From ‘Lah’ to ‘Jialat’: An Intro to Singlish

If you wind up traveling to Singapore, whether to live or visit, it won’t take long for you to realize that although English is a national language, it’s not the most commonly spoken tongue on this city-island. Singlish is an English based dialect (or creole) which can be heard almost everywhere you go. If you’re not prepared, you may find yourself confused or lost in translation when trying to communicate with locals. Don’t get left behind in Singapore’s fast-paced culture, read up on the following Singlish words and phrases and you’ll be more than ready to take on this fascinating country!

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‘Lah’ is probably the most common Singlish term you will hear while in Singapore. It can be used to complement the ending of almost any sentence, and you’ll notice people love to use it freely!

Example: Hey, can you loan my five dollars?

Okay-lah. / Cannot-lah. I need it for my lunch lah.

Can / Cannot.

In Singapore, life moves much more quickly than in most other places, so there’s not a lot of time to waste with full sentences. No need to ask if someone is able to do something, just use ‘Can?’ and keep it short and sweet.

Example: I need you to help me move on Saturday. Can?

Cannot. I’m busy.

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Hawker Centers (food courts) are the bomb in Singapore and hundreds of people flood them daily in order to enjoy their favorite snacks and dishes. Big crowds means limited seating, so you’ll need to ‘chope’ (reserve your place) with a packet of tissue papers!

Example: I’m going to lunch at Lau Pa Sat.

Oh great. Chope place for me okay?

Nothing shows how direct Singlish can be the way words like ‘Shiok’ do. This phrase can be used to indicate satisfaction towards almost anything under the sun. Happy your team won? You can be ‘Shiok’. Love your plate of Chicken rice? It can be ‘Shiok’ too!

Example: I’m visiting Singapore in December.

Oh really? I’ll tell you some shiok things to do, okay-lah?

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‘Jialat’ is derived from the Hokkien dialect and literally means to sap one’s energy. Basically think of it as the opposite of ‘Shiok.’ Only use it when something is particularly perplexing or troublesome!

Example: I want to take a trip to Bali this weekend. Can?

Cannot. The weather is very jialat right now.

As confusing as many of these phrases may seem at the moment, after some practice you’ll be using them like a local in no time! Don’t stop your cultural immersion at Singlish though, over 60% of Singapore’s population speak Mandarin which makes it an equally vital language to know if you want to make the most of your trip. Learning Mandarin can be a breeze as long as you sign up for top-tier language classes and take advantage of online tools such as free placement tests. Once you are armed with all the right language knowledge, you’ll be able to blend in and enjoy Singapore’s unique culture to the fullest!