While planning a trip to Singapore, you might have added a 'local language dictionary' in your must-pack list. Well, the thing that you must know is that Singapore does not have any official language. The locals speak a variety of languages, and as a result of Singapore's bilingual education policy, you may even find them conversing in more than two languages. While the medium of education is English, children in Singapore schools are taught a second language (Mandarin or Malay or Tamil) in primary and secondary schools. The bilingual education policy has enhanced linguistic efficiency among students. According to the Singaporean constitution, English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil are the official listed languages spoken here.
Below are the official languages of Singapore:
The standardised version of the Malay language in Singapore is Bahasa Melayu which has also been declared as Singapore's national language. The language is spoken by nearly 13 per cent of the Singaporean population. In fact, the national anthem of Singapore is written in Malay. It is written in Roman letters, and the Roman script is known as Rumi, however, in the older days, it was written in Jawi script which is based on Arabic. Malay is also taught in Singapore's language education system, and up to this day, Singaporean Malay children learn Jawi as well as Rumi in as a beginner.
Since the time the country was under British rule, English has become one of the most common languages of Singapore. Whether in schools or offices, British English is used as the standard language. The idea behind promoting English was to serve a unifying factor for the multi-cultural ethnic group to have a standard dialect to communicate in. English as language also helps the country to grow and prosper in various fields at the international level. A steep rise in the percentage of the English-speaking population has made Singapore as the leading country in Asia with maximum English speakers. Although a whopping 32 per cent of the Singaporean population speaks English, it has been found that English is their second language.
It might sound astounding but believe it when we say that 9.2 per cent of the Singaporean population were Indians, according to the population census in 2010. It was also found out that approximately 76.7 per cent of these Indians spoke Tamil as their native language. Hence, Tamil was selected as an official language of Singapore after a significant population of Indians from the state of Tamil Nadu region moved here.
Now Singlish sounds new to your ears, doesn't it? But Singlish is the informal version of English which is commonly spoken by Singaporeans. Do not expect the standardised grammar or a decent accent - it is more like a colloquial form of English with a vast vocabulary contributed by all the local dialects spoken. This fun language is mostly broken words hence, do not even get the idea of drafting a formal mail to your boss in Singlish. The language has distinct phonology with which the true Singaporeans associate themselves as their unique identity.
Huayu or Mandarin is the official Chinese dialect spoken in Singapore. People here use simplified Chinese words mostly borrowed from Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, and Hainanese dialects. Mandarin is the official mother tongue for the Chinese Singaporeans. With the growing usage of English, the use of Mandarin language in Singapore has witnessed a decline in the recent year, but the Singaporean government has been promoting the language as the primary link to the Chinese culture and tradition. There was even a time when the other Chinese dialects were banned from different media channels, and Mandarin was the only popular choice as a medium of education in schools. The usage of traditional Chinese characters was until 1969. However, the Ministry of Education published which was similar to the Chinese character scheme but had 40 differences. Again, in the year 1974, a new character table was published which removed any prevalent discrepancies between the Chinese characters used in Singapore and China.
Essential Translation Guide for Travellers
For those of you who are planning their long overdue trip to Singapore, check out our essential translation guide which will come handy for you during your trip to the country:
Yes - Ya
No - Teedak
Hello - apakabar
Thank you - terimakasih
Good bye - se la mat jalan
Do you speak English? - Ta-hoo-kah ber -da ha sa Ingris?
Same - samasama
I don't understand - Sa-ya tee dak fa-ham
Help! - To-long!
Hello - Ni hao (Nee how)
How are you? - Ni hao ma? (Nee how ma)
Very good - Hen hao (hun hao)
My name is. . . - Wo demingzi shi. . . (Wuo duh mingzuhshih ...)
Excuse me - Duì bú qi (dweì bú chi)
Please - qing (ching)
Thank you - Xiè xiè (shièh shièh)
Do you speak English - Ni huì jiang Yingyu ma? (Nee hueijeeang Ying you ma.)
I don't understand - Wo ting bù dong.
Friends - péngyou (pung yo)
Danger - weí xiàn (way shien)
Good-bye - Zaìjiàn (dsaì jiàn)
One chicken rice to take away - One Chicken Rice da bao.
Don't need a camera tomorrow - Tomorrow dun need camera
Don't be so difficult/hard/aggressive - Don't be so kiasu lah.
Not good - not good one lah
Oh, my gosh!/What - Alamak!
Good grief this is expensive - Wah liao so expensive lah
Where is the bus stop - Where bas?
Ok - Ok lah
Correct - Corright
Black Coffee - Kopi Oh
Don't be like that - dun lai dat lah
He doesn't know what he is doing - He so blur lah
I am flying Singapore Airlines - I fly SQ lah
Iced Coffee - Kopi Ais
I can't hear you, can you repeat - repeat again or Ha?
How is that possible - How can lah?
I want to go to Orchard Station - I wan go Orchard MRT
With the necessary information about the Singapore languages, now you have a good idea about what to expect there. Not only that, but the common phrases in various languages spoken across Singapore is also going to be your companion when you would like to start a small conversation and make new friends. In case you want to know beyond the basics of Singaporean languages then there are plenty of handbooks, online guides, apps available quickly in the market which will prepare you to be conversational within a matter of a couple of months.