Expat shares 'hardest Singlish phrase' she's come across since moving here

The New Paper
November 9 , 2023

An American expat has gone on TikTok to talk about what she termed as the “hardest Singlish phrase”.

In a video, Jenna, who moved from Montana 10 months ago, recounts how she went for a medical appointment after a few weeks in Singapore: “I check in on time, and then the receptionist says, ‘Please go have a seat and wait a while. The nurse will be out to collect you.’ And she’s smiling as she says this.”

At this point, Jenna is “flabbergasted” that the receptionist said that “with a smile on her face”. 

“Doesn’t she understand what she just said?”, she asks.

After about 30 seconds, the nurse calls Jenna, so she tells viewers with a laugh: “That wasn’t a while, that was a moment!” 

She then points out the difference between American English and Singaporean English: “In the US, if you were to say you need to wait for an indefinite amount of time and that time is going to be short, you would say, ‘Wait a moment’, but if you’re going to be waiting for a long time… you would say wait a while and you would probably also apologise after you said it.”

Jenna then goes on to say that she has had to get used to the fact that “wait a while” does not mean that she has to wait for a long time, but a short amount of time.

She ends the video by pointing out that she’s not had to wait a long time for most appointments here and then asks what the actual phrase for “wait a while” in Singlish is. 

“If you know, let me know in the comments,” she says.

@yay4jenna #singlish #english phrases in #singapore ive struggled with as an #expat ♬ original sound - Jenna

Netizens were generally sympathetic to Jenna, with some pointing out the language nuances.

“Our English is all over the place. Sometimes it’s just that inconsistent. You’ll get used to it soon enough, or a while,” joked one user.

“It’s more of the tone when the ‘awhile’ is used. If it’s like ‘wait awhile ah!’ That’s like long! If it’s more rhythmic ‘wait a while ah’ that’s short,” wrote someone else.

“‘Wait a moment’, I literally expect seconds. Same as ‘give me a sec’,” read another comment.

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