The use of Singlish is a somewhat contentious issue in Singapore.

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While many Singaporeans think that it is an inalienable part of the Singaporean culture and identity, a few others think that it’s an impediment to speaking good English.

As for foreigners — not that we need recognition or appreciation from them for our local lingo — Singlish can be rather unintelligible at times.

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Others think it’s cool.

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As for 22-year-old Clarie Ng who is currently attending Cornell University in the United States, although she used to feel “embarrassed” speaking in a Singaporean accent in front of her American peers, she grew to love the accent in time as it reminded her of home.

She crystallised her thoughts in an essay published in The Overseas Singaporean Unit (OSU) on September 21 this year.

Here’s a summary of her account:

Felt hesitant speaking it at first

Ng said she noticed the “jarring” difference in accent when she attended an orientation programme after she first arrived in the U.S..

She also recalled a time when an Asian American graduate student told her he thought the Singaporean accent is “unattractive”.

“… he exclaimed with much astonishment, “Wow, I couldn’t tell at all that you’re from Singapore! It’s a relief that you don’t carry that unattractive accent.”

This conversation left me with a bitter taste that impacted the way I carried myself throughout freshman year.”

She ended up spending most of her time with a fellow Singaporean student, and avoided speaking in class and meeting new people.

Learnt to speak with an American accent

Later, Ng said she tried to drop her Singaporean accent and speak with an American one.

The “transition was smoother” than she expected, and she said she could now “speak fluent American English” with her western peers.

Grew to love the Singaporean accent

However, Ng said although she was afraid of “[sacrificing] her identity” if she dropped her natural accent, she was relieved when she realised that her identity as a Singaporean and her pride for her country was not diminished at all.

Rather, she found that using the American accent further “cemented [her] confidence” in who she is.

Ng turned the use of an American accent to her favour.

“Adopting the American accent in place of my Singaporean one in fact strengthened my love for my country as it gave me more opportunities and confidence in sharing my culture with my professors, classmates, and even at parties.

The pride shines through with every self-introduction I make – “Hi, my name is Clarie and I am an international student from Singapore”.

I realised I did not have to speak in an accent to prove my love for my country.”

She added that when she looked back at the dilemma she went through, she realised it was a common one that “every Singaporean who goes abroad will likely face”.

To her,”adopting another accent to adapt to new surroundings is a survival trait”, and that no matter what accent she chooses to speak with, it does not change who she is.

Ultimately, Ng paid homage to the Singaporean accent as it reminded her of home, which shaped who she is today. 

On the streets of a foreign country, our familiar accent rings loud and clear amongst the crowd. An irrational pride from hearing the familiar “lah”, or “waTER”, or someone calling a line a queue now overshadows any embarrassment I’d initially felt when I first came to America.

You find yourself turning around to put a face to that voice. You realise that even a complete stranger sharing the same tongue can bring you a pang of warmth that suffuses your entire body.


You can read the full story here.

Top image via Overseas Singaporean Unit