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: Does having a PEP make you a more favorable candidate?

"Like a company I am working closely with, they are a start up, pay top $ for engineers, and they cross 12K and above a month, and most are on EP, and some guys have never been to Singapore until they secured the job...
If an employer looks at your EP or PEP status or whatever, they are of SME mentality...
Don't lower your standards - if you got PEP, you have high standards - look for such high standard Employers !

Your last comment is spot on. Thanks for the words of encouragement. And Engineers on EP making 12k/month, which is the PEP minimum, is quite a normal salary in 1st world countries for those with the highly specialized in demand skills.

Re: Does having a PEP make you a more favorable candidate?

"Like a company I am working closely with, they are a start up, pay top $ for engineers, and they cross 12K and above a month, and most are on EP, and some guys have never been to Singapore until they secured the job...
If an employer looks at your EP or PEP status or whatever, they are of SME mentality...
Don't lower your standards - if you got PEP, you have high standards - look for such high standard Employers !

Your last comment is spot on. Thanks for the words of encouragement. And Engineers on EP making 12k/month, which is the PEP minimum, is quite a normal salary in 1st world countries for those with the highly specialized in demand skills.

Re: Jetstar International is recruiting!

Sure hope so. I've missed your rapier wit and repartees. Been a long time! ;-)

Re: Jetstar International is recruiting!

Hey SMS! Thank you for the warm welcome back! For a second there, someone may have thought I was an illiterate airline forum troll... :mrgreen:

I missed all of you out here, but have been very busy flying the oceans on a silver plane. 8-)
*cue Dean Martin played on an old phonograph* :-({|=

Hope all is well and I'll try to skulk around the old forums when I get the chance. =P~

Re: Jetstar International is recruiting!

We are recruiting again! Please feel free to drop in for our walk-in interview with your documents.

WOW! Now there is a voice from the past! Been a while since you've graced us with your presence. Life must be good. Thanks for dropping in! We've missed you. ;-)

Welcome back!

Re: Jetstar International is recruiting!

My apologies to the Guv'nor for trying to post up an ad on short notice in between flights :-k

Re: GESS (German European School) questions pls

I pass by the route and there are quite a few condos around that area. Look at the Jalan Jurong Kechil stretch between Bukit Timah Community Center and Old Jurong Road for places within walking distance. Park Natura is smack bang opposite GESS and there are others such as Signature Park, Terrene etc., You can even look at the Upper Bukit Timah Stretch close to the old fire station Springdale, South Haven, Bukit View etc.,


No, I'd say I'm here for 1-2 days in our office here, just for some meetings, and will also be spending 1-2 days as a tourist here.


JR8: So if you if you were asked by immigration at airport "what are you doing here" you would have said "I want a tourist visa but please take note I am not here as a tourist, I am here for a 2 day business meeting".

Am I correct?

Re: Problems in finding a pre-registration pharmacist position in Singapore

Comes the dawn!


I always understood (*rightly or wrongly*) that's if you're simply there for meetings/not earning a local income etc it's not a problem.

That's what I did in SG/JP/US, with never a question; maybe a few days, maybe 2 weeks. If I was going on local payroll it would be a different matter. It's what we all did, it was as near as matters mandated corporate policy, from a very astute, locally attuned and 'law-abiding' employer.

Problems in finding a pre-registration pharmacist position in Singapore

According to the Singapore Pharmacy Council (SPC), in order to be registered to the SPC, foreign pharmacists/graduates must undertake pre-registration training of 3-12 months depending on their qualifications. SPC gives a list of approved training institutions, but there's absolutely no mention of how a person can actually look for and apply for a pre-reg position.

I have been watching closely at the career section of hospital websites since last year, never have I seen any job listing for pre-reg pharmacist at all. Even those advertised on JobsBank are 'fake' vacancies. For some reason some employers advertise them even though the all positions are already filled. Communications with pharmacy managers all ended up with replies like "sorry, all positions are filled, no vacancy at the moment" etc. I am totally baffled. How are foreigners supposed to know when there is any vacancy if there is never a proper job listing for it? Are Singapore pharmacists shunning non-citizens altogether?

All suggestions/stories/experiences are greatly welcomed! O:)


Some years ago I was informed of a raid on a western office in Batam. They took away all the passports of the management (about 20 of them). Some were only visitors for a meeting (couple of days) but had tourist stamps.

"what are doing in a factory/office if you are a tourist"

Not sure of the outcome but I believe some bribes were paid.

Re: RE: PR Application Approved

ful babu:
My bf is singaporean though, but i don't think it's matter since we're not married yet

In jest, when you applied, did you mention that you have a Singaporean BF ? :roll:

Congrats !!!

If ICA is issuing 20-30k PRs each year they gotta be some kind of human ... so far indo / mal chinese is the most favorable race (at least according to the other posts in this forum) ... :-|

Re: SIA cabin crew

Hello! Anyone going for the interview tomorrow? :D