Raising a Singaporean Kid (Singlish Wise)

It’s time to face the truth – after more than 6 years of trying to avoid the inevitable, I declare the battle lost. Matthew is a (chop + stamp + guarantee) Singaporean kid. And Megan is on the way of becoming one as well.

The proof is not just on his birth certificate nor passport. Those are just documents. The unmistakable proof is in his use of Singlish (Singaporean’s unique blend of English, Mother Tongues and dialects).

I tried. I really tried very hard, making conscious efforts to switch to proper English when talking to the kids. Then I switch between the more comfortable, relaxed and simplified Singlish, proper English or Mandarin when I converse with the Man. At the end of a long tiring day at work, I just want to be comfortable. And what better way to do it than to disregard the rules of proper English and get messages across in a simple way using Singlish?

Being the only (conscious and conscientious) advocate of speaking proper English to the kids, I didn’t succeed. Constantly correcting the kids’ English helped delay the conversion of my kids to true, blue Singaporeans but it didn’t stop the conversion. Now, I’m not a prude and turning a snobbish nose up on my Singaporean roots; in fact I’m proud of being a Singaporean. I just want my kids to delay the use of Singlish until they know exactly when to switch between English and Singlish according to the situation.

Looking on the bright side though, I must say that the kids have grasped the concept of using Singlish pretty well. Although Singlish is not difficult to master, especially when you have been staying in Singapore for an extended period of time, getting the spirit and essence (read: oomph) of Singlish right is not that easy. It involves more than just adding the “lahs and lors” to the end of sentences. The tone and pitch matter too.

Megan does her “lahs” pretty well, and she does it with the satirical tone as “lah” is usually meant to carry.

Both kids tend to use a lot of “got” in their sentences, e.g. “I got eat vegetables!” instead of “I ate vegetables” or “I do eat vegetables”. They “got do this and that” most of the time, and I tear my hair out trying to correct each and single time they use “got”.

Then comes the “meh”. Unlike the milder “lah or lor”, “meh” tends to be used at the end of a sentence in a vehement way. And unbeknownst to us, Matthew has perfected the use of “meh”.

We were on the way to school one morning, and all of us were quiet, lost in our own thoughts or torpor. Suddenly, Matthew exclaimed “the poster was there meh?! How come I never see it?”, jolting the rest of us to attention.

Huh? What poster? What did he see? And more importantly, Did he just use meh in a Singlish sentence perfectly? Who could he have picked it up from? And at that precise moment of realisation, I conceded defeat.

Nevertheless, I will continue to guide the kids to use proper English whenever I can. But I can relax now that I cannot prevent the inevitable. Welcome to the club, my darlings…


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