Culture and Language

About Singapore - Culture & LanguageAbout Singapore - Culture & LanguageAbout Singapore - Culture & Language

This page covers information on culture and language of Singapore. Understanding the culture and heritage of Singapore, the different races and languages like Singlish.

Singapore Culture

Singapore is a cosmopolitan society where people live harmoniously and interaction among different races are commonly seen. The pattern of Singapore stems from the inherent cultural diversity of the island. The immigrants of the past have given the place a mixture of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and European influences, all of which have intermingled.

Behind the facade of a modern city, these ethnic races are still evident. The areas for the different races, which were designated to them by Sir Stamford Raffles, still remain although the bulk of Singaporeans do think of themselves as Singaporeans, regardless of race or culture. Each still bears its own unique character.

The old streets of Chinatown can still be seen; the Muslim characteristics are still conspicuous in Arab Street; and Little India along Serangoon Road still has its distinct ambience. Furthermore, there are marks of the British colonial influence in the Neo-Classical buildings all around the city.

Each racial group has its own distinctive religion and there are colorful festivals of special significance all year round. Although the festivals are special to certain races, it is nonetheless enjoyed by all.

In Singapore, food is also readily and widely available. There are lots of cuisines to offer. We have, Chinese, Indian, Malay, Indonesian and Western, Italian, Peranakan, Spanish, French, Thai and even Fusion. It is very common to savour other culture's food and some of the food can be very intriguing. Indian food are relatively spicier, whereas Chinese food is less spicier and the Chinese enjoy seafood. Malay cooking uses coconut milk as their main ingredient, that makes their food very tasty.

You can refer to our Eating in Singapore section for a list of recommended food outlets in Singapore.

Religion in Singapore

Most Singaporeans celebrate the major festivals associated with their respective religions. The variety of religions is a direct reflection of the diversity of races living there. The Chinese are predominantly followers of Buddhism, Taoism, Shenism, Christians, Catholics and some considered as 'free-thinkers' (Those who do not belong to any religion). Malays have the Muslims and Indians are Hindus. There is a sizeable number of Muslims and Sikhs in the Indian population.

Religious tolerance is essential in Singapore. In fact, religions often cross racial boundaries and some even merge in unusual ways in this modern country. Younger Singaporeans tend to combine a little of the mysteries of the older generation with the realistic world that they know of today.

Religion is still an integral part of the cosmopolitan Singapore. Many of its most interesting buildings are religious, be it old temples, modern churches, or exotic mosques. An understanding of these buildings do play a part in contributing to the appreciation of their art.

Chinese Temples

Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, and ancestral worship are combined into a versatile mix in Chinese temples.

Followers of the Tao (The Way) adhere to the teachings of the ancient Chinese legend, Lao Tzu. They are concerned with the balance of the Yin and Yang, which are opposite forces of heaven and earth, male and female. Feng Shui, literally translated as wind and water, also originated from Yin and Yang. Ancestral worship is common and the spirits of the dead, like the gods themselves, are appeased with offerings.

Most Buddhists are of the Mahayana school although there are some from the Theravada school. In Singapore, the Buddhist faith is linked with Taoism and the practical doctrine of Confucianism.


The Malays in Singapore are Muslims. A few of the Indians are also Muslims, but even more uncommon are the Chinese Muslims.

Islam has a fundamental influence in the lives of those who follow the Prophet of Allah, Muhammad. The religion involves praying five times a day, eating only "halal" food, fasting during Ramadan, and going to Mecca on the Haj (pilgrimage). Halal food means food that has been specially prepared as according to the religion's dietary requirements.


As the Indian immigrants migrate to Singapore, they brought with them Hinduism. The early temples are still the central points of rituals and festivals, which are held throughout the year.


One will be able to find Christian churches of all denominations in Singapore. They were actually established with the arrival of various missionaries after the coming of Sir Stamford Raffles. Together with Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism, Christianity is considered one of the four main religions today. There is quite a large number of Christians on the island.


Minority faiths are not forgotten. There are at least two synagogues for the Jews and Sikhs. The Zoroastrians and Jains are also represented in Singapore.

Language in Singapore

The four official languages of Singapore are Mandarin, Malay, Tamil and English. English is the most common language used and is the language which unites the different ethnic groups. Children are taught in English at school but also learn their mother tongue to make sure they don't lose contact with their traditions.

Expatriates and foreigners may encounter language problems in the beginning of their stay in Singapore as many Singaporeans use Singlish to communicate. Singlish is a mix of English with other languages mixed into the English, sometimes phrases can end with funny terms like 'lah', 'leh', mah'. Chinese commonly use their own dialects to communicate, and sometimes, inter-dialect groups don't understand one another's language, as the language is vastly different. Except for Hokkien and Teochew, which have a closer link. The Malays use the language among their fellow races and the Indians speak Tamil. But whatever the race or religion, the country's community unite as one nation, where most religious or racial gaps are being bridged.

Singapore English has its origins in the schools of colonial Singapore. In the nineteenth century very few children went to school at all, and even fewer were educated in English. The people who spoke English and sent their children to English medium schools were mainly the Europeans, the Eurasians (people of mixed racial ancestry), some of the small minorities, such as the Jews, some of the Indians and Ceylonese, and also a group of Chinese people usually called the Straits Chinese, who had ancestors of long residence in the region, and who spoke a variety of Malay usually called Baba Malay which was influenced by Hokkien Chinese and by Bazaar Malay.

The fact that all these children would have known Malay probably explains why most of the loan words in Singapore Colloquial English are from Malay. The largest group of teachers were Eurasians, and there were also many teachers from Ceylon and India. European teachers were never more than a quarter of the total teaching staff in a school, and they usually taught the senior classes. These Europeans may have been from Britain (which at that time included Ireland) but were also from the USA, Belgium and France. The children in these schools would have been exposed to many varieties of English.

In the first twenty years of the twentieth century, English medium education became popular for all groups. Girls started going to school in larger numbers too. By the 1950s nearly all children went to school, and the majority were educated in English. By the 1980s. all education was in the medium of English (with children learning another language alongside English).

Singapore English grew out of the English of the playground of these children of various linguistic backgrounds who were learning English at school. As more and more of its people experienced learning English at school, English became widely spoken, alongside Singapore's many other languages. Since Singapore became an independent Republic in 1965, the use of English has increased still further. For many Singaporeans, English is the main language. Many families speak English at home and it is one of the the first languages learnt by about half of the current pre-school children.

Nearly everyone in Singapore speaks more than one language, with many people speaking three or four. Most children grow up bilingual from infancy and learn more languages as they grow up. Naturally the presence of other languages (especially various varieties of Malay and of Chinese) has influenced the English of Singapore. The influence is especially apparent in the kind of English that is used informally, which is popularly called Singlish. Singlish is a badge of identity for many Singaporeans.


Singapore English usually come from other languages spoken in Singapore, especially Malay and Hokkien. Speakers of Singlish are not necessarily aware of which language they are from however.


  • habis - finished
  • makan - to eat
  • chope - to reserve something
  • cheem - difficult, complicated
  • ang mo - a white person
  • rojak - mixed, a mix of
  • liao - finished, the end
  • kiasu - afraid to lose mentality

Speakers of Singlish will usually end his sentence with a distinctive exclamation. The three most common are ah, lah, ley and what.


  • OK lah, bye bye.
  • Don't like that lah.
  • You are going there ah?
  • No parking lots here, what.
  • The price is too high for me lah.
  • And then how many rooms ah?
  • It is very troublesome ley.
  • Don't be like that ley!
  • I'm not at home lah. That's why ah.
Related Page

Re: Illegitimate child of a Singaporean Citizen needs help


You mean to say that you can get a person blacklisted from SG simply on the basis of an unproven allegation? I don't get it... wouldn't that be an invitation for all kinds of malicious/falsified reporting by those out for revenge, and also see a lot of innocent people unjustly and unnecessarily being barred from Singapore based upon false but alleged petty crimes?

Perhaps you could clarify what 'due cause' is, as it's lost on me and sounds like it could be important.
And how would you 'squash report made'? It is often inherently difficult to disprove what is simply untrue; surely why Judgements tend to be arrived at based upon only proven facts.
But you make a good point, 'If there was such a report'; how can the subject concerned confirm whether the alleged report is in fact genuine? This fact is still unproven.

I see no reason why the ICA folks see any reason for the person to be allowed, if a Police Record was made, and ICA notified.
Then again, unless there was a court hearing etc etc, unlikely for ICA to have been notified. Looks like a scare to keep the 'friend' away from Singapore ..

Maybe the perspective differs according to where you're from? I tend to assume I have a right to enter a country (naturally, this is as per their laws and discretion) unless there are reasons to disallow me. And if there are such reasons I'd expect some element of a right to know what those reasons are. Because if I had no such right, then I'd never be able to overturn a false allegation that say led to a potential refusal of entry.
So yes, that's an impression I have too, based upon the stated facts to date, that this is an attempted scare.... -> hence, how to disprove it, or confirm it has no actual power?

Yep, I know what you mean (and feel your pain!). Was their no 'just' route for you out of the situation, and hence the false allegations have stuck until today?

Re: Lee Kuan Yew

I can't post the link, so I lifted the quotes. From Henry Kissenger.

Lee placed great emphasis on loyalty. When Watergate started, he was in Canada, so he called me up and asked if he could come down to meet me informally in New York. He wanted to know whether America's authority would be weakened.

What will it do to us? We spoke as friends, then he returned to Canada, but, shortly, he came to Washington officially to demonstrate that he would not abandon his friends. He did it partly out of personal loyalty, but he did it also out of his sense of duty.

But Lee did not leave her in the hospital. In fact, he insisted on taking her home. And for three years, he went to her bedside every evening and read to her because he was convinced either that she would hear him or that he needed to do it.

Lee Kuan Yew was a man of enormous sensitivity. .......

He did not always know if we understood or even heard him, but he believed in us. He believed that we would hear.

During those days, it was common to think that in that order to win some, one gotta give up something. Win-win situations was not much part of the equation. Therein sets the tone for many policies in SG, which has far reaching economic and social implications, up to this day.

Re: RE: Re: Illegitimate child of a Singaporean Citizen needs help


Sorry if this sounds terrible...

But why Singapore, of all places ?

To visit Sentosa and the Singapore flyer ?

Unless he has some other plans

And lastly, I do find it incredible that in Singapore somebody let your friend stay for few days without wondering who it was. It's an extreme rarity in Singaporeans.


Date: 10 and 11 Oct 2015 Sat/Sun
Time: 2pm to 6pm
Venue: No. 18 Telok Kurau Lor M Madeira Court #01-03 (From Gate, walk straight in to 3rd house)
What to expect:
Brand New n used Dresses from BCBG, Warehouse, Dorothy Perkins, Oasis etc
Size: UK 14 – 16
Kids Toys and books
Household items
Branded Shoes: Size US 9/ 40
No Exchange, No refunds!

Re: Illegitimate child of a Singaporean Citizen needs help


Your friend never told what his mother was working as, in Malaysia, not that it matters much now anyway..

And now 21 years later, the mother sent the son for closure ? I truly believe that she wanted to not to destroy his family.

Registering with a different surname ? That is a normal thing that happens in Philippines, including registering the child with the mother's surname. Now why didn't the child be registered with the mother's surname ?

Siblings ? well, doesn't make it legitimate, as the legal children are not his siblings, just being frank there. While your 'friend' may want to see the other children as siblings, it's not gonna happen, I am sure of it.

Yep, blood type is good enough. No, not so.

If there was even an iota of sincerity, your friend,being a 'professional', should have gotten a DNA Sample, and gotten a match. Similiar face features are not good enough, in Reality. Big arms ? how about tall like his father, colour of hair like his father ? How different are Asian Eyes ? Are they blue, green, purple ??

Parcels only take 6 weeks, not 3 months, and seems your friend's father is being pushed to a corner. What will it do for your friend to turn up again, specially since your friend says he wants peace with the father ?

What justice ? Like allowed to enter Singapore ? Being allowed to enter Singapore is a Privilege, not a right. so being refused is not injustice. In fact, on a daily basis a few dozen, including filipinos/filipinas, get refused entry by ICA. No injustice there.

And equal justice ? mmmm, are you implying that, if ICA refuses entry to your friend, it will be injustice due to partial justice ? Nice ..

From what I know, and seen, it is easy to blacklist a person, especially if the person is from Asean/Asian countries

The only chance for a successful appeal and entry is for the person to show due cause, or got a good job here, or can prove relations here, and had justification to squash whatever report that was made, if there was one such report.

Then again, unless there was a court hearing etc etc, unlikely for ICA to have been notified. Looks like a scare to keep the 'friend' away from Singapore ..

And, JR8, years ago, I was nearly in a similar soup. Long story short, but, let me put it this way, it did nearly drive me nuts till I figured out it was a form of vengeance by an Ex- including insisting the baby has the same colour eyes, skin tone (yes ... ) and on and on, and turned out she wasn't even anywhere she claimed to be- and faking it all up... so my response maybe slightly prejudiced.

Re: RE: Re: How Much Should I Pay Myself?

Hi Goldy740,

I am from a recruitment agency, Nowaday MOM insisted that the company must make sufficient effort to try to recruit local and only after attempts you can appeal with projects of future incomes or in your case, then you prepare a detail business proposal. I have Pm you

You don't even understand the thread, do you? He is talking employment for himself, not someone else. As a recruiter you prove up what most people already know... recruiters in Singapore are a hopeless bunch.

Re: RE: Moving to SG with a pet dog (Beagle)

Guys, can you please advise on your experience with relocating to Singapore with a dog. I have checked that the requirements and things to be done before coming and it is all good as we are moving from Australia. However, I need specific help with
1. Kinds of places that allow for Beagle dogs.
2. Best suburbs for pets.
3. Your experience with finding a rental that allows for pets.

Thanks in advance.
Best suburb would be Johore.

However have you done some search on this site?

The above question has been re hashed too many times.

Specific queries After some read up would help.



i am planning to appeal, but welcome your comments, ideas and thoughts

Which end of India do you hail from ?

That "maybe" a clue, if I listen to local sentiments . ...

Re: RE: Indian Movies

Hello everyone,

I have just shifted 3 months before from Kochi to Singapore , i am a journalist and content contributor to Indian TV shows.

I love to watch Indian movies, so guys can anyone please tell me how to watch Indian origin movies here. I will really appreciate if you all answer. :)

As a journalist I am sure you have heard of Starhub and Singtel Mio..

Re: How Much Should I Pay Myself?

Strong Eagle:
Hi Goldy740,

I am from a recruitment agency, Nowaday MOM insisted that the company must make sufficient effort to try to recruit local and only after attempts you can appeal with projects of future incomes or in your case, then you prepare a detail business proposal. I have Pm you

You don't even understand the thread, do you? He is talking employment for himself, not someone else. As a recruiter you prove up what most people already know... recruiters in Singapore are a hopeless bunch.

Re: Renewal of LOC rejected. What to do?

Strong Eagle:

You are wrong and misinformed. Read some other threads in the Careers forum.

Re: Renewal of LOC rejected. What to do?

this oly show that DP registered under Sole Proprietorship and got LOC is not legal that why the 2nd round, the MOM got info from ACCRA thus they reject the LOC. This show that this route is not allowed

Advice needed ASAP - Brookvale Park

Hi I am looking at various properties and came across a condo in Brookvale Park is on west coast, at the end of Sunset way, 5 minutes by car from Holland Village, 7min from Dempsey Road and 12min from Orchard Road (the main shopping street of Singapore). Bukit Timah, the second main street of Singapore after Orchard Road is 5min away from development.

So I just want to gauge, if anyone knows the area or this development? It is one of the "old" ones in Singapore, and as such quite spacious, with all the leisure facilities / schools to match it. However not being in the city right now, am seeking opinions, those who are there and might even live / rent, around / within this development.

The nearest MRT is Clementi

Re: How Much Should I Pay Myself?

Hi Goldy740,

I am from a recruitment agency, Nowaday MOM insisted that the company must make sufficient effort to try to recruit local and only after attempts you can appeal with projects of future incomes or in your case, then you prepare a detail business proposal. I have Pm you

Re: 30/F, looking 4 friends

Hello Maria. My name is Iana and I am Ukrainian. I moved to SG several months ago. My email is yana88blanche@yahoo. Please email to me if you are interested to get together.