Languages spoken in Singapore [Updated 2021]

Languages spoken in Singapore

Written by Kristina Temelkova

I'm from Stara Zagora, Bulgaria and I'm currently pursuing an English degree at the University of Vienna. My lifelong passions are languages and writing. I speak English, Bulgarian, German and Russian.

July 27, 2021

Have you ever thought about what languages are spoken in Singapore? Read the article till the end to know the official and foreign languages spoken in Singapore

Not many people know that Singapore is the English version of the otherwise native Malay name Singapura.

The island state’s population, estimated to be around 5.7 million people and it is incredibly diverse in terms of culture and language.

Languages spoken in Singapore

Singapore is a leading power in technology and business. This South Asian megapolis is home to a number of different languages and its linguistic variety continues to evolve.

If you are curious to get to know Singapore’s linguistic heritage better, keep reading! In this blog, you will find everything you need to know about this modern, multicultural city.

1. Official languages of Singapore

Singapore is definitely a country that stands out from the rest. In regard to official languages, the country is not an exception. In the Singaporean constitution, there are 4 languages that gets listed as an official: Malay, Mandarin, Tamil, and English.

Official languages of Singapore


Their official status indicates that all names of streets, stations, etc. as well as signs written in each of these 4 languages.

What’s more, schooling is available in each of these languages and people are free to choose which one they want to learn.

Here is some more information about each of the official languages of Singapore:

  • The Malay language in Singapore

    The Malay language is the National Language of Singapore. Despite that, it is spoken by only 14% of Singapore’s population. This is an indigenous language spoken in Singapore before the arrival of the British colonizers in 1819. What’s more, the Singaporean anthem Majulah Singapura, meaning Onward Singapore, is in Malay.

Malay Language


During colonial times people from different ethnicities used Bazaar Malay to communicate. This Malay variety had very simple grammar and limited vocabulary.

Today majority of the Malay population speaks the Malay language, Bahasa Melayu. This variety is very similar to the Malay dialects spoken in Indonesia.

In Singapore, in particular, Malay uses the Latin script which also known as Rumi. Jawi, on the other hand, is an Arabic script of Malay, but it is not as common as Rumi.

  • Chinese in Singapore

Based on the Beijing dialect, Mandarin or Huayu is the official Singaporean Chinese. It uses the simplified and standardized form of Chinese characters.

Around three-quarters of the population belong to the Chinese diaspora formed mainly by immigrants from Southern China.

In this part of China, the main dialects include Cantonese, Hokkien, Hainanese, and Teochew. Therefore, these dialects can be found in the territory of Singapore.

The Mandarin language


However, this diversity was limited by the government’s attempt to standardize the Chinese language. It banned the use of regional dialects on radio and television and Mandarin was the only Chinese dialect taught at schools.

Also Read: How To Localize Your Website For China

Today, these bans got lifted, however, Chinese dialects are much less diverse and most of them speak only at home. Still. Mandarin Chinese, spoken by the majority of the Singaporean population – 35%.

  • Tamil language in Singapore

The Tamil language was recognized as an official language of the state due to the large number of settlers coming from the Tamil Nadu region in Southern India. According to statistics, only 3% of the population speak Tamil.

Although the number of Indian people living in Singapore is relatively small, there are quite a few other Indian languages spoken on the territory of Singapore.

While the state recognizes the only Indian language, Tamil as the official language, some schools also offer other languages like Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi, and Urdu.

The Tamil language uses a non-Latin script, also known as Tamil script – a writing system in which consequences of vowels and consonants gets written as a unit.

Tamil language spoken in Singapore


2. English – the language of business in Singapore

English is the most widely spoken language in Singapore, primarily by the population below the age of 50. What’s more, it is the main medium of instruction of schools, the government and the business.

English languages spoken in Singapore


The English spoken in Singapore, based on the British variety, widely accepted and has remained as a legacy from the British colonization from the 19th century.

Languages spoken in Singapore [Updated 2021] Click To Tweet

Moreover, any major ethnic group does not English. Indeed, its purpose is to unite the multilingual population of Singapore.

Since English, widely accepted around the world as the language of business, administration, science, and technology, Singapore relies on it to attract foreign investors and experts.

In recent years the number of English speakers in Singapore has grown exponentially making it one of the leading Asian countries. Indeed, a recent report claims that around 70% of Singaporeans speak English at home.

What’s more, the bilingual educational policy of Singapore ensures that children learn both English and their mother tongue (either Chinese, Tamil, or Malay) at an advanced level.

According to EF English Proficiency Index Singapore is in the top 10 of the countries with the highest proficiency in the world.

In Asia, the city-state is the only country deemed to have “very high English proficiency”.

    3. Singlish – the native language of Singapore

    How do you know if a person is a true, native Singaporean?

    Believe it or not, Singlish got established as the language spoken in informal, everyday situations and is often considered as a mark for a native Singaporean.

    Singlish - the native language of Singapore


    Singlish is a creole – a combination of English and different Singaporean dialects. It’s characterized by its distinct accent and the use of the Latin alphabet.

    Singlish is a creole – a combination of English and different Singaporean dialects. It's characterized by its distinct accent and the use of the Latin alphabet. Click To Tweet

    What’s more, Singlish tends to ignore English grammar rules and uses only a few, most essential English words while the majority of its vocabulary gets mistakenly comprised of slang and colloquial expressions from the local Singaporean dialects.

    Be careful, however, because Singlish should not mistake as Standard Singaporean English.

    While the latter, an officially recognized English variety, Singlish, so to say, its colloquial version. You can write, but it gets more frequently used in informal situations.

    How many people speak Singlish?

    There are no exact statistics on how many people in Singapore can speak Singlish.

    Even teachers tend to use both Standard English and Singlish in class since this colloquial version, well-accepted among the younger people.

    What’s more, experts suppose that all Singaporeans know and use Singlish daily, however, there is no data to support this claim.

    Singlish is a central part of the Singaporean national heritage. Nevertheless, its usage gets limited only to everyday situations and gets excluded from business and formal settings.

    Moreover, the government overtly promotes the use of Standard English over Singlish. Thus, the local language cannot be found on television or radio.

    Still, you can notice an interest in Singlish despite the government’s attempts to eliminate it. More and more Singaporeans begin to embrace Singlish as an identity marker.

    As a result, many people nowadays are able to code-switch between Standard Singaporean English and Singlish depending on the type of situation.


    4. Bilingualism in Singapore

    Truly fascinating how diverse the languages spoken in Singapore. This many languages existing in one place, however, inevitably lead to multilingualism.

    Bilingualism in Singapore

    In fact, most Singaporeans are bilingual. Most people in Singapore speak English since it gets used by the educational and governmental institutions as well as their mother tongue which corresponds to their race.

    Interestingly, it is mandatory for Singaporean people to register their race as well as their native language when they enrol in schools.

    In addition, the country openly promotes multilingualism. Besides the 4 four official languages of the state, Singaporean schools also offer lessons in third languages such as Bahasa Indonesian, Arabic, Japanese, French, German and Spanish.

    It seems that even from an economic perspective, multilingualism is a must. The top 5 trade partners of Singapore are China, Hong Kong, the US, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

    You will be surprised to learn that all of these countries speak at least one of the 4 official languages of Singapore.


    5. Other foreign languages spoken in Singapore

    Singapore is a megapolis and its population is incredibly multicultural. Generally, the Singaporean population, comprised of four main ethnic groups:

    • Chinese (74.3%)
    • Malay (13.4%) which includes Malay and Indonesian people.
    • Indian (9%) includes Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Sri Lankan.
    • other (3.2%) which includes Eurasians, Caucasians, Japanese, Filipino and Vietnamese people.

    These four general ethnic groups represent the four official languages of the state – Chinese, Malay, Tamil, and English. However, Singapore’s multicultural population is equally diverse in terms of languages.

    What’s more, the megapolis is home to over 1.6 million people who are non-residents. The non-resident population of Singapore includes people who are working or studying in the state but do not have permanent residence.

    The main source for immigrants are Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Indonesia and to a much less extent, Europe. The more common foreign languages spoken in Singapore:

    • French
    • German
    • Japanese
    • Arabic

    While Tamil represents the mother tongue of the Indian community, special centers outside of the schools offer lessons in other Indian languages widely spoken in Singapore. These are:

    • Hindi
    • Panjabi
    • Bengali
    • Urdu
    • Bengali
    • Gujarati

      To conclude

      Now you have a clear idea about the languages of Singapore. As you can see this modern megapolis, united by English, however, the other three official languages – Malay, Tamil, and Mandarin – are representative of the major ethnic groups in the megacity.

      Singlish, on the other hand, has no official status. Yet it gets used by the native Singaporean people on daily basis.

      This incredible linguistic diversity has undergone certain changes in the past, however, it is very unlikely to die out.

      Indeed, the government’s attempts to promote multilingualism among younger people indicate that even in the distant future Singapore will remain as linguistically diverse as it has always been!


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