Singapore's bilingual policy is a mistake

A Guide To Singapore's Languages

Can you speak to Singaporeans? While Singapore does not have an official language, it does have "Singlish", a unique Creole based on English. This multicultural country recognizes four official languages ​​and, thanks to a bilingual education policy, many of its citizens can speak two or more languages. Here is a guide to the common languages ​​you can hear in Singapore.

The official languages ​​of Singapore

Singapore has four official languages ​​listed in its constitution: Malay, Mandarin, Tamil and English.

Singapore's four official languages ​​| © Jirka Matousek / Flickr


In addition to the official language of Singapore, Malay was declared the national language of Singapore even before the arrival of the British in 1819. Singapore national anthem "Majulah Singapura" or Onward Singapore is entirely in Malay.

The Malay used in Singapore is known as Bahasa Melayu, mostly spoken by the Malay community, which makes up about 13% of the national population. Malay in Singapore is written in Roman alphabets such as Rumi, and the script form is rarely used. Variants of the Malay language and other dialects are spoken in surrounding countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei.

Majulah Singapura | © An-dree-uh Tan / Flickr


The official Singaporean Chinese language is known as Mandarin or Huayu, similar to China's official Putonghua, which is based on the Beijing dialect. Singapore also uses the simplified form to write Chinese words. The Chinese diaspora comprises around three quarters of the population of Singapore, many of them from the southern part of China with the most widely spoken dialects such as Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese and Hainanese.

To Standardize and Harmonize the Chinese Language in Singapore with China's official election of Putonghua, dialects were banned from popular media such as television and radio, and Mandarin was the only Chinese language taught in schools. These days, while the rules have loosened up, the use of the dialect has been reduced to be spoken at home and by an older generation who spoke to the language.

Chinatown | © Gabriel Garcia Marengo / Flickr


Tamil was chosen as the official Indian language in Singapore because settlers from the Tamil Nadu region in southern India make up more than half of the local Indian diaspora.The smallest of Singapore's ethnic groups, with just under 10% of the resident population, is the variety of dialects used in Singapore . Tamil is the main Indian language taught in schools, but other Indian dialects such as Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi, and Urdu are also officially available for study.

Chander Road | Tristan Schmurr


English is the main language used in school and at work in Singapore and is the most widely spoken language. British English is adopted as the main English standard as a legacy of the country's time as a British colony.

While English is not a language of a large ethnic group in Singapore, it was adopted to unite the multicultural community who all spoke in their own mother tongues. It was also a practical way to help the country develop and grow internationally, as English is the global language used in administration, business, science, and technology.

Shopping Center Road Sign | Clint Budd

Bilingualism in Singapore

Most Singaporeans speak two languages. English, because it is the language of instruction in schools and companies, and in addition one of their mother tongue according to their registered race, which is compulsory for students to study in school.

Officially approved third language options are offered to promising students. These options include Bahasa Indonesian, Arabic, Japanese, French, German, and Spanish.

Temple signage | Saeru


Although Singlish is not officially a language, it is widely spoken and loved in informal settings and is viewed as a sign that a person is truly Singaporean. The best way to describe Singlish is a slang form of English that has a pronounced accent and often ignores standard English grammar to use only the essential words. It is made up of a vocabulary that is a jumble of local slang and expressions from the different languages ​​and dialects spoken in Singapore.

Singlish is seen as a reflection of Singapore's multicultural society and is thought of as an important part of local heritage as a rather broken form of English and to avoid in business and formal communication.

Singlish sign on Pulau Ubin Island off east Singapore | © Prianka Ghosh

Author: Laurence Rose

Laurence Rose is a 49 year old journalist. Reader. Coffee pioneer. Web lawyer. Total music freak. General alcoholic.