Understanding Singlish

When I go buy groceries at the wet market, sometimes it’s hard to understand the shopkeepers even though we’re all speaking English. The shopkeepers are speaking more of the Singaporean-style English, AKA Singlish.

Singapore is a huge melting pot culturally and has a diverse population of Chinese, Malay, Indian, and other ethnicities. The national language is Malay but there are four official languages: Malay, Mandarin, Tamil, and English.  Singlish is the unofficial language that consists of colloquial phrases from various dialects.

Here are a few things I’ve picked up so far:

  • Lah: people use this to emphasize their statement
    “Just buy a drink, lah!”
    Still unclear… The difference between “lah,” “lor,”, and “leh”
  • Aiyah: can mean “oh no” if you’re upset or impatient
    “Aiyah, I missed the bus!”
  • Blur: when someone is confused
    “She didn’t read the book before class so she was very blur.”
  • Pai seh: embarassed (pronounced pie-say)
    “I forgot her name again. It was very pai seh.”
  • Uncle / Aunty: not a new word, but it’s a way to address your elders respectfully when in a taxi or ordering food
  • Outside standing: not sure if this is actually Singlish? It means outstanding
    “She scored 100% on her test. Very outside standing.”

Still super new to all this so I’ll keep updating new phrases as I become assimilated!


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