Singapore has four official languages, English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil, each language representing the four major ethnic groups. Although the Chinese is the majority race here, these four ethnic groups are all treated equally and recognized for their contribution to the growth of Singapore. While English is the main language of business and education, almost all children in Singapore go through a bilingual education system where they learn their own mother tongue and also the English language.
Therefore, English is the bridge between the races, and almost all Singaporeans can speak English, with maybe the exception of the older generation (60 years old and above). However, under encouragement from the government, even the senior citizens have taken to learning English. Most can read, write and speak basic English, and the government has also been pushing an agenda to “speak good English” as opposed to the locally spoken “Singlish” more commonly heard.
Please see the official response from Singapore Government on the official language in Singapore: https://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/data/pdfdoc/lky19651001.pdf
Here is an exerpt from a BBC article on the subject: “Singapore’s government has long insisted that everyone in the island nation should speak English – it’s the language used in schools, at work, and in government.”
Singlish is an interesting local mix of English and Malay and Chinese slang. English-speakers can easily understand Singlish, though the strong accent can be challenging. Foreigners may, in fact, find themselves picking up some of the common words and colloquialisms used.
If you already know English, there is absolutely no need to learn another language, although Mandarin would be helpful and also ingratiate you to your Chinese neighbors. If you are interested to learn another language, private tutors and school-operated courses can be easily found, especially for Chinese and Bahasa Malaysia. One can also find a host of schools offering European languages, other East Asian languages, and Arabic, and community centers also offer affordable language courses in neighborhood meeting centers.
- Inlingua Language School – Courses in English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Russian, Spanish, Dutch, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indonesian, Malay, Tamil, & Vietnamese, 1 Grange Road, #04-01 Orchard Building, Singapore 239693, Tel: 6235 5222
- Cambridge School of Languages – 111 North Bridge Road #26-04, Peninsula Plaza, Singapore 179098, Hotline (65) 6336 4556
- Alliance Française de Singapour – Offers courses in French at all levels of fluency
- A.T.T. Language Centre – Teaches English & Mandarin, 19 Tanglin Rd. #08-01, Tanglin Shopping Centre
- YMCA Singapore – Offers language enrichment programmes in English & Chinese, 1 Orchard Road, Tel: (65) 6336 6000,
- Goethe-Institut in Singapore – Offers German language courses.
- Spring Language School – Teaches a variety of Asian and European languages.
- Berlitz– Wheelock Place, Orchard. Tel: 6733 7472 Offers a good selection of language and cross-cultural training.
There are always people in Singapore who are willing to teach you their language in exchange for your teaching them your own.
- Singapore Language Exchange – Part of a worldwide networking website that allows you to search for a language learning partner with whom you can practice speaking, reading, listening and writing your chosen language.
- Singapore expats forum – People willing participate in language exchange advertise here on a regular basis. Advertise in the language exchange section to find a suitable partner.
- Intercambio Singapore – Another language exchange network site where you can locate suitable learning partners.