Singlish Ho Say Bo

I moved to Singapore in November 2010 for work.  When I first landed, I had a hard time understanding everybody.  From the taxi driver uncles to the store clerks, I had no idea what they were saying and I would just nod my head and agree.  Half the time, I didn’t know what was being discussed.  I got away with smiling and nodding.

Singapore is an multicultural island city-state with many official languages.  These are English, Malay, Putonghua Mandarin and Tamil.  Its only natural that their English would not be the typical American English many are accustomed to.  I was born in the Philippines but grew up in North America.  Filipinos speak good English but we still have our own Filipino twang when we talk.  I can do both Filipino English and American English since I am accustomed to both.  I wasn’t prepared for Singlish at all. It was a bit sing-songy and the pronunciation is totally different.  Lucky for me,  as  a Chinese speaker, I also understood the Singlish Hokkien terms.  Out of the 4 official langues, I can speak two.

It took a few months before I got the hang of it.  Once you’ve grasped the intonation, everything else is easier.  I roll my eyes whenever I hear people add “lah” to every sentence just to say that they’re speaking Singlish.  Its not just “lah”.  There’s a lot more to Singlish than just that one word.  I remember asking my colleagues for the meaning every time I encountered a word or phrase.  You build up your vocabulary and use strategically use them in conversations to show your mastery of the language.

Screen Shot 2017-05-13 at 2.50.48 PM

I even downloaded this app from the App Store called Hosay! and it even shows you how to use the word/phrase in sentences.  Words such as “aiyoh”, “atas”, “ah beng”, “shiok”, “alamak”, “blur” or even “vomit blood” or terms you won’t hear anywhere else.  I admit that I do miss hearing Singlish occasionally since I left Singapore in 2014.  Every time I land at Changi Airport, I get this tingly, good feeling hearing Singlish again for the next few days. 

After almost four years in Singapore, I can do Singlish well enough.  Not like a local, but I can do a spot on Singaporean accent. I can add that to my repertoire of English languages such as Taglish (Filipino English), normal English, and Singlish.

By the way, ho say bo means “all good?”

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