Singapore is not only famous for its Singapore Sling, but also for its Singapore slang, better known as Singlish.

During your visit of Singapore it is important to have a few notions of Singlish which will help you to make the most of your trip and discover the rich cultural influences that makes Singapore so unique. The eOasia team has been travelling for the last three years in the area. Some of us already master the art of this Singapore language, and we would like to share with you what we have learnt from the locals so far.

Historical background

Singapore has four official languages : English, Tamil, Malay, and Chinese. Singlish language was born as an unique blend from these four languages, and also by the direct translation from Chinese to English.

Although Singlish is not encouraged by the government, which favours English, Singlish is widely used in Singaporean communities and can be useful if you want to understand a bit more about this fascinating Singaporean culture.

Ordering food at the food court

When you visit Singapore, going to food courts are a must as you will be able to taste some of the most amazing local food there. This is also a true local experience where locals use the Singapore language or Singlish a lot!

  • “Makan” comes from the Malay language meaning “eat”. This Singlish term is officially part of their vocabulary, and you won’t be surprised to hear “let’s go makan” often!
  • If you can not finish your food, ask them to take it away or “Ta pau”, a phrase which comes from the Cantonese meaning “to take away”. Just say these two magic words and the friendly people at the food court will pack the food for you.
  • Lastly, you will get used to seeing Singaporeans “chop a table” while ordering by leaving a bag or a packet of tissue on their table; this is a common way to reserve a table.
Singlish Dictionary For Travellers.
Singlish Dictionary For Travellers. Singapore Lau Pa Sat Festival Market @ City Hall

Coffee and Tea

This Singlish dictionary will be very helpful when ordering coffee in local stalls, with Kopitiams (Coffee shops) very present all over the city. We have always been confused at the beginning between Kopi O, Kopi C, etc.. so here is how it goes:

  • Kopi O: black coffee (without milk)
  • Kopi C: coffee with condensed milk
  • Kopi siu dai : Coffee with less sugar
  • Kopi – kosong : Simple black coffee with nothing added in it.
  • Kopi-pao : Coffee to take away
  • The same goes for the tea.
Singlish Dictionary For Travellers.
Singlish Dictionary For Travellers.

Take a taxi

Taking taxi is easy, relatively cheap and convenient when you visit Singapore. This is also the place where you will have the best opportunities to improve your Singlish.

  • Even though this is can be a taboo topic, it is also popular for taxi drivers to talk about “Gahmen”, shorten form of the english word “government”.
  • Another useful word if you see the driver is taking his time, ask him to “Chiong” or “faster lah”, this is a simple way of saying “hurry up”.
  • Another way of saying “hurry up” is “Chop chop”, commonly used in the Singapore language of every day.

Don’t forget to bring in your Singlish dictionary for your taxi rides in Singapore!

Singlish Dictionary For TravellersSinglish Dictionary For Travellers
Singlish Dictionary For Travellers. Picture from the strait times

The most used/heard

These are the few words you will often hear during your visit of Singapore :

  • “Cannot make” it: A phrase to describe something that is of below standards. Eg: “This fish is so undercooked, cannot make it, lah!”
  • “Lah”: Normally used at the end of a sentence to express agreement or negation. This word is rather difficult to use correctly, but of course, all you need is to practice lah!
  • “Ok lah, Ok lo – Can lah” : This is the way to approve using the Singapore slang.
  • “Last time”, Last time I was at school” which actually means “Before I was going to school”.
  • “Oredy – already” – You will often hear “done oredy”, which means I’ve already done it.
  • Or “Have you eaten oredy?”, which can also be a way of saying “how are you?”, being sometimes the first thing a Singaporean will say when meeting you, I concluded this only after living a few months in Singapore!
  • “Thank you ahh”, Singaporeans also have a hobbit of adding “ahh” after thank you or some other words. Eg: “can do that ahh”, “like that ahh”.
  • “Can mah? – Can me?” – In the Singapore language, locals like to use “Me or Mah” to punctuate their questions.
  • “Like dat, also can?” meaning “Is it possible that way too?”
Singlish Dictionary For Travellers
Singlish Dictionary For Travellers

To describe people

The most common phrase you might hear during your visit of Singapore as a Caucasian is “Ang moh”. This is actually a Hokkien term which literally means “red hair” and this is a colloquial term used to describe Caucasians, so don’t be surprised!

  • “Yaya Papaya”: an arrogant person. Eg: “This person is so yaya papaya!”
  • “Chipo nene” : a person who’s scared to spend money. Eg “Don’t be so Chipo nene lah”
  • “Zabor” is the hokkien word to describe a woman
  • “Chio Bu” is the Hokkien equivalent of a pretty girl.
  • “Kayu”: Malay for “wood”. Used to describe a person as useless. The most common use is during soccer matches, where fans would refer to bad referees as “referee kayu”.
  • “Kantang”, which literally means “Potato” in Malay is a term to mock Singaporeans who became westernised, speaking more english than their mother tongue. The potato is seen as the western food, whereas the rice as the local food.
  • “Auntie/Uncle” is a respectful way to speak to an older man / woman, widely used to talk to taxi drivers.
  • “Kaypo” is used to describe a noisy person. Eg: “You ask me so many times already, don’t be so kaypo lah!”

Some other useful and common expressions

  • “Aiyo” : used as a response to describe surprised moments, from things as trivial as a papercut to seriously bad news. Eg: “Aiyo! I just cut my finger!” You will also hear people complaining, using “Aiyo!”.
  • “Kia su” literally means “scared of losing” in Hokkien. This phrase can be used for any situations involving the slightest form of competition. Eg: “She is so kiasu, she stayed overnight to work!” This phrase also influenced by the Chinese culture which is usually very hard working and highly competitive.
  • “Bue tahan”: Literally means cannot bear something. Eg: “The weather in Singapore so hot, I bue tahan!”
  • “Cheem” which means difficult, confusing, complex is also commonly used, this will become part of your vocabulary if you often hang out with Singaporeans. Eg : “The exam was so cheem lah! Confirm fail one”
  • “Jia lat” is also a frequently used expression among Singaporeans and means wasted energy, or “in trouble”. Eg: You jia lat lor, still haven’t done your work!”

Exclamation and Expressions

  • “Wah” this is used by Singaporeans when they are surprised, Eg “Wah just like that ah”
  • “Walao!” it can seem a bit vulgar and this is very common, it is used to express exasperation, frustration, or irritation.
  • “Shiok” to describe something as extremely pleasant or good. Eg: “This curry is so delicious, shiok!”
  • “Siao!” which means crazy can be used as “ .. Siao”
  • “Steady!” means awesome, capable, smart, and very commonly used in the Singapore language. Eg: “That guy steady one! just joined the company last year and already promoted!”
Singlish Dictionary for Travellers.
Singlish Dictionary for Travellers. Credit to Mike_Elleray

Some other local terms to get an insight on the Singaporean culture

  • 5C : Car, Cash, Credit Card, Condominium, Country Club membership. This is an expression to define material success of people living in Singapore. This is also referred as the Singaporean dream in the pursuit of material success.
  • MC : MC which stands from Medical Certificate, is commonly used for Medical leaves. Usually, Singaporeans are allowed to 14 days of MC per year and are very hard workers!
  • 4D is the national lottery in Singapore, locals love it and play regularly.

Now, that you have this handy Singlish dictionary, make the most of your visit to Singapore by mingling with the locals. Ok lah?

Singlish Dictionary For Travellers
Singlish Dictionary For Travellers

Also, don’t forget to check out all the best things to do in Singapore, handpicked by eOasia team.

And if you are also travelling to Indonesia, you can also check out our post for useful words of Bahasa Indonesia 


References: Wikipedia_Singlish Vocabulary 

By Uriel.

Chiang Mai eoasia

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2 thoughts on “Singlish Dictionary for Travellers

  1. Find it very useful. Where can I buy this Singlish Dictionary for my foreign friends? Please advice. Thank you.

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