6 Common Phrases Used in Singapore Schools

Heard by students from a teacher’s perspective

With the fast pace of Singapore life, school is no different. How can students quickly and efficiently communicate with teachers in the classroom? These 6 examples are short and straight to the point: (but some are grammatically incorrect).

1. Can go (to the) toilet?

There are a few problems with the way this is expressed. To begin with it should really be “May I go to the toilet?” However given that the question “Can go to toilet?” is rarely expressed with the correct intonation, it often comes out as a statement that the student is able to go to the toilet. Or in other words “I am now able to go to the toilet on my own”. For which one could respond with “Well done!”

Intonation is very important in forming questions in English. A rising pitch is applied to the end of questions that can be answered by yes or no.

Also if it was “Can I go to the toilet?” with the correct intonation, then this could be answered with “I don’t know, can you?”. This is because “Can I?”/”Yes, you can,” refers to ability and only says that it’s possible (i.e., that you have the physical ability to go the bathroom). “May” asks for and grants permission.

How it should be expressed: “May I go to the toilet?”

2. How to write?

Do you mean how you should hold and write with a pen? No. The actual request is for assistance in writing the content.

holdpen

More on how to actually write with a pen here

How it should be expressed: “What should I write?”

3. I haven’t write finish

This is a literal translation of the Chinese phrase: 我还没有写完 (wo3 hai2 mei3 you3 xie3 wan2). This phrase is used word for word exactly how it is sequenced in Chinese Mandarin. Unfortunately the English grammar is incorrect.

How it should be expressed: “I haven’t finished writing”

4. For what?

This is a literal translation of the Chinese phrase: 为什么?(Wei4 shen3 me4). The Chinese word for ‘what’ comes after the word for ‘for’.

Often the rising pitch is not applied for this question, and so this phrase does come across in a very indignant manner.

How it should be expressed: “What for?” or “Why do you want me to do this?”

5. Do what?

This is a literal translation of the Chinese phrase: 做什么?(Zuo4 shen3 me4).

How it should be expressed: “What do you want me to do?” or “What would you like me to do?”

6. Huh? (ar?) (ah?) (har?)

ah

Why Singlish is So Efficient

How it should be expressed: “What did you say?”

 

 

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