Languages of Singapore - A Detailed Guide to Singapore Languages

The official language of Singapore is Malay while there are four commonly used languages in Singapore: English, Malay, Mandarin Chinese and Tamil. English is the most widely spoken language (primarily by the population below the age of 50), and the medium of instructions in school. English is also the language of business and government in Singapore, based on British English. 

Chinese Dialects13%

A unique and widely spoken language in Singapore is the Singlish. It is primarily the colloquial form of English, having a distinct accent, and ignoring the basic standards of English grammar. Having a jumble of local slang and expressions of various languages and dialects of Singapore, speaking in Singlish is seen as a mark of being truly local! Interestingly, all the schools in the city teach the language of the child's parentage, along with English, to ensure the child stay in touch with the traditional roots.

1. Malay in Singapore

Malay, Singapore Languages
A billboard in Malay language (Source)
The standardised version of the Malay language in Singapore is Bahasa Melayu, spoken by nearly 13 per cent of the Singaporean population. One of the official languages, Malay was once the national language of Singapore before the advent of the British in 1819. The Singaporean Malay is written in the Roman script known as Rumi. In the earlier days, it was written in Jawi script which was based on Arabic. The national anthem of Singapore - ‘Majulah Singapura’, or Onward Singapore - is also written in Malay. Malay language in Singapore is taught in schools, with the Rumi, as well as, the Jawi script taught to the beginners.

Malay Translation Guide

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!

2. English in Singapore

English, Singapore Languages
One of the most common Singapore languages is English, a medium of instruction in schools and the official language of business and government. Being a former Crown Colony, the English used in Singapore is based on the British conventions. 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 a major language in Singapore 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.

3. Mandarin in Singapore

Mandarin, Singapore Languages
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 it 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. 

Mandarin Translation Guide

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)

4. Tamil in Singapore

Singapore Languages, Tamil
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. The other Indian languages spoken by the minorities in Singapore include Kannada, Telugu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Hindi, Malayalam and Gujarati.

Tamil Translation Guide

Hi! - Alo!

Good morning! - Kaalai Vanakkam

Good evening! - Maalai Vanakkam

Thanks- Romba Nandri

One moment please! - Oru nimidam!

Excuse me! ( to pass by) - Mannikanum (or) Alo!

Can you help me? - Enakku udhavi seivienkala?

How are you? -Eppadi irukkinga? (or) Nalamaa?

Welcome! (to greet someone) -Vaazhga!

I'm fine, thanks! Nallaa irukéan! (or) Nalam! , Nandri!

And you? - Nienga?

Good/ So-So -Sari

You're welcome! (for "thank you") - Paravaa illa

Good night! - Iravu vanakkam

Goodbye! - Poittu varén!

5. Singlish in Singapore

Now Singlish sounds new to your ears, doesn't it? Singlish is Singaporean's very unique take on English with words borrowed from Hokkien, Tamil and Malay. 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 Singapore 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.

Singlish Translation Guide

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.

This post was published by Deepshri Mishra

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