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

32 M London .. arriving 12 December 2015


seen a few posts around, so instead of creeping people out, thought should start one of my own :)

Leaving blustery London shortly (Friday 11 December and arriving 12). Will be nice to know a few people, hang about and ease into a new country/city/lifestyle. Staying in Marina bay on arrival ... so please let me know if any of you are hanging about on 13th (Sunday), will stroll down to have a drink or two (and latest news from London) .....

Re: Hello everyone! This is my new home ...

Arriving .... next weekend ... 32 M London ... will be nice to know a few folks. Esp with christmas round the corner and finding oneself in distant lands. Do PM or something ... :)

Re: 32 y/o female looking to make friends in new city

arriving shortly (next weekend) ... would be cool to know a few people. Do PM if some of you're hanging about .... 32 M London

Anyone want to share a house together ?

Hello everyone,

I'm looking for someone to share an apt together,

The apt can move in immediately, one month stay only (Dec 1st ~ 31th).

Location is about 10-15 mins of walking distance to Paya Lebar MRT (Green and Yelllow line). About 10 mins drive / taxi to CBD.

Please contact me if you are interested.


Re: UPDATE - Freelancing while on dependent visa

I would initially guess that 3 is the best, but if your goal is PR, I'm not sure it will help. I am an LTVP and am not allowed to register as a director through ACRA BizFile because I don't have a SingPass (because my wife is PR and not a citizen, which would give LTVP+ status and allow a SingPass). So, for my company we have to use a secretarial agency like you mention (which is ironic bc EPs get SingPass's). To work, though, LTVPs need an approved letter of consent from MOM, and I hear they do get denied sometimes although mine went through. I personally like LTVP so far bc I am tied to my wife's PR status rather than a company employing me, but you should also look into an EntrePass because it may give you the flexibility you want and get you more 'points' toward PR (although I imagine higher income would help too). It should be true consulting gigs though - LTVPs can only work for one company, the one which has the approved letter of consent. In terms of opening a bank account - I think that will be tricky if you don't have a local and a certain amount of capital - you may want to speak with a secretarial agency and a few banks before you make any final decisions, on my end we also have locals in our company so it wasn't a problem.


Production and performers. Music? well in a tent, it's good considering the acoustics, but the ticket price? Ouch. But now I have to admit, it was choice seating with the buffet dinner before, and snack bar at intermission with free flow at both and the meet the performers after the show and tour of the horse stalls that made the whole package. I reckon on hindsight, the ticket price was worth it, but not something I could afford or justify often.


Can you explain why Cirque du Soleil's Cavalia was so awesome? For example, was it the production, ticket price, music, performers?

Just saying that it was awesome without elaborating is useless to us ;-)

My Mandarin to your Korean

Hello! Im the beginner of Korean language.
I m now keen on making friend who can speak fluent Korean, if u are interested in learning mandarin, please email me via


从我的 iPhone 发送,使用 Tapatalk

Re: Chances of getting Singapore Citizenship

Update progress for reference.

After submit document at Malaysia High Comm, they will give a pink slip collection note with date, collect the acknowledgement letter, photo copy the letter, bring down during the appointment date with picture x 3 (for IC), spare 1 for passport and all documents stated. Take queue number, do ur IC, wait for ur turn to take oath. and then you are done.

Re: 32 y/o female looking to make friends in new city

Hello! I'm new to the city too (been here a month), and would love to join. Will PM you.

Re: Thesis survey exporting Dutch greenhouse vegetables to Singapore


And what if the products are organic? Or conventional products that contains less pesticides than in comparison with Australia or the United States? That means that the products are more healthier for the consumers. The Netherlands is known for their greenhouse vegetables. Do you think Singaporeans or expats then are willing to pay more for Dutch (greenhouse) vegetables if it is a premium product?

I don't see you reasonably proving the Dutch food to be healthier than Australian/NZ/USA. Claims without proper backing up may do more damage than good and I strongly suspect you would be eaten alive by the lawyers. No, I would not buy more expensive Dutch food, organic or not, even taking into account I lived in the Netherlands for 4 years and have many Dutch friends also in Singapore.

The Dutch food attractive to me to pay some extra money is the food that has no local substitutes so, for example, I can pay some extra bucks for stroopwafels (available in CS) but I will not pay anything extra for Grolsch biertje, even if it has for me some sentimental value.

Re: Chances of getting Singapore Citizenship

i own a car when i gotten my PR and now Citizenship, for now no issue, in future not sure. rules change time to time.

OFS or Stamford (SAIS)

we are moving to Singapore in Feb and really lost on the school part :( our kids are 13 (G) and 9 (B) yrs.
we went to a few schools all round Singapore - and finally narrowed on OFS and Stamford out of the rest - due to various reasons (seats not available, loosing a year cause of age etc)

our kids are more into sports and theater /arts, but are good academically also. Moving in from New Delhi - I would really need some good advice and recommendations from parents

thanks in advance anticipation

Re: What's with the live-in maids?!

My staff know that if they stay too long past closing time I look askance at it as I know for a fact that I don't overload them with work that justifies having to work longer than 8 hours a day. (Unless it's a tender deadline we're working against). My thoughts are if they have to stay back late regularly, then maybe they need to find a job more suitable for them as I value family time. At the same time, they also know that I don't like lateness on a regular basis (get up 30 minutes earlier and catch an earlier bus) nor do I like "eating breakfast" at their desk after 9 am. After all, we don't open till 9 so they have plenty of time if they get up 30 minutes earlier. They even get an hour for lunch so don't be dilly-dallying around for 90 minutes for lunch. My long term staff appreciates it, now that they know me.

Re: Thesis survey exporting Dutch greenhouse vegetables to Singapore

Well, let's put is this way. Oddly enough, I was in NTUC this past Sunday morning to pick up some provisions and as we were going to have a turkey dinner later in the afternoon, my wife requested some brussel sprouts. What is odd is they rarely carry them unless it's the Christmas season, but they might have been ordered for Thanksgiving just past 3 days before. So I picked up a punnet and brought them home. Wasn't till I got home that I noticed they were from the Netherlands! So, later that evening we had them. Now Brussels Sprouts are NOT my favorite vegetable and never have been so I'll eat my token two and that's it. This time I bit into the first one (there was nothing physically wrong with them) and it was bitter as hell. Never tasted a Brussels Sprout that bitter in my life. I ate that one and gave my wife the other one. Whether or not they were greenhouse or not I don't know. But if that is the quality of the Netherlands vegetables, you can keep them. :-and