Admissions Blog

Medical students in Duke-NUS Medical School have been taking charge of the learning of Singapore’s local lingo for a few years now. A student-run course called LINGO was started in 2014, where they learn health-related terms and phrases in languages and dialects that are commonly understood by patients in Singapore.

We interviewed Ivy Lau, a final year medical student who is a co-organiser of LINGO for this year.

Who runs LINGO?

Ivy: LINGO was initiated by our senior and now alumni from the Class of 2015 – Dr Petty Chen. The LINGO programme has been running for four years and this year’s course was organised by my classmates, Tan Yu Bin, Goh Kian Leong, and me. Each year, the project is handed over to the 3rd year class council.

Why was LINGO started?

Ivy: LINGO was started to improve communication in the wards so that Duke-NUS medical students, who will go on to become doctors, can better understand their patients’ conditions and ultimately improve health outcomes.

While there are interpreters in the ward to help with language barriers, they are not always available. Nurses try to help too but they are usually extremely busy with nursing tasks alone. As such, we try to be as self-sufficient as we can, by learning phrases in different languages, and learning from our peers who are better-versed in the languages we encounter.

How are the LINGO sessions carried out? Do you hire teachers?

Ivy: There are 3 LINGO courses to learn either Mandarin, Hokkien or Malay. Each course comprises six sessions lasting 1.5 hours each. The Mandarin classes are conducted by senior MD students while the Malay and Hokkien classes are taught by nurses. The sessions are held from March to April with about 20-30 mostly first-year MD students each year. Interestingly, some doctors at Singapore General Hospital who heard about LINGO are also interested to attend or get a copy of our textbook!

LINGO textbook

LINGO textbook

You have a textbook? How was that created?

Ivy: The textbook is an A5 sized booklet, serving as a pocket-sized reference during clinical rotations. Each chapter is structured around an organ system, with vocabulary and phrases to facilitate introduction, question-asking and conversation. All three languages are included in the same textbook so that students can attempt to use the phrases from the different languages, regardless of whether they have attended the course for that particular language. The textbook’s design, illustrations and translations were done entirely by a team of volunteer student editors. It was designed and created by Dr Petty Chen, with contributions by others from the Class of 2015: Dr Andrew Chou, Dr Sashendra Aponso, Dr Chester Huang, and Dr Zhou Yi.

Since LINGO is so popular, why not incorporate it into the school curriculum?

Ivy: That’s a good idea, but it may be difficult because our curriculum is already so packed. We are currently conducting our LINGO classes on Saturdays.

How is it important in the context of Singapore healthcare?

Ivy: Singapore has a multi-racial population, where patients come from different communities and speak different languages. Many elderly patients have limited English proficiency. Hence, having the ability to communicate with these patients in their native language about their health and care is an important aspect of being an effective doctor.