had no idea what the teacher was asking me to do. I had a bad headache, was tired and a little stressed, and just couldn’t understand what she was asking. 

But I took it as a study opportunity – and that is what you should do if you don’t understand something from this podcast. Thinking in English is for English learners – advanced learners of course – but people who are still trying to improve and develop their English skills. If I say something you don’t understand, write it down and check what it means later. That’s what I did in my Japanese class last week. It turns out the teacher was asking me a question using the passive voice in Japanese (which I should know) but for some reason I couldn’t remember how to answer. 

The best way to improve your listening is practice. Listen to podcast episodes more than once, make a note of things you don’t understand, and don’t panic if you are struggling! Everyone struggles while learning a language!

Final Thought 

Today I finally got round to answering some of your questions. From my career to university application tips, hopefully you all know a little more about me and some other interesting topics. If you ever have any questions, you are welcome to message me on Instagram or through the blog – I try my best to answer every question (although it’s getting more difficult as I get more listeners)!

Do you have any tips for listening comprehension? Or any recommendations for the podcast? 

5 thoughts on “Tips For University Applications and How to Improve Your Listening: Answering Your Questions!”
  1. Thank you for this episode Tom. exactly I’m struggling for listening because of understanding properly. and also I couldn’t follow the sentences. but trying and keep listening.

  2. Great podcast! I’ m leaving in Toronto now, I’ m from Argentina. Trying to improve my English. The subjects of the episodes are really interesting for me.

  3. I appreciate your podcast, it’s useful and interest. I’m Brazilian and sometimes I feel frustrated because it’s so difficult to speak a new language. Thank you so much!

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Do you want to Think in English?

I'm so excited that you found my blog and podcast!! If you don’t want to miss an article or an episode, you can subscribe to my page!

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By Tom Wilkinson

Host and founder of Thinking in English, Tom is committed to providing quality and interesting content to all English learners. Previously a research student at a top Japanese university and with a background in English teaching, political research, and Asian languages, Tom is now working fulltime on bettering Thinking in English!

5 thoughts on “Tips For University Applications and How to Improve Your Listening: Answering Your Questions!”
  1. Thank you for this episode Tom. exactly I’m struggling for listening because of understanding properly. and also I couldn’t follow the sentences. but trying and keep listening.

  2. Great podcast! I’ m leaving in Toronto now, I’ m from Argentina. Trying to improve my English. The subjects of the episodes are really interesting for me.

  3. I appreciate your podcast, it’s useful and interest. I’m Brazilian and sometimes I feel frustrated because it’s so difficult to speak a new language. Thank you so much!

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