Learning a foreign language in University

Monolingualism is the illiteracy of the twenty first century”

 – Greg Roberts

A lot of students coming into university already speak two or more languages and it isn’t uncommon for conversations to take place between friends in several languages. However, a lot of us restrict ourselves to speaking only English. With Thomas Friedman’s claim of the world becoming flat, the effects of globalization can be seen everywhere. Let’s face it, English is fast becoming everyone’s mother tongue.

Your travels around the world may take you several places, and chances are that the people there will speak English (with some exceptions of course).  Here are some of the ways in which you can hone your foreign language skills and become a true polyglot.

1. Language modules at university:


Universities like NUS and NTU have faculties for language studies where foreign languages such as German, French, Hindi, Mandarin and Arabic are taught. Enrolling in the introductory courses for a language provides a gentle primer into the subtle linguistic nuances, the script and way of thinking. I took German 1 at NUS and proceeded to take German 2 on exchange.

2. Language meet – up groups:

Singapore has a diverse and active expatriate population. There are meet – ups for most widely spoken language welcoming native speakers as well as learners of all levels. Meet – ups also provide a great way to meet like-minded individuals and find study buddies to keep you motivated on your language-learning journey. What’s more is that they are fun – the German language meet – up in Singapore celebrates Frühlingsfest and Oktoberfest by hopping German bars like Brotzeit and sampling different kinds of meat and beer.

3. Duolingo:


Duolingo is a great free online tool to complement your language learning process. It’s like the daily cardio of language learning. You can specify a daily goal and work on short modules like how to talk about animals, order food, buy clothes etc. Duolingo is perfect for the hands – on learner who prefers to use a foreign language on a daily basis from day 1 as opposed to learning the intricacies of grammar.

4. Language Institutes:

The national bodies of culture of most major countries have language-learning centers around the world. Allianz Francoise for French, Goethe Institut for German etc. These centers provide part – time, after work courses from the lowest level of proficiency (A1) to the highest level (C2 – near a native speaker in terms of ability).

5. Student exchange program:

translation around the world

I’m probably one of the strongest advocates of the student exchange program being the most important part of undergraduate studies. Daily interactions are the best way to learn the spoken language and perfect the accent. Sure, you’re bound to make mistakes, reach that awkward point where you can speak the language but not understand the response you’re receiving. The grocery store run by a Turkish gentleman near my flat was a constant source of practice. The only common language we shared was German.  After initial courtesies and sales related talk, he’d ask me questions about my roots and experiences and articulating complex ideas and feelings in a new language was quite difficult to start with but I gradually warmed up to it and looked forward to these daily conversations.

6.Work or intern in a foreign company:

I have a friend who works at a French bank. She had a good technical knowledge of French but wasn’t fluent. Office memos, meetings and culture was incredibly French and after some teething problems she became fluent. Now, she only speaks French when she travels around the French speaking parts of Europe.

Some of the factors that can dissuade you from learning a foreign language could be the initial steep learning curve, difficulties in pronunciation, an indecipherable script or maybe even the fact that you’ve started learning at a later age. These concerns are all valid but setting a learning schedule comprising the written and spoken aspects of language – learning will ensure a successful journey.


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