Am currently in Singapore and happened to tune into a talk-show, discussing the virtues of Singlish. The panel was made up of 3 gwailos and 2 locals. The show started off by asking whether singlish is an acceptable language and the locals defended it as useful for communication in Singapore. The bigger question was whether Singaporeans are able to switch from Singlish back to the Queen’s English, when required. I speak Manglish, which is similar to Singlish and have no problems switching to proper English when required. I thought everyone was the same, until I heard one of the locals speak. Although she spoke with proper grammar and used appropriate words, what gave it away was her accent. It was thick Singaporean accent! It was quite a defining moment as I never knew there was a distinctive Singaporean or Malaysian English accent.
One of the gwailo host, who has lived in Singapore for many years, recounted how when he first arrived, he did not understand what language the locals used. It was English except not the English he knew. My friends in Hong Kong, have pestered me to speak Manglish just for a good laugh. It cannot be turned on or off but put me with a fellow Malaysian or Singaporean and it comes out without hesitation.
My mother was an English teacher and pride herself in making sure that her children all spoke proper English. I thought I spoke proper English, until I moved to Hong Kong. Others could not understand Manglish, so I was forced to speak proper English (without accent) all the time. I used the word “forced” because it required effort to pronounce words completely and not resort to short-form or Bahasa, every now and then. Manglish has mangled the English language, so much so that we have invented words that don’t exist in the Dictionary, like “gostan” or my favorite expression “die-die” (which means, there is no choice it has to be done).
At the end of the day, language is a means of communication. If both side understand each other, than the communication was effective. So when in Singapore, speak Singlish.