President's Scholarship 2017

A love for languages, cultures

Four of this year's five President's Scholars (from left) Lionel Oh, Cheri Wee, Agatha Sacha Lim Lee and Jasdeep Singh Hundal. They received their awards from President Tony Tan Keng Yam, who spoke about the impact of the constantly changing global environment on Singapore and the challenges the country faces. ST PHOTOS: NG SOR LUAN

English, Malay, Hindi and Mandarin - Mr Jasdeep Singh Hundal speaks all these languages on top of his mother tongue Punjabi.

And he is learning French too.

Growing up, he was also exposed to different languages at home as his parents speak three to six languages, from Punjabi, Malay and Tamil to Hindi, English and Chinese.

"I can't exactly remember which language I learnt first," said the 19-year-old who picked up Chinese from his play group at age three.

He took an interest in the Chinese language, studying it as a subject at Nan Chiau Primary School even though it did not count towards his overall grades. He took Punjabi classes out of school on Saturday mornings.

He later studied Chinese as a third language in Raffles Institution - and scored A1.

"The school (Nan Chiau Primary) really immersed me in the Chinese culture. As the head prefect, I said the Pledge and gave the graduation speech in Mandarin," he said.

His love for languages spurred his interest in learning about other cultures, and Mr Hundal, one of five recipients of the President's Scholarship this year, will be taking up a double degree in social sciences and history in two countries.

Mr Hundal, who is on a Public Service Commission scholarship (Foreign Service), will spend the first two years at the Sciences Po in France, and the next two at the University of California, Berkeley, in the United States.

The only child of an engineer and part-time dental assistant scored straight As for all his A-level subjects, which included biology, chemistry, mathematics and economics.

He said: "Languages are tied to people and by extension, culture, arts and politics.

"What better way to understand people than to speak to them in their own language... It shows that you're interested to know about them and their culture."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2017, with the headline A love for languages, cultures. Subscribe