Have you ever wondered about the languages used in Singapore? A diverse nation that is home to several ethnic groups and that has seen a fair amount of immigration over the years, there are four main languages used in Singapore: Malay, Mandarin, Tamil, and English, These are also the country’s four officially recognised languages. You will probably have heard something different too when travelling around Singapore. Something that sounds rather familiar, yet still strangely different. That would probably be what the locals call Singlish!
The word Singlish merges Singapore and English. This wonderful dialect incorporates words from the country’s main languages, as well as those that have crept in from other dialects and from nearby Southeast Asian lands.
Keep your ears pinned back and listen out for some of these common Singlish expressions and phrases when exploring Singapore. Even better, if you have some Singaporean friends, why not throw a few into conversation yourself and watch them giggle in surprise!
Perhaps the most commonly-given example of a Singlish word, lah simultaneously manages to creep into many sentences and conversations whilst actually meaning … nothing! Coming at the end of a sentence, it is used so naturally by most Singaporeans that they may not even be able to explain why they tagged it on to the end. They probably didn’t even realise that they did so! It is used for emphasis or exclamation, but can also appear on the end of a question. Despite being a tiny one-syllable word, the pronunciation and stress of the word can change – listen for these subtle differences.
Example: “Okay lah. What time do you want to grab dinner lah?”
Another well-known Singlish word, it’s likely that you’ll have heard the word Shiok many times if you’ve been hanging out in a group with Singaporeans. It is used to show extreme happiness and pleasure, an exclamation that really show just how excited and / or glad somebody is. It can also be used to describe an item that the person finds to be exceptional.
Example: “That movie. That movie! It was awesome! Shiok!”
Suay is a term that is used when somebody feels unlucky, or when they talk about situations that might not be so lucky.
Example: “I heard he crashed his car again yesterday. So suay.”
Garang is used to describe a person that is overly aggressive and fierce, probably somebody who has gone above and beyond normal anger levels and has displayed (or has tendencies to display) extreme reactions.
Example: “You really don’t wanna mess with her. I heard she’s super garang!”
Kan Cheong Spider
A fabulous term, a kan cheong spider is a person who spends a lot of their life in a state of anxiety, panic, nervousness, or fear. It describes someone who is needlessly jittery, and worries about the small details that most people probably wouldn’t even think about. It can refer to over-planning and over-thinking things too.
Example: “Come on! What’s the worst that can happen? Just come out tonight. Don’t be a kan cheong spider!”
Buay Tahan is used by people to show their impatience and frustration. It shows that they have been pushed to their limit and that they are really running out of patience! They are likely to blow at any point! If someone uses this phrase with you, take note!
Example: “Why do guys always say they’ll call and then don’t?! James is driving me mad. Buay tahan him, lah!”