Singlish English Language Singapore

Singlish as English in Singapore: A Guide for International Students

Understanding Singlish: The English Language in Singapore

“Singlish as English in Singapore” is not just a linguistic phenomenon; it is a cultural emblem representing Singapore’s rich diversity and history. For international students, understanding Singlish could be the key to unlocking a more immersive and enriching Singapore experience. As they say in Singlish, “Don’t scared, try only lah!”

In the heart of Southeast Asia, Singapore stands as a bustling metropolis, blending a myriad of cultures, traditions, and languages. This cultural melting pot has given birth to Singlish – a unique form of English spoken in Singapore. Understanding “Singlish as English in Singapore” provides a fascinating lens to view the rich multicultural fabric of this island nation.

Singlish, or colloquial Singaporean English, is not merely a localised form of English. It is a vibrant creole that combines English with a variety of other languages, including Malay, Tamil, Hokkien, Cantonese, and others. This fusion of languages makes Singlish a distinct linguistic entity, very different from standard English.

For international students studying in Singapore, Singlish can be initially perplexing. Phrases like “Can or not?”, “Got so many car!”, and “Why you so stupid?” might seem grammatically incorrect in standard English, but they are commonplace in Singlish. This unique grammar, combined with the infusion of words from various languages, makes understanding “Singlish as English in Singapore” quite a challenge.

For instance, ‘makan’, a Malay word meaning ‘to eat’ or ‘meal’, is commonly used in Singlish. The term ‘kiasu’, borrowed from Hokkien, meaning ‘always wanting the best for oneself and willing to try hard to get it’, is another example. The use of these words extends beyond the local Singaporean community, often leaving international students bemused.

Yet, this complexity is what makes Singlish so culturally significant. Each word and phrase reveals the multicultural heritage of Singapore. The use of “Singlish as English in Singapore” is a testament to the nation’s diversity and shared history. It is not just a form of communication, but an embodiment of the Singaporean identity.

Despite the initial difficulty, grasping Singlish can significantly enhance an international student’s experience in Singapore. Not only does it help in social interactions, but it also provides deeper insights into the local culture. Familiarity with Singlish can transform their understanding of “Singlish as English in Singapore” from a linguistic challenge into a cultural adventure.

Moreover, Singlish has been gaining international recognition. It is not uncommon now to find Singlish words like ‘kiasu’ and ‘shiok’ in the Oxford English Dictionary. This acceptance at an international level has boosted the pride associated with Singlish, further establishing its place in Singapore’s cultural identity.

To navigate “Singlish as English in Singapore”, international students can utilize several resources. Online Singlish dictionaries and language guidebooks can be beneficial. Engaging with locals and immersing oneself in Singaporean media can also aid in understanding Singlish’s nuances.

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Singapore, a multicultural nation known for its gleaming skyscrapers and bustling hawker centres, is also a land of linguistic diversity. Singlish, an English-based creole language native to Singapore, is an intricate tapestry of English, Malay, Hokkien, Teochew, Tamil, and Cantonese. For international students, understanding Singlish could be a bit of a puzzle initially, given its unique syntax and the sprinkling of non-English words. However, with a bit of patience and exposure, it is possible to unravel the intriguing complexities of Singlish.

Singlish: More Than Just English

Singlish, short for Singaporean English, is an embodiment of Singapore’s multiracial and multilingual society. It is a unique variety of English that incorporates the grammar and vocabulary of several other languages spoken in the country. The vocabulary of Singlish is largely shared with other varieties of English, but it also includes several local terms and phrases specific to Singaporean culture and institutions.

For instance, Singapore’s light rail system is referred to as the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit), and the government-managed housing system, home to over 80% of the population, is known as the HDB (Housing Development Board). Singlish also employs unique terms for everyday items; slippers, for example, commonly referred to as ‘flip flops’ or ‘thongs’ in other English-speaking countries, are the go-to footwear at home and the beach in Singapore.

Influence of Other Languages in Singlish

Singlish also includes words from other languages spoken in Singapore. Terms like ‘makan’ (to eat, meal) from Malay, ‘ang mo’ (a white person) from Hokkien, and ‘rojak’ (mixed) from Malay, are commonly used. This linguistic blend can be initially confusing for international students. However, understanding these elements can greatly enhance their grasp of Singlish, and by extension, their communication with locals.

One noteworthy term that has gained widespread usage is ‘kiasu’. Originating from Hokkien, ‘kiasu’ embodies a national characteristic – always wanting the best for oneself and being willing to work hard for it. This word is now commonly used in the Singapore press and has even made its way into the Oxford English Dictionary.

Accent and Phonetics

Another aspect that international students might find challenging is the unique accent and phonetics of Singlish. Singaporean English accent is quite recognisable with specific nuances in the pronunciation of consonants and vowels, and the usage of stress and intonation. For instance, in Singapore English, ‘rice’ and ‘rise’ usually sound the same, as do ‘hop’ and ‘hob’. This can be initially puzzling for someone accustomed to standard English pronunciation.

Grammar: Simplified and Functional

The grammar of Singlish, while different from standard English, is simplified and functional. Plurals and past tenses are often optional and are marked by context rather than specific grammatical rules. For instance, ‘What happen yesterday?’ and ‘You go where?’ are typical Singlish expressions. Similarly, the verb ‘to be’ is often optional, and sentences like ‘She so pretty’ and ‘This new revision ah, REALLY new!’ are quite common.

Particles, usually borrowed from Hokkien or Cantonese, are another crucial element of Singlish. They are used to indicate the speaker’s attitude towards what is being said. Examples include ‘ah’ (usually expecting agreement), ‘lah’ (strong assertion), and ‘what’ (usually correcting something).

Navigating the Singlish Landscape: A Learning Curve

Understanding and speaking Singlish can be a steep learning curve for international students. The mix of languages, unique syntax, and particular pronunciation might seem daunting at first. However, as with any language, immersion and practice are the keys to mastery.

While academic and formal settings in Singapore use standard English, Singlish is very much a part of the local culture and informal conversations. As such, being familiar with Singlish can significantly enhance international students’ social interactions and their overall experience in Singapore.

Moreover, understanding Singlish provides deeper insights into the multicultural society of Singapore. Each borrowed word, each unique phrase, paints a vivid picture of the ethnic diversity, shared history, and shared experiences of the Singaporean people.

Singlish: The Pride of Singapore

Despite the complexities, Singlish has grown to be a source of national pride and identity. It has gained international recognition, with several Singlish terms being added to the Oxford English Dictionary, including ‘shiok’ (great pleasure or satisfaction), ‘sabo’ (sabotage), and the previously mentioned ‘kiasu’.

Though there have been debates about the influence of Singlish on the proficiency of standard English among Singaporeans, Singlish continues to thrive. It is an essential part of the Singaporean identity and a testament to the nation’s multicultural heritage.

Tools to Understand Singlish

Several resources can aid international students in understanding Singlish. Online Singlish dictionaries and language guidebooks provide a comprehensive list of Singlish words, their meanings, and usage. They also often provide insights into the cultural and historical contexts of these terms.

Additionally, interacting with local Singaporeans, participating in local events, and watching Singaporean movies and TV shows can also help international students familiarize themselves with the nuances of Singlish.


In essence, Singlish is more than just a linguistic curiosity. It is a vibrant symbol of Singapore’s multicultural fabric, reflecting the nation’s history, diversity, and identity. For international students, while Singlish might be a challenge to grasp initially, understanding it opens the door to a deeper connection with the local culture and people. As they navigate through their journey in Singapore, international students will find that Singlish, with its colourful phrases and unique syntax, adds a rich layer to their overseas experience.

And so to all international students embarking on their Singapore journey, we say – Welcome lah! Just relax, don’t so kiasu, slowly learn, can already.