The early settlers in Singapore came mainly from China, Malaya and India, and today, the population comprises approximately 70% Chinese, 13% Malays and 9% Indians. Because Singapore was a British colony in the 1900s, there is also a Eurasian community in Singapore. Many people from abroad also live and work in Singapore, making it one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. As of 2012, the population stands at 5.18m (singstat.gov.sg), with about 3.79m who are citizens or permanent residents.
Because of the experience with social unrest and rioting in the 1950s and 60s, racial tolerance is highly guarded to safekeep the peace in Singapore, given the cultural and religious diversity. Social harmony is inculcated from a young age in schools where students are exposed to the festivals that the different races celebrate. An equal number of public holidays is also allocated for each race and religion to celebrate important festivals. To promote interaction between races and social cohesion, each public housing block has a cap on the percentage of each race of people living in it.
Schools with English as the medium of instruction were only established when the British arrived in Singapore. The local schools continued to teach in Mother Tongue languages. Because many of the older generation Singaporeans (before the 1950s) did not attend English schools and English was not emphasised in their own schools, Mother Tongue language structures and terms were often integrated into the English that they learnt. This gave rise to Singlish, where English ‘evolved’ with the influence of, especially Mandarin, Hokkien (Chinese dialect) and Malay.
Although English is the medium of instruction in all schools and is the main language in Singapore today, many still converse in their Mother Tongue at home or with friends of the same race because it gives a sense of familiarity. School goers spend about 3 hours a week learning a second language, more often than not, their own Mother Tongue.
Our foreigner friends living here share that at first, they found that the locals speak English (or Singlish) very quickly (some say it seems all the words are strung together forming one very long word) and found it difficult to follow because of the Singlish accent. After a while though, they get the hang of it and Singlish even comes naturally in a conversation with a local.
To watch our Singlish videos, click here.
Singapore is categorised as one of the 4 Asian tigers and is a global leading financial centre. Human resources are highly important for the country because of the lack of natural resources. The focus on this area and the investment policies of the country attract many expatriates to develop their businesses and careers here. Because of the multi-racial society, the locals are generally open to interacting with foreigners.
Work is fast paced and people here generally work long hours. Some local firms mandate a 5.5-day work week while it’s a 5-day work week for others. Because Singapore is fundamentally an Asian country, people do not strongly voice their opinions despite their disagreement. This is somewhat changing as the younger generation is being more exposed to the Western culture.
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- Getting Used to Life in Singapore
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