While it may not be recognised in the world as a formal language, a bit of knowledge on Singlish is definitely essential when travelling around Singapore. It is a unique blend of English, Chinese, Malay, Tamil and local dialects. To some, it is a beautiful language that proudly displays the multi-cultural character of our society; to others, it is a colloquialism so full of grammatical errors that it makes you squirm each time you hear it. Regardless, it is useful to understand a fair bit of Singlish, or at least understand the most common phrases used to avoid getting ‘lost in translation’.
Besides the typical “lah” which punctuates most sentences used by the locals, here is a quick guide of phrases that you may encounter and use most often:
Don’t pray pray ah!: “Don’t mess around!”
Oh, izzit?: “That’s interesting.” / “Oh, is that true?”
Dohwan: “No, thanks.” / “I don’t want it.”
Kiasu: A general term used to describe the highly competitive nature of many Singaporeans. It is originally a Chinese dialect expression that literally means “fear of losing”.
So how?: “So what do we do now?”
Alamak!: A general expression of dismay or incredulity.
Can can!: “Yes, definitely.”
Auntie / Uncle: A respectful form of an address for an older man / woman, respectively.
Lai dat also can?: “Is that acceptable?”