Causes Week 2018: Appreciating cultures through languages

Participants at a Lingua Singapura session where they are paired up to learn their partner's native language.
Participants at a Lingua Singapura session where they are paired up to learn their partner's native language. PHOTO: LINGUA SINGAPURA

United by a love for languages, two buddies came up with an initiative where one can learn more about another person's language and culture.

Former Malay language teacher Siti Hazirah Mohamad, 30, and English Literature teacher Ang Huan Ting, 27, started Lingua Singapura.

Ms Ang was inspired by their friendship to learn Malay. Lingua refers to languages and Singapura is the Malay name for Singapore.

Ms Hazirah, now a research associate who has learnt Arabic, Hindi and Spanish, said: "Singapore is a good place to learn multiple languages, given the diversity of people here. And language is so fascinating, it's like a window into another person's soul."

So far, they have organised two sessions in the past few months where a total of 40 people came together to share more about their language and culture. And they hope to organise more sessions, which are free of charge, next year.

  • Get involved in other causes


    This day activity centre for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities hopes to help them feel they are a part of society, among other aims, through activities that identify their strengths.

    For more information, visit its website at or e-mail


    This is an initiative to spread kindness to migrant workers here, for instance, by distributing unsold food from coffee chain Starbucks to them, and other efforts.

    For Christmas, it is collecting gifts for the workers.

    To find out more, visit its Facebook page at

The participants came from all walks of life, from maids to professionals, and spoke languages such as Arabic, Bengali, Japanese, Italian, Mandarin and Tamil. They are paired up and have to learn how to introduce themselves and some simple phrases in their partner's native tongue.

Each person is also asked to bring a cultural item for his partner to talk about - in the bringer's language.

An Indonesian maid made kueh salat, made of glutinous rice and custard, to represent her culture.

A New Zealander of Maori origin brought a jade necklace that was dear to him.

Ms Hazirah said: "The presentations are usually hilarious, as people are struggling with their partner's language. But the point is not about learning another language, but cultural exchange, where you are introduced to someone else's language."

Mr Zakir Hossain Khokan, 39, a Bangladeshi project coordinator, was paired with a Singaporean Malay man, from whom he learnt some Malay phrases. In return, he taught his partner some Bengali.

He said: "Singapore is a good place to learn about other cultures as people from different countries work here. I think this is a wonderful (initiative)."

• For more, visit

Join ST's Telegram channel here and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 21, 2018, with the headline Appreciating cultures through languages. Subscribe