When we move to a different country and culture, we expect to start picking up a new language. In Singapore most people speak English as well as Mandarin or Hokkien or Tamil or Malay or Cantonese or indeed a mixture of them all called Singlish. Four languages and two Chinese dialects mashed together in the same sentence can take quite some time to decipher!

Singapore’s multicultural multiracial society means that people from all different backgrounds living and mingling together have picked up pieces from each other’s language. Many common words and phrases from the different languages and dialects are spoken by the various ethnic groups in Singapore.

Some common Singlish words:

Sian (Hokkien) – bored sick

Kena (Malay) – to suffer from

Aiyah (Mandarin Tamil combo) – oh no! or oh dear! I hear this one a lot as an exclamation, especially from older people.

Shiok (Singapore English) – enjoyable, pleasing, a term of general approval and for food it means delicious.

Jelak (Malay) – food that is too rich

Jalan – Jalan (Malay) – Road, streets and used as a term for going for a walk.

Chope (Malay) – reserve as in reserve a table. It’s used everyday here. “Go and chope a table whilst I get the coffees”. One of my favourite new words.

Cheem (Hokkien). – difficult, complicated, profound

Ang Mo (Singapore English) – a derogatory term for a white person especially of Western origin. I discovered this term quite quickly too.

Sabo (Singapore English) – derived from sabotage and used to describe a situation where someone has jeopardised the plans or safety of others, especially for personal advantage.

Sotong (Singapore English) – literally means a squid or cuttlefish but used to describe someone who is a clueless (and not in a good way).

There are many Singlish words I am still picking up and learning about and they way in which they are used. It’s a fascinating education into Singapore’s diverse culture and society and I am enjoying it.

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