British Council holds Singlish and culture lessons for expats in Singapore

Published:  29 Nov at 6 PM
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Tagged: China
Sessions organised by the British Council in Singapore are proving popular for their Singlish tuition and focus on Singaporean culture.

Strangers to Singapore might well be forgiven for not having the least idea what Singlish actually is – it’s the common language locals use in their everyday communications. It’s known as an ‘English creole’ language as it’s a mix between English, Malay, Mandarin Chinese, Hokkien and Tamil, and is unique to the city state. Not just words but also grammar and sentence structures are strongly influenced by its five composite languages, and learning it is totally fascinating.

The informal classes set up by the British Council are very popular, with 253 participants speaking 39 world languages now attending on a regular basis. Coordinator Claire Firat says it’s useful for expatriates to be able to speak and understand Singlish as it gives a link to Singapore’s mixed indigenous community as well as allowing communication with local people and the building of friendships as a result. It also demonstrates the speaker is interested in the local culture, even although Singlish isn’t spoken in business circles.

The language itself has been gradually immortalised into the city’s culture since Singapore gained its independence 50 years ago, with the present colourful, snappy version being seen as low class by some and the ‘language of the streets’ by most. ‘Im kopi’ means ‘I’m having a coffee’, ‘eat already’ means ‘no thanks, I’ve already eaten’, and ‘shiok’ is ‘tasty’, as in ‘Wah this durian so shiok, best lah!’, which translates as ‘Wow, this durian fruit is very tasty – it’s awesome’.

Its informality is fun as well as being culturally significant, with those who can switch easily from English to Singlish considered superior. A person who is always worried is described as a ‘kancheong spider’, using the Singlish word meaning ‘anxious’. It’s no surprise those attending the lessons are enjoying them so much!
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