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  • Writer's pictureSean Foley

What language do people speak in Singapore?

From the time we received our mission call until now, this has been a very common question. Before arriving our simple answer was "English". With a couple months under our belts we have realized that a more accurate answer is more nuanced!

Singapore actually has four official languages: English, Mandarin Chinese, Malay, and Tamil. Malay is specifically mentioned in the constitution as being "THE" official language, however in practice it is the least used of the four. English is definitely the most used, being the language of schools, business, and government. There is also a variation of English referred to as "Singlish" that many speak in casual conversation. As senior missionaries we aren't as fully exposed to it as the young missionaries, but we get glimpes.

Singlish is a mixture of English, Mandarin, and Malay, drawing vocabulary mostly from English but grammar mostly from Mandarin and Malay. The vocabularly just takes some getting used to as it does even going from state to state. Here some examples are"air con" instead of "air conditioning", "Way out" instead of "Exit", "Can" instead of "Yes", and "leh" or "lah" at the end of words or phrases.

It's the grammar differences that are most striking though when used with English words. Some examples I lifted from Wikipedia:


Standard English

Dis country weather very hot one.

The weather is very warm in this country.

Dat joker there cannot trust.

You cannot trust the person over there.

Tomorrow don't need bring camera.

You don't need to bring a camera tomorrow.

He play football also very good one leh.

He's very good at playing football too.

I go bus-stop wait for you

I will be waiting for you at the bus-stop.

I will spare you further linguistics lessons, though personally I find it all really fascinating. Suffice it to say that different vocabulary, grammar, accent, volume, the continued use of masks by service workers, and my decreased hearing have all combined for some very challenging conversations. There truly are times when I don't know what language people are speaking, with a very good chance that it is English or at least Singlish.

Of course all this has a lot of applicability to missionary work and the challenge of sharing a message that we love to people speaking different languages, coming from different religions and cultures. We have had some intesresting reminder experiences of this with our young single adults. For example one Sunday in ward council we shared some information on dating activities that had been held recently at church schools. While there was definitely some interest there, we also saw that there are some real cultural differences in dating between the American way and the Singapore one. (That said, our children would say that there are age-based cultural differences too!)

A couple weeks ago I gave a shameless plug to our son Brock who is running for school board in the NKC School District! Today I will plug our son Ryan who is principal flutist in the US Coast Guard Band. In addition to his great flute playing, he has a role in the band in audio visual, and he recently help produce and play piccolo in this very interesting short film that is the first in a series on the history of music in the US Military. Check it out!

And finally a note on FOMO (Fear of Missing Out): We have done pretty well avoiding homesickness on our mission, but of course a couple things have been hard. First and foremost has been missing our beautiful children, grandchildren, parents, and the rest of our family and friends. Technology makes things better, and we had a real thrill this week in having our six-year-old grandson read a book to us, but it's still hard. Something that has been hard this month has been missing out on the theatrical release of the 4th season of our favorite series, The Chosen. We are having to wait eagerly for the streaming to come out in the next few weeks. No spoilers! (Just kidding, we've read the book)

1-2: Hawker center adventure with lion dancing. This is one that we have been to before (and is the one shown in Crazy Rich Asians). Had a bunch of delicious food including our first satay here.

3: Rooftop CNY celebration, combined with a celebration of a couple of our great young adults getting accepted to BYU. Another round of lohei!

4: Just some bananas that are funny looking but taste just like the ones we're used to.

5-6: I have been doing some serious spring cleaning around the office and in a house on the Singapore temple site that used to be a missionary apartment.

7-8: A neighboring branch put on a Book of Mormon production for members, friends, and the community and hand a good turnout! They were very artistic.

9: The karaoke room in our apartment complex. The manager told us it gets a lot of use on the weekend. I didn't see Tabernacle Choir among the options though...

10: Finally, back to our language theme: I was very excited to hit level 25 on Embark, our church's version of DuoLingo, in my Malay study. I now have over a thousand words in my vocabularly and can put together some sentences...yet I really struggle to understand much of anything said to me. There is something to be said about the importance of real life exposure!

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3 comentários

Randy Morris
Randy Morris
21 de fev.

Nikmatilah sate buat saya! Video itu bagus sekali.

Sean Foley
Sean Foley
28 de fev.
Respondendo a

Thank you Randy!


Rebecca Morgan
Rebecca Morgan
21 de fev.

Love the updates! Keep ‘em coming!

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