Hearing your child utter a ‘lah’ or ‘lor’ at the end of their sentences can be pretty shocking, especially if your child has picked up these terms in the early years! While it is understandable for you to frown and worry that their language development has been affected, here’s what professionals have to say about Singlish. Is Singlish teaching young kids to speak in broken English?
What is Singlish?
Singlish is an informal version of the English language that takes from Chinese and Malay and is primarily used in Singapore. So commonly used, many Singaporeans code-switch between standard English and Singlish without realising it! Some might even claim that Singlish is the first language of the younger generation in Singapore – showing just how apparent this colloquial English is used.
Why does my child use Singlish?
When living in Singapore, there’s a big chance that your child will use Singlish even if you don’t speak any Singlish at home. That’s because, conscious or not, children start to use local dialects to fit into their school environment, building relationships with their peers who use Singlish. On top of that, since your child spends a huge fraction of their time in school, it doesn’t take long for them to pick up the local dialect.
For kids, speaking a dialect can grant them membership into a friendship group or social activities. It’s an excellent way for them to enter an unfamiliar environment and gives them a tool for communication with others.
Is Singlish bad for my child’s English skills?
As a dialect, Singlish has a different set of grammatical rules from the English language. In fact, Singlish has often been labelled as ‘broken’ or ‘bad’ English. Linguists used to think of non-standard dialects such as Singlish would lead to a drop in proficiency for standard English. But, currently, Linguists have taken a new perspective to Singlish as a variety of English, evolved out of Singapore’s unique multi-ethnic environment.
Should I be worried that my child is speaking Singlish?
Fret not, because research has proven that children can learn two forms of a single language. That means learning English along with a dialect of it (Singlish) is very much possible for your young ones! As dialects have their own rules, we can say that Singlish has just as much grammatical structure as standard English. Instead of a ‘bad version’ of the standard language, we can see Singlish as a separate linguistic system.
Singlish is a language that your child cannot avoid because language is a way to culturally identify themselves to other people. While there are many arguments on whether you should be worried if your child is speaking Singlish, let your little ones know the proper distinction of when ‘English’ is ‘Singlish’. Below are some approaches you can take when talking to your kids about language use.
1. Be a good role model
As a parent, it’s best to set a good example. When the need arises to use standard English, for instance, going through their homework with them, be sure to use standard English and encourage them to do the same. Kids pick up the easiest things through modelling. As such, show them when is conversing in standard English is better for their learning.
2. Explain with patience
Research shows that a child typically needs to have their mistake corrected at least 20 times before they fully internalise the error. If you find your child confused between Singlish and English vocabulary, it’s best to correct the use of language calmly and explain why there’s a mistake. This is especially the case for code-switching, which often occurs without the speaker’s knowledge.
3. Share the meaning of the Singlish terms
Often, Singlish comprises of borrowed words from Malay and Chinese. But, without knowing which words are borrowed, your child can very well make the mistake of confusing Singlish as standard English! With that, it’s helpful to share the meaning behind the Singlish terms and which languages the terms are borrowed from.
There’s a wide variety of dialects at international schools in Singapore because of just how diverse the community is. Rather than seeing this occurrence as a challenge, the best IB schools celebrate diversity and allow students to learn from it. To find out how each school promotes language learning, be sure to enquire for an open house today.