Do Singaporeans speak Cantonese
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Do Singaporeans speak Cantonese?

With its multilingual communities, it’s hardly surprising that some Singaporeans speak Cantonese. The diversity in languages and culture of Singapore helps old traditions thrive and be preserved, after all.

Even if some Singaporeans sound British, there are still many of them who can speak Cantonese.

How many Singaporeans speak Cantonese?

How many Singaporeans speak Cantonese

At the moment, there is an estimated 133,000 Singaporeans who can speak fluent Cantonese. That’s equivalent to around four in a hundred Singaporeans.

There were more Cantonese speakers a couple of decades ago (more on that in a bit). 

The dialect is still quite evident in establishments that use them. You don’t have to look far; just take a look at the menus of dim sum restaurants!

Today, though, those who want to learn the intricacies of this Sinitic language might have to learn them from skilled Chinese tutors in Singapore. Conversational Cantonese courses are also offered by special language centres in the country. 

Mandarin is the official Singaporean Chinese language

Mandarin is the official Singaporean Chinese language

Today, there are plenty of Singaporeans who speak Mandarin. Around 35% of Singaporeans speak it, with 13% more who use other Chinese languages (including Cantonese).

More Singaporeans speak English, which is the most widely spoken language in the country. However, Mandarin comes in second place since it’s also a frequently utilised global business language. 

Mandarin is regarded as the official Singaporean Chinese language, as well.

But while Cantonese isn’t part of the four official languages of Singapore, it nevertheless has influences on Mandarin and other Chinese languages and forms of communication. 

Most Singaporean Chinese 50 years old and above can speak Cantonese

Most Singaporean Chinese 50 years old and above can speak Cantonese

As previously mentioned, Singaporeans who are fifty years old and above were likely part of the hundreds of thousands of Cantonese speakers in the country a few decades ago. 

Not all of them can be found in nursing homes in Singapore, but they do represent mostly the elderly population today.

The Speak Mandarin Campaign of 1979 watered down the rest of the Chinese languages spoken in the country. And when English became Singapore’s main language, even fewer people kept using Cantonese to communicate with others.

Some Gen-Xers and Millennials who grew up with Cantonese parents or grandparents may speak a bit of it due to their exposure to the language. But those of retirement planning age are typically the ones who are fluent in Cantonese.

There were an estimated 400,000 Cantonese speakers in the 1970s

There were an estimated 400,000 Cantonese speakers in the 1970s

Before the Speak Mandarin Campaign was launched, nearly 400,000 Singaporean Chinese were believed to have used Cantonese to communicate with one another. 

Though Singaporean immigrants from South China spoke Cantonese and a host of other dialects, Mandarin paved the way for a standardised form of Singaporean Chinese. Words were simplified and became unique to Singapore.

Still, Chinatown bears unmistakable traces of the Cantonese influences in shop names, decorations, clothing, architecture, and even the food being offered there. 

And the Chinese New Year traditions and customs in Singapore also carry traits of Cantonese culture.