Planning to visit Singapore soon eh? Want to learn a little bit of the local lingo? Can Can Lah. Prepare yourself to pick up a little bit Singaporean English aka Singlish! These are ‘uniquely Singaporean’ words and a way of speaking, blended into English, which is now part of the day-to-day conversational language here. Digging into a bit of history, this little Red Dot is a beautiful conglomerate of different cultures and henceforth has 4 official languages – Chinese, Malay, English and Tamil. The term “singlish” was first coined in 1973 and a few years back many of it’s words have found a place in the Oxford Dictionary.
Singlish has some unique words such as “Lah”, “Ang Moh” and more with origins from different cultures. Not to worry, we have got you covered in this post on the must know words. The hack to speak Singlish is simply compressing a few words in an english sentences to a much smaller simpler sentence. For example, in simple british english one would say “Can we please go out to eat?” while its Singlish version is “Can go eat or not?”.
Here’s our pick on the 15 Singlish words/phrases you must know before your next trip to this beautiful tropical island:
This is one of the most common words in Singlish perhaps. It goes with almost all words and sentences to emphasize more. There is literally no analogous English word we can suggest to relate this with. Most common phrases you may use could be: “OK, lah” or “Don’t worry, lah” or “Can, lah”.
One of the words that can be found in the Oxford Dictionary. This is used to refer to something that is classy, rather expensive or posh. Sometimes it may be used to imply as condescending or snobbish. Common usage: “The restaurant we ate at was so atas!” or “Wah, your dress is so atas!”.
This word, with its origins from Malay, is often used to express the feeling that something is satisfying or very enjoyable. Common usage: quite often referenced to a meal as in “So Shiok!” or “Such a shiok meal” or could be used in other scenarios as well: “This set up for the wedding is so shiok” .
Another work with its origins from Malay, ‘makan’ is used to describe food, mean or the verb eat. Common usage: “Shall we go for makan?” or “Had makan?”.
5. Teh Tarik
Ordering sweetened milk tea in Singapore? Then you need to ask for a ‘teh tarik’. With its origins in 1970’s, it’s tea with a slight foam on top as it is prepared by pouring from one container to another, multiple times after brewing and adding in all ingredients.
Though you will find a lot of international coffee cafe chains here, local coffee is must try. Well ordering coffee at a local cafe can be a little complicated, and yes we got you covered. Ingredients and combinations are listed here for each and every coffee type in the menu :
- Kopi O Kosong : Pure black coffee
- Kopi O : Black coffee with sugar
- Kopi : Black Coffee with condensed milk
- Kopi C : Black Coffee with Condensed milk & Evaporated Milk
- Yuan Yang : Coffee + Tea + Condensed Milk
- Kopi O Ga Dai : Black Coffee with more sugar
- Kopi Ga Dai : Black Coffee with more condensed milk
- Kopi C Ga Dai : Black Coffee with Evaporated milk , more condensed milk than usual (more sweet)
- Kopi O Siew Dai : Black Coffee with less sugar
- Kopi Siew Dai : Black Coffee with less condensed milk
- Kopi C Siew Dai : Black Coffee with Evaporated milk , less condensed milk than usual (less sweet)
- Mocca Peng : Iced Mocca
- Kopi Peng : Iced Coffee
- Yuan Yang Peng : Iced Coffee + Tea
*Tea order lingo is similar as coffee; just replace kopi with teh.
7. Tapau or tabao
Tabao is nothing but a Singlish term to denote ‘to – go’ or ‘takeaway’ food. This is usually used in hawker centers (or market with little food stalls and common eating area – which falls under one of the things Singapore food culture is famous for). You can simple add this after your order like “One briyani set, tabao!”.
This is used to express shock or dismay; more often in case something is wrong. The pronunciation is ‘ah-lah-mak’ – stressing on all of these 3 syllables. Common usage in a sentence could be “Alamak! I missed my wallet at home.”.
9. Ang Moh
If you are a Western foreigner visiting, it would be good to know the word “Ang Moh”. Not at all in an offensive way, but generally the expats and visitors from the west are referred to as Angmohs here. Common usage: “The angmoh sitting on that table loves chicken rice.”.
Again from Malay origins, ulu is used for a place that is very remote, deserted or difficult to find. So, if locals refer to a location as “Ulu” while giving you directions on your little Singapore adventure, you know what to expect – somewhat abandoned or old area. Common usage: ” That restaurant is in a very ulu place.”
11. Die Die Must Try
As the phrase suggests, no matter what, one has to try or experience the thing or place referred to in the context. Common usage: “You die die must try the chicken rice here”.
Usually used as an expression to denote something very bad in reference to people or situations. This word has Hokkien origins as well and pronounced as ‘ji’-‘ah’-‘laht’.
13. Can or not?
Obvious meaning, but one of the more popular phrases in Singlish. This phrase can be simply used as a cut short sentence just like in “Meet at 2? Can or not?”.
You can just give a one or two word reply like “Can” or “Can Lah!” – latter one to emphasize more. “Can ah?” in Singlish is equivalent to – “Are you sure?” in English.
Again a short word used to express annoyance. If something doesn’t really go as per plan or if there is sudden annoyance due to something, you will hear locals saying something like “Aiyoh! Why like that?”.
15. Lim Kopi
This phrase is used by locals to invite each other to grab coffee at a cafe (or Kopitiam). So next time while making plans with the locals, if this term comes up, you know exactly what it means. While we are on the coffee cafe lingo, just a few words that could come handy:
- “Chope” means to reserve a seat
- “Kaya” is local coconut egg jam, “Roti” is bread
That wraps up our Singlish 101 🙂 . It covers all the essential phrases get you started to converse like a local on your visit here.