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: UK vote to leave the EU ['BREXIT'] - 23rd June

Hilarious. What he fails to mention is the EU buys with showers of EU money the impoverished periphery. Scotland, Wales, and so on.
Unless Scotland turn anti, like Greece, Spain, Portugal, the UK, and more coming real soon, in which case they must be destroyed. .... All for the greater good, the good of the wholly undemocratic project you understand?

Re: UK vote to leave the EU ['BREXIT'] - 23rd June

Beautifully put ... 991716939/

Re: RE: EP Rejection Appeal


I wanted to know how much time the appeal process takes and can we check the appeal status online without asking the HR to check in EP online.


Short reply : no, you can't know the status unless you have your Fin #, and no, you can't estimate how long the process takes .

Actually I already have my Fin no.
I am only changing my job in Singapore.
The status of my application from the application status via Employment Pass onlig(non-login) is still showing rejected.
Will this also include the appeal status. .
the appeal has been filed a week ago but it is still showing rejected.


Re: UK vote to leave the EU ['BREXIT'] - 23rd June

As for who is next to head for the exit... ... u-members/
had a favourable view of the EU, marking an astonishing negative shift in attitudes towards Brussels since the 2009 financial crisis that has been mirrored to varying degrees all across Europe.
A poll last month by Ipsos-MORI found that nearly half of voters in eight big European Union countries want to be able to vote on whether to remain members of the bloc, with a third saying they would opt to leave, if given the choice.
Here we look, country by country, at Europe’s most imperiled member states...
Although the is a founder EU member and currently holds the EU presidency, a June poll showed 54 per cent of people want a referendum on EU membership, while 48 per cent would vote to leave and 45 per cent to remain....
A pan-European survey by the Pew Research Center released ahead of the Brexit vote found that 61 per cent of voters have an “unfavourable” view, compared to 48 per cent in the UK....
Britain’s decision to leave the EU has opened up deep fissures within , a month after a survey found that 48 per cent of Italians would opt to leave the bloc if given the opportunity of a British-style referendum...
And unlike in Germany, there is public support for the idea of a referendum in . A recent poll found that 40 per cent of Austrians want an “Auxit” referendum. A majority of 53 per cent said if there was a referendum, they would vote to remain. But it is a slim majority....
A recent poll for Stern magazine found that just 17 per cent of Germans would vote to leave in a referendum, while 79 per cent would vote to remain....
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If did hold a referendum, historical precedent suggests it would go against the EU. Since joining in 1973, Danish voters have voted “no” in three of the country’s EU referendums...

Re: RE: EP Rejection Appeal


I wanted to know how much time the appeal process takes and can we check the appeal status online without asking the HR to check in EP online.


Short reply : no, you can't know the status unless you have your Fin #, and no, you can't estimate how long the process takes .

Re: RE: Re: Working remotely from Singapore


p.s. @Eagle. re: 'You know any country that isn't like that?'. Without wishing to appear pedantic, or anything like BBCW ;)

Brunei ? ;)

Re: Greetings from a Canadian /Filipina couple

Hi JL4F and welcome to the forum. Both of those nationalities have established members here so I hope you feel at home.
'People being people' are shy about hooking up with strangers esp 1-1, ; safety in numbers etc. So I'd suggest hanging out here, participating on any topics you feel you can add to, and get a feel for it. You'll soon get a feel for the community, who is who, what people are up to and so on.
There are various informal groups that organise activities and meet-ups, they're usually pitched at various demographics, 20s, 30s, older gits etc. Some of this activity seems IMPO to have been a little quieter of late but that might be due to the general reduction in the numbers of expats in SG.
But stick around, it won't take long for you to become a known/trusted member here, and then if needs be you can post a suggestion 'Anyone up for beers/curry/Mexican/live music/hiking Saturday?' and odds on you will get interest.

Re: Working remotely from Singapore

By gosh, Jesus criminee, shiver me timbers, I do believe you got the bulls-eye there sir!

Re: Working remotely from Singapore

Strong Eagle:

That's useful information!

I understand that in the UK pedant = "bloody wanker", yes?

Greetings from a Canadian /Filipina couple

Hello Expat Forum

My wife and I are keen to meet new people and make new friends here in Singapore.

Where can we find other mixed race couples like us for friendship ?

Thanks for your advice.

Re: Working remotely from Singapore


Jeez SMS he's no Brit.

p.s. @Eagle. re: 'You know any country that isn't like that?'. Without wishing to appear pedantic, or anything like BBCW ;) :lol:

Re: Shipping from Singapore to Melbourne

Hi onefruitsalad,
I am relocating to Aust too. I rang Astromovers and Shalom for quotes.
I do not have big furniture. Total about 17-18 boxes.

Astro quoted me $1800 for 1 cubic meter of space (Around 8 boxes of the size 60x40x30 cm (can't remember the exact size)).
$480 for additional cubic meter there after.

Shalom quoted me $5K+++ with minimum of 35 boxes around the same size.
well..since i dont have that many boxes, I went ahead with Astro.

My appointment was today 2-3pm for them to come over to pack and pick my things up. I waited until 2.45pm. Worried that if they have forgotten my booking. So I called the office. The lady answered "the movers are ON THEIR WAY". So, waited til 3.15pm. Still, didn't see any movers. I called to ask if they are coming...The lady answered "She will call her supervisor and let him call me back". Waited til 4.00pm. No calls whatsoever....I was very stressed at that stage 'cos if they are not gonna show up, I'm doomed! My flight is tomorrow!!

So I called the office again. This time, the lady said "wait...I check for you..". So I was put on hold for more than 15 minutes and she never got back to me. I was so pissed. I hung up the phone and called them again. They refused to answer my calls. I kept trying many times...they did not answer my calls. So I tried using other phone to call. This time, she answered. I told her that I am losing my patience now. I asked to speak to her superior. She said "wait..." so, again, I was put on hold for 10 minutes. No one came to the phone....

At this stage, I have lost faith in their service. I started to call other companies if they are able to pick up my things at the very last minute. and guess what?..the Astro movers miraculously turned up at my door step at about 4.30pm!! The supervisor apologised profusely for being late as they were caught up with previous assignments. I felt much better. I mean...I can understand that they will be late...but at least call your customers and let them know. He said he called the office and told them to inform me. Well...I guess the people at the office certainly didn't do their job very well.

I'm not sure if all my boxes will arrive safely. Will update on this forum once i receive them in 5 weeks time (that;s what they told me).

Sorry for the long post. I hope others will benefit from my experience.

EP Rejection Appeal


My EP got rejected becuase my Company advertised wrongly on Jobs Bank.
Instead of posting a range of 6k-7k, they posted 6k-70k and MOM rejected it because of this.
Hr is telling that you should not worry as this is purely Admin case and they are appealing it.
They are saying MOM has not asked anything releated to my profile.
They have filed an appeal for this.
I wanted to know how much time the appeal process takes and can we check the appeal status online without asking the HR to check in EP online.


Re: Working remotely from Singapore

Strong Eagle:

The man can't tell the difference between circumstance and policy.

Re: Working remotely from Singapore

No wonder Britain stepped on it's own toes on the 23rd. There's a good example of the reasons why.