Wednesday, November 12, 2008

English for Britons and Singaporeans

Met up with a friend for lunch yesterday and the topic on the differences between how the British and Singaporeans express themselves cropped up.

In between mouthfuls of sushi and teriyaki salmon, my lunch companion recounted how convoluted the British is in their verbal expression and how Singaporeans would find it difficult to read between the lines.

I couldn't really agree more. I have British colleagues who find Singaporeans (or Asians for that matter) rather curt when it comes to day to day dealings. Though I attribute that to our discomfort in handling the English language, that friend of mine seemed to think it's because we are 'economical' with the language.

Well, here are some examples that came to my mind and you’ll be the judge.

Singaporean: ‘scuse me, can you help? Thanks!
Briton: Excuse me, if it's not too much of a trouble to you, I would really appreciate if you could just lend me a hand here. Thank you very much indeed.

Singaporean: Bad weather today, huh?
Briton: A tad chilly today, not exactly the best of weather, is it?

Singaporean: This is not good, can you do it again?
Briton: This is brilliant stuff and you have raised some very good points indeed. That said, I would probably look into this particular portion and fine tune it a bit. Would you be able to do that for me please?

See what I mean? That said, read about the Singaporeans' love affair with the 3 letter word.

Read also...
Of language and accents - part 1
Of language and accents - part 2

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Anonymous said...

From the conversations, S'poreans go straight to the point in whatever was said?? :)

Ai-Ling said...

lol. very true indeed :D

Yi Ling said...

straightforwardness is sometimes better. haha.

SheR. said...

Hi hi CK! I'm back!
Was discussing the usage of Singlish as opposed to English with my relatives on my trip home. And we all agreed that Singlish is far more "efficient" as we get the point across immediately without the use of excess words.

However, I do appreciate the English way of expression as they are far more polite.

So I say both ways are equally good. Depends on what tickles your fancy and who you are conversing with. Don't you think?

PuNiao said...

Another one:

Singaporean: Can!
Britons (assumed): No problem at all. It's my pleasure to do so!

Haruyoshi said...

Very funny and classical, it's true!

myi4u said...

Well, that is how they spend their day. One single thing and they can talk like forever.

Sometimes, my mind tend to wander away when my manager explains something to me.

Have a great day.

Dutchie said...

Back in ancient times when education was only for the privileged few, speech n writings were conveyed with concise words. We tend to use too many words in this era.

The dutch has the tendency to use long expressions as well. Asked abt the age of the dog, my neighbour would reply :"he's a year or 15 now" instead of a short "15 yrs old". Worse r the repetition of ur entire question b4u get an answer. That always drives me nuts !

I was not conscious of using curt expressions until u mentioned it here. Let's hope we dont regress to 1 syllable response which men r infamous for around the house !

SheR. said...

Dutchie!!! You're funny.
We should be glad there's any form of response at all!!
Wait till they decide to use computer language....

Bikran said...

Well form your conversation what i could conclude was Singaporeans speak straight and the british quite well know how to play with words .
interesting post anyways.

Eaststopper said...

To puniao,

'Can' used alone by itself is seldom used in the English language. My colleagues in the London or Paris office had a lot of trouble trying to understand what we meant when we reply with just a 'Can'.
Singaporeans also like to use the words 'Never', 'Must', 'Have to' which considered absolutes and very strong words by non-Singaporeans. A korean colleague, when he first arrived in Singapore had a taxi-driver telling him that he must go to Sentosa. He found it a tad complusive, almost like an order.

Joerup said...

Oh boy! Ain't we all hitting our favourite topic here! LOL
This is just as much as I am STILL a little uncomfortable with how many Brits kick start a conversation when they need your help: Hey, You alright? Yeah, I'm alright, u? I'm doing alright too... blah blah blah... I got a little problem here, nothing mjor but I was wondering if you can help me with this....
Singaporean way - my way: Hey, can you help me with this. That's it! LOL
The best part it, the 2nd time they come to you, the REPEAT the whole process again! (maybe I'm too fortunte to meet some like that) LOL

BK said...

I am a straightforward person and thus I appreciate the Singaporean way and yet there are times when we have to be tactful in what we say. I would probably say it all depends on who are we talking to; reminds me of something our Mr. Goh said previously or was trying to raise the awareness of speaking proper English on international arena.

Nomadic Matt said...

the british are a verbose bunch

iWalk said...

Briton always adhere to their tradition, and they are always pride of it.

I think the very mannerly expression is a part of their tradition too.

Tell you the truth, I always feel a little confuse when I am talking with them, because my English is not good enough. :)

C K said...

@My Bug Life,
I still think that we're not that comfortable with the language to the extent that we can manipulate it with ease.

How many ways can one say 'great'?
... wonderful, fantastic, excellent, brilliant... I'm sure there are more.

It's not that we don't know the words but it just doesn't dawn upon me to use it in this context.

@Ai-Ling, Haruyoshi,
Thanks! Perhaps I should be less 'curt' the next time round. :)

@Yi Ling,
True in a way but it can be quite blunt being too straightforward.

"This can be better done" sounds much better than "This is no good". Don't you think so?

Welcome back from the 'land of food'! lol.

Agreed. If I were to return to S'pore now, the English way of expression (and politeness) would be one thing that I'll miss.

I wonder, how will the conversation between both of us be like? Hmm... straight to the point, I guess. :)

Oh, I missed that one out. Thanks for bringing that up!

LOL, you got to concentrate. Concentrate, my friend! One thing I've learnt. It's considered really rude to cut one's conversation off. :)

Eh? "A year or 15 now"? Is that a localised expression/slang? Actually, I'm not too fond of short concise sentences/words... reminds me of George Orwell's 1984, if you know what I mean.

Do you face this issue when conversing with your husband when you guys first met?

You should have seen some of those British comedies. Believe me, Mr. Bean (with relatively few words) is an exception. Most British comedies are literally filled with dialogue, if understood within the context would get you laughing non-stop.

haha, absolutely true with the taxi drivers. I can imagine a foreigner bewildered by this driver 'demanding' that he/she should visit certain places.

Will be writing about the 'can' word in the next post.

Speaking of which, that's exactly what happened to my landlord (an English) and I. I was like, "Didn't you just ask me how I was just now?". I didn't say that out loud of course. But after awhile, you sort of get the idea and played along. It's quite good fun really. :p

Generally, Singaporeans have got no issue with speaking English with proper grammer and most would be equipped with a suitable level of vocab. The problem is that some of us are too complacent and tend to be a tad defensive in the face of criticism.

That said, though I respect that Singlish is unique to Singapore, it should be by no means be promoted as the language to be used in everyday life. I think that's what SM Goh was trying to say.

@Nomadic Matt,
Well, they are the people that invented the language... have to give them the credit for that. :)

C K said...

Don't get me started about proficiency in languages. I am absolutely rubbish with Mandarin. lol, a pity really, considering that I grew up speaking that language.

Oh, must congratulate you on your recent climbing expedition. :)

Dutchie said...

Sher!!! U know exactly what I meant :-D

Computer language ? What's that ?

Dutchie said...

CK, my hubby still speaks english with a perculiar accent n since he's translating his speech from dutch to english, it's oh-so-long ! I usually kick him in the shin when I see my family losing track of the conversation :-/

I call it taking a transit b4 coming to the point .. sigh ...

Joerup illustrates my point to a T here !

SheR. said...

Oh CK and Dutchie.
Now I'm really missing speaking proper English.
I had to "train" my fiance to speak good english with me lest I start to lose it... :P

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kyh said...

I'm one for str8forwardness! But sometimes putting on a Brit speech sounds cool too.

Geek @ Kedai.TV said...

Better than Malaysian English or lately.. Sarawakian English... terok sangat.

azrin @

PS: The ENGLISH can't speak or write proper Queens English...that I learnt while my stint in BELMARSH

azrin @

...and at least SingLish better than the Non-Standard SAF-Recruit English... all the vulgarities etc..just as cockney Liverpool English...

C K said...

Really, I think you should give your husband more credit for the effort translating. Just curious, do you converse with him in Dutch or English? Surely, you've picked up enough Dutch after these years? :)

Haha, like I said, Joerup is the expert here.

Same question here. Do you speak to your fiance in Croatian? I must admit that learning phrases for the purpose of travelling is one thing but learning it for day to day conversation is a totally different ball game altogether.

No prob. Thanks for stopping by.

lol, I only realised that there is a variety of 'British' accents when I came over to London. As Sher has pointed out, a 'Brummie' has a really heavy accent... I have difficulty understanding the Scots and Cockney accents as well. It's like a totally differnt language. I'm sure they have the same issue with my English as well.

Interesting, the way you manage to insert your url in between your comment. :)

Unsurprisingly, I picked up most of my Hokkien in the army and yes, 90% of those are swearing words and nope, it didn't help my English a bit.

Actually, I'm not exactly sure what the 'Queen's English' is. Can someone enlighten me?

Dutchie said...

CK, in order to be one of them n to truly feel the words (esp words of endearment), I hv decided to master the lingua at the onset. Besides, it's just easier for my hubby to email me in dutch when he's away. Letters in english from way back were so stiff, as I recalled.

My Hokkien is mostly faded. Makes it very hard to converse with mom on the phone ! Ditto my mandarin .. sigh .. Hubby has bought software n books to polish up his mandarin but I cant helped him - it's that bad lah !

Oh btw, foreign spouse to NL has to pass the lingua test in their native country at the dutch embassy b4 they r allowed to settle here. Last I heard, it cost 350 euro's n most of them couldnt managed it the first time. This is part of a commitment course for integration.

Anonymous said...

Revisiting an old post...

When I first arrived to study at a college years ago, what struck me most was that people used simpler words than what I was used to in Singapore, e.g we'd use 'replenish' as opposed to 'top-up'. And not one English person knows what 'retrenched' means! To them it's just 'laid-off' (or 'made redundant' - which makes sense too). I've definitely learnt how to speak clearer English now...

Karin said...

Singaporeans aren't efficient with the language. Just rude.