Language Learning Through NUS Hostels

Learning a new language in university is often a popular decision among students, given the freedom to plan one’s courses. Apart from language courses offered in NUS, courses including a language learning component are also offered by various hostels in NUS. Named as the Southeast Asia Friendship Initiative (SFI) course, SFI courses seek to deepen students’ understanding of a Southeast Asian country through lectures on its history, politics, and society, tutorials introducing its national language, and an immersive study trip to the country itself. Through SFI, students can look forward to learning a new language and embarking on a study trip to one of the countries in Southeast Asia, depending on the hostel you reside in. Let’s hear from three SFI participants from King Edward VII Hall, Pioneer House and Eusoff Hall about their experiences! 


King Edward VII Hall 

Last semester, Chin Sek Yi (Year 3, Data Science) signed up for the SFI2014 course, offered by KEVII Hall. As part of the course, Sek Yi attended tutorials teaching Bahasa Indonesia throughout the semester and travelled to the Riau Islands during winter break. The language tutorials proved crucial as they helped with communication with the villagers on the islands.  

Learning a new language is no easy feat, which is why peer support is extremely important. For Sek Yi, staying at KEVII Hall and taking the same SFI course as her hostel mates meant that she was able to find the peer support that she needed in her language-learning journey. “The students who took this course also stayed in the same hall as me, so I could practice the language with them after class or when we had our meals together,” she shared. Staying together and attending classes together definitely made it easier for Sek Yi and her hostel mates!

When asked about her thoughts on exploring a new language, Sek Yi shared, “Learning a new language not only exposes you to a new culture, but also new ways of thinking. It broadens your mind, allowing you to view things differently. It is also fun to learn a new language with your friends!” Indeed, learning a language through tutorials and putting it to use during conversations with the local community is a worthwhile life experience! 

Sek Yi (in white) on board a sailing boat named “Four Friends”, along with boat Captain Blake and her fellow coursematescourse mates. The meal was prepared on the boat itself, by the Indonesian staff! 


Pioneer House 

Also in Indonesia, Esther Toh (Year 1, Political Science) is set to embark on a study trip to Malang this upcoming summer break. Upon signing up for the course with her friends, Esther went through five tutorials that taught her the basics of Bahasa Indonesia, such as simple self-introductions, numerals, telling the time, and asking for directions. These components were thought to be very practical to Esther. “I signed up because I wanted to explore a new culture, and since I have many Indonesian friends, I wanted to converse with them using Bahasa Indonesia, even though I might sound like a preschooler,” Esther laughed as she shared her reasons for participating in the course. 

Learning a new language requires consistency and daily practices, and this was exactly what Esther did throughout this semester. Just like Sek Yi, Esther was able to practise the language with her fellow course mates, who were also her hostel mates, and even throw in some newly unlocked vocabulary in their daily conversations. Since Pioneer House has its fair share of Indonesian residents, Esther was able to approach her Indonesian friends for help. “I also sought the help of my Indonesian friends staying on campus, such as when I had to look through my notes and couldn’t remember what the teacher meant, I could turn to them for help,” she shared.  

Some words of encouragement from Esther to anyone who is thinking of learning a new language: Just go for it! It will no doubt be tough, memorising and learning a whole different language. But you always have Google! And friends who speak the language too! Life is not graded, just take it easy and learn at your own pace with no pressure. 

Esther’s Bahasa Indonesia assignment on numerals. Mastering the numerals in Bahasa Indonesia is extremely important as it can be useful when asking for the price of an item while shopping in Indonesia!  


Eusoff Hall 

Learning a new language is nothing new to Eira Tan (Year 1, English Literature and Communications and New Media) as she had already started learning Korean under the Language Preparation Programme (LPP). Under LPP, Eira will be given priority for semester exchange in Korean universities. Currently enrolled in SFI under Eusoff Hall, she has been learning conversational Thai throughout the semester. “I joined SFI for the overseas opportunity with my hall friends, and I was also interested in the course’s content in general,” Eira shared. Apart from the exciting overseas study trip and language learning component, SFI courses also contain enriching lectures about the country’s history and politics! 


Staying in Eusoff Hall has also provided Eira with ample opportunities to practise Thai with her hallmates and SFI classmates. She also shared that some assignments allowed her to do video recordings in Thai with a partner, so staying in near her SFI classmates made completing the recordings more convenient.  


Eira having fun while learning the Thai language! 

A word of encouragement from Eira to anyone who is thinking of learning a new language:  

If you are interested, just give it a shot! It’s better to take language classes in NUS now than pay for them outside. Especially in Year 1 since you can S/U!  


 Learning a new language can be difficult at times, especially when one has to grapple with various commitments at the university level. Many may also find it more difficult to grasp a new language as an adult learner, not to mention the (sometimes) hefty costs!. However, with courses offered by hostels such as SFI, perhaps the journey will be less intimidating, especially with additional peer support 

Tan Jie Min

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