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Formal or informal? Part 2

In Part 1, we talk about the importance of continuous learning of proper English / Chinese Language so that we can excel in school. So, should we start speaking alien language to our family and friends?


Imagine you are hungry and you tell your grandmother, “I am famished.” I bet the first answer from your grandmother is “Huh? What?”

For Chinese Language, we learn in school, cold is 冷, hot is 热。But if you want to order a hot barley from hawker centre (in Singapore), you say “barley, 热.”, and you will get a question from the uncle “冷的,还是烧的?” You thought you have said it correctly, but the uncle just does not understand “热”, and you need to answer his question with “烧的。”

A toddler has limited vocabulary, if you tell him / her that you are bringing him / her for “散步”, he / she will look at you blankly. Instead, “我们去走走。” will get him / her excited and wanting to go out with you.

Therefore, we should use either formal or informal language depending on the person and the situation. It is useless and pointless to speak proper English / Chinese Language to a person who just does not understand.

Another example, in Singapore, there is Singlish, which can be categorized under the informal language. Consider the following conversation between two friends:

Case 1

John: Is it raining?
Kenny: No lah, just some water drops from the tree.
John: Faster lah, you are wasting my time leh.
Kenny: Coming!

Case 2

John: Is it raining?
Kenny: No, it isn’t, it is just some water drops from the tree.
John: Please be fast, you are wasting my time.
Kenny: Coming!

If you are a passer-by and you overhear the conversation between John and Kenny. For case 1, you will think that they are close friends who can tease each other and play together. For case 2, you will think that they are just casual acquaintances.

Imagine you are in Paris and suddenly you hear someone speaking the oh-so-familiar Singlish, you will be very happy to find someone who speak your language, finally. Speaking Singlish is a sense of identity and familiarity.  

Thus, we can still continue to speak informal language with our family and friends. It is not wrong to use informal language outside of the school. We just need to have a button to switch to formal or informal language whenever we speak 🙂

Formal or informal? Part 1

Students who grow up in English-speaking family usually face the problem of not catching up with English syllabus at school after lower primary. Similarly, students who grow up in Chinese-speaking family usually face the problem of not catching up with Chinese syllabus at school after lower primary.


It is because there are differences between languages used at home and at school. Generally, communication language can be divided into formal language and informal language. When we are talking to our family or friends at home or out of school, we use informal language. On the other hand, when we are talking to our superiors, teachers at school or strangers, we tend to use formal language to show our professionalism.

That’s where the problem arises. Consider the following sentences:

At school we learn: Let’s go for a walk after the meal.

At home we speak: Let’s go walk walk after dinner.

The sentences above, both English and Chinese Language, have the same meaning. But if you say the same sentence that you have learnt at school to your grandfather, he may think that you are talking an alien language. Vice versa, if you use the home-speaking style to write a composition for your school homework, you will not get high marks.

Thus, it is important for us to continue learning the formal language at school. We should not feel satisfied when we can speak well in English / Chinese Language at home, because the vocabulary used in daily life is not sufficient for you to be used in school. We do not discuss how the DNA mutates with our parents, unless our parents are lecturers or professionals in Biology. Do keep on learning to improve ourselves.

~ To be continued… ~