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: Cost of Living in Singapore with Child

Relatively speaking, I think your food budget needs to be higher compared to rent. If you're a Whole Foods type of grocery shopper and seek the same quality then you'll end up spending a lot every month just on groceries, before you even start on cafes and restaurants.

Meanwhile US$4000-5000 will get you great 2 bedroom apartments or very nice 3 bedrooms in most areas of Singapore.

Taxi budget is probably OK but really depends on how you plan to get around.

Regarding schools, make sure your budget includes school transport if relevant. The charge for private school bus shuttles is a frequently "unexpected" cost/complaint amongst parents.

Re: Lee Kuan Yew


For example: in the Western democracy it is formally acceptable that because of some loopholes in the legal system a person, who beyond any reasonable doubts murdered somebody and will do it once and once again, gets away and kills some few equally innocent members of the society. For me, this sort of construct is a pure hypocrisy. Personally, I'd rather see the murderer detained violating his rights than some more people murdered.

Now, I realize this is not a perfect analogy but nevertheless this is a very similar mechanism. Nothing is perfect. Solutions vary.

Re: Sundry humour


Even if you set-out to write a parody of a spam message, that had been utterly mangled by a translation engine, I reckon you'd be hard pressed to better the above example of the real thing! =D>

Spams are testing our intelligence I guess

They're testing our :x

Re: Sundry humour


Even if you set-out to write a parody of a spam message, that had been utterly mangled by a translation engine, I reckon you'd be hard pressed to better the above example of the real thing! =D>

Spams are testing our intelligence I guess

Re: Recipes


Tastes even awesomer.

Re: Recipes

+1, that looks awesome! :cool:

Re: Sundry humour

Stripped of it's embedded links, here is a spam from this forum seen earlier today:

'How To Give Yourself A Home Facial

I mortal been doing my own habitation facials since I was 24. I bought a volume transcribed by Falls Pedagogue on how she kept herself splendid and I human been doing them e'er since.

Disclaimer: This diary involves simmering element. Be particular! This system may eff been used for hundreds of eld! It is your responsibleness to have this article in congested before attempting this method on your own meet.

Its the old fashioned method of touching a refrigerating really. Put your psyche over a incurvation of hot nutrient with a towel over your mark. It is so pandurate. Why do we complicate it by feat along to a journeyman and pay to use their clean tool?

We naturally lose one sheet of pare a period. Steaming your braving just helps that layer terminate off. You can steam spic your grappling once a period to cook it sensing young. Clean cleanup also helps the murder circulation come to the surface of your tegument again and gets rid of any red blotches that you hump.

You faculty also penury to not do it too stop to a people circumstance as pimples can also start in the period mass a neaten.'

Well... ... :-k ... :???: ... :) ... :lol:

Even if you set-out to write a parody of a spam message, that had been utterly mangled by a translation engine, I reckon you'd be hard pressed to better the above example of the real thing! =D>

Re: Recipes


Rice crackers/senbei* instead of bread crumbs/panko for fried chicken.

Re: Career advice in Finance and Accounting

However, seems that the trend is changing. Maybe someone can validate me why recruiters and employers these days, at least here in Singapore look for relevant experience not only in terms of the function but also industry wise. In my job hunting, I found most employers (like 95%) are very particular in the industry you have operated in your past jobs. Which one is the real reason?
4) Or maybe looking for job in a competitive environment (or is it just Singapore?) - where so many applicants vie for 1 vacancy, and you just have to have the education+experience+qualification+soft skills that the employer is looking for.

I'd vote for 4 above.
When you're young they can pay you peanuts and you'll work your nuts off to get ahead. This is common as the experience gained has a significant value itself. When you get older and more experienced the employer has to pay full price for your services, but you're probably less inclined to accept that your employer essentially owns you and your entire waking life.

Added to that, recruitment is a sifting process. The employer has spec'd the role, and written up the requirements. If they phrase it too widely they'll attract a lot of unsuitable candidates. So they set the bar higher, and hence you see all the usual corporate blah, 'Graduate', 'Minimum three years relevant experience' , 'Proven team player', blahblahblah. If you spoke the the hiring manager and asked him what were the skills etc required, odds on they'd be surprisingly at variance with those stated.

Added to that, for a foreigner to get hired here, they have to have demonstrable skills and experience that cannot be found from a local candidate (enforced via the visa system, and Fair Consideration Framework). This pushes the bar higher still. This is how you might end up with an ad requiring a graduate, when in actual fact not being a graduate would not exclude from fulfilling the job just as well.

Lastly. I think these days being a graduate can sometimes simply signify someone who has mastered general life-skills, learning skills, and that they have already demonstrated a desire to cross a hurdle towards their future, that is now a general requirement, almost a given. For example when I started my career, the expectation was that you'd seek a career within the field of your study. I studied veterinary/parasitolgy, very niche, but that was my then vocation and dream when I had to choose my A-levels, at the age of 15. Pretty brutal isn't it, being held for a lifetime to a choice made so young.

By the time I got into uni, and on that course, my life and horizons had changed so hugely that my heart just wasn't in it. Within the first year I dropped out, and pursued the direction that I just knew was where my future lay. As a result I was almost disowned by my family ( :shock:' hehehe...). 30 years later, I got the career I wanted, and achieved from it all I aimed for. Though I'm still not sure my parents are 100.00% over events back then ... unorthodoxy rarely sits easily within parental expectations.

These days I think you're witnessing a huge evolution in higher education. It's gone from only academic students studying what was required for a career in that specific field, to being being almost an assumed step as a part of simply growing up. When I started uni, I was one of the sub-10% of school-leavers who did. Meanwhile -Fast-Forward- the automatic conclusion these days is that if you're not a graduate you're either thick or positively dysfunctional.

Now that almost everyone is a graduate (it seems), then said graduates require a next level to try and differentiate themselves from the masses, and as a bi-product get to comfortingly delay the realities of adult work and life a couple of years longer. So, here we are, 'who hasn't got a Masters these days, and from a prestigious university?'. I've described before a couple of times having to supervise summer MBA interns at my workplace. It wouldn't be fair to say that they knew eff all about the job they were theoretically qualified to do, and yet still didn't have a clue about. But heavens they had expectations and high illusions of themselves. No 'menial work' or long hours for them, they had been sold and persuaded that they were qualified and destined for higher things.

It was around 10 years ago that I first started noticing ads in in-flight magazines offering DBA's. This is presumably pitched at the MBA grads who feel a need to further differentiate themselves, now that it seems that everyone who is anything has an MBA. So what next when everyone has a DBA, what might the next supposed higher rung be christened? Doubtless there will be a lot of 'Top league' universities ready to sell you your dreams. Will it include learning how to use a photocopier, as in my experience this seemingly simple task is something MBA interns can't (or refuse to) do.

If I ran a small business, that say hired a couple of new employees a year, with the aim of them staying for maybe 10+ years, I'd hire non-uni/graduate school-leavers, who were demonstrably sharp-minded, and who had a boiling passion to get a foot in the door and make it. A 'fresh 30 year' old DBA+ grad with no work experience, but instead buckets of attitude, expectations and self-regard => no way.

Apologies for the ramble aka 'Just my 2000 cents' :lol:

Re: Where should we consider staying!?

I hadn't included The Jade as I'd thought their 2 bedrooms were a little small for OP, but now I definitely have doubts on that conclusion - it seems like a good option.

If you look at rental listings around the web - or this site's profile of The Jade ( ... e-jade.htm) - all the 2 bedroom apartments are in the 1000-1100 range, yet every single lease is registered as 800-900 or 900-1000 sqft in the URA records (query at ... rch.action). Slightly off-topic but does anyone know why there would be such a discrepancy?

Also if going in that direction on the map, Hillview Regency and The Madeira are possibilities too.

Re: another newbie


Also relocated to singapore for work, 35 aussie male... Looking to meet new ppl! Here's my email:

Mel, you have made 7 identical posts in a row. Normally we would lock your account as this more than constitutes spamming the board. We don't like spammers. Why don't you just start a single thread in the Newbie thread and give them a chance to see if they want to take a chance. Spamming the board tend to show all and sundry that you are desperate. Nobody want to party with a desperate man. Any more and I might just lock your account.


Re: Lee Kuan Yew


Detention without trial count?
I don't know too many details. Probably nobody does but it is always about sacrificing "a lesser good" for one subjectively or pragmatically more important.

For example: in the Western democracy it is formally acceptable that because of some loopholes in the legal system a person, who beyond any reasonable doubts murdered somebody and will do it once and once again, gets away and kills some few equally innocent members of the society. For me, this sort of construct is a pure hypocrisy. Personally, I'd rather see the murderer detained violating his rights than some more people murdered.

Now, I realize this is not a perfect analogy but nevertheless this is a very similar mechanism. Nothing is perfect. Solutions vary.

Re: Moving to Singapore - Bringing Video Games / BlyRays

No worry, as log as it is not a hardcore pornography nobody will care. GTA? I bought it openly from Amazon.

Re: Where should we consider staying!?


Anything from 1 to 3 years judging from the construction mess, but one should also remember:
1) further away from Bukit Batok towards (Upper)Bukit Timah Rd, more expensive the condos.
2) new MRT lines up and running will also have an impact on the rental prices - this should be also taken into account as right now the prices (in the MRT construction area) are definitely depressed so there is a good risk of rental double shock when the MRT lines are eventually operational.

On a different note, taking into account the St Luke's Hospital location I would also not rule out the condos in the area defined by the Bukit Batok Rd, PIE and Boon Lay, namely The Mayfair and Pacr Oasis, so I agree to some extent on this one with rarkins.

Re: Where should we consider staying!?

Apparently due first quarter of 2016, not sure how things work over here but if it was the UK I'd be taking a very large pinch of salt with the dates :)

For the OP that could make the trip to One North more straightforward from the Hillview area depending on exact location.