• Learning Point

Singlish in English: Getting everyday conversations right!

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

Singapore is home to diverse ethnic groups that use multiple languages and dialects. To bridge the differences, English was designated the common language for all. Over time, the various ethnic groups began infusing English with their own languages, like a melting pot of cultures that Singapore is often described as. The result was a uniquely Singaporean creation – colloquial expressions known as Singlish.


In the next three sections, we’ll take a closer look at Singlish, the various ways it is being used and how to avoid being misunderstood!


Bring vs fetch vs send vs take

In this section, we look at more of such ‘localised’ vocabulary which are often erroneously used interchangeably. Use the correct word and be understood!


Borrow vs lend


Expressions heard at school

Apart from expressions derived from other local languages and dialects, there are also some words which may look like Standard English, but are altered or take on new meanings in the native Singaporean context. Here are some examples in a school context:


Commonly misused expressions

Singaporeans have also put a new spin on certain expressions in the English language by altering their original meanings such that only native locals can understand them. In the earlier section, our focus was on expressions often used in schools. In this section, we are introduced to several other expressions which are widely used in Singapore. It is best to be mindful of your usage of such expressions to make sure your intended message is not misinterpreted.

Singlish serves as an important cultural marker for many Singaporeans, but speaking Standard English will help us to be understood by others wherever English is spoken, both internationally and in Singapore.


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