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Self-Improvement & Hobbies

Practice makes perfect for budding linguists

Events help language students boost skills by meeting native speakers
The Straits Times - February 14, 2012
By: Leslie Kay Lim
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Practice makes perfect for budding linguists -- ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

MASTERING a new language can be tricky without a place to practise regularly, as Mr Terence Yeo found out.

The 25-year-old, who learnt Spanish while studying in the United States, felt that there were few opportunities here for budding linguists to brush up their skills in an organised but casual setting. So he decided to set up Tete-a-Tete Language Tables, a free monthly event that allows them to do just that.

Unlike the one-on-one exchanges commonly advertised in online forums, Tete-a-Tete typically brings together around 50 students and native speakers of various languages in one place. They can chat, or simply listen and learn.

Each meeting is held in a different venue - usually a restaurant - and is likely to feature people speaking Spanish, French, German, Japanese and Mandarin.

About 30 per cent of those who attend are foreigners. But although their backgrounds may be different, they share a common passion for languages.

'What we're trying to create is an environment,' said Mr Yeo, who is a senior officer at the Economic Development Board. 'If you can speak it, come to speak it; if you can't, come to listen.'

The session last Thursday night was no different, with first-timers and old hands enjoying a casual atmosphere and round-table talk at Group Therapy Cafe in the hip enclave of Duxton Hill.

Recent graduate Tang Pin-Ji, 26, was at the event for the second time. She has been studying German at the Goethe Institut here for two years and found Tete-a-Tete via Facebook.

She saw it as a unique opportunity to practise speaking German. 'I think it's very interesting, because you meet people who share a common interest in learning languages,' she said.

Tete-a-Tete has also reached out to language schools here, several of which have offered free materials and encouraged their students and teachers to take part.

Ms Fatima Gonzalez, 30, is a native Spanish speaker and teacher at Las Lilas. Last week's gathering was her first. 'It's a very nice event for people learning languages who don't know where to go or how to find people who speak that language,' she said.

Mr Guus Goorts, the Dutch founder of Yago Singapore, a website comparing language schools and courses, spoke of the benefits of expanding on the classroom experience. 'Language exchange can greatly help the learning process,' he said.

The interest in groups such as Tete-a-Tete seems likely to increase in cosmopolitan and travel-savvy Singapore. 'Learning a new language opened my eyes,' Mr Yeo said. 'The demand for such platforms will continue to grow.'



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