SINGAPORE: Languages are a funny thing. A word or phrase can mean one thing in one area and the opposite in another. And Singlish (Singapore English), specifically, can be quite challenging to anyone who did not grow up around it.
For an American woman who’s been living in Singapore for less than a year, one phrase in particular has “really troubled” her and has been “hard to get used to hearing.” The culprit is the phrase “wait a while,” as the expectations of how long exactly “a while” should take differ among English speakers. Jenna, who moved from Montana 10 months ago, took to TikTok to document her troubles with “wait a while” this week, drawing sympathetic troubles from many.
She said that she had gone to the doctor for a “very sensitive medical appointment” and after she had checked in with the receptionist at the time of her appointment, she was told, “Okay, please go have a seat. Wait a while and the nurse will be out to collect you.”
Jenna added that the receptionist had been very pleasant toward her, and since the TikToker isn’t “a very confrontational person,” she just went to sit down and wait. “But inside I am flabbergasted,” she said, “that she would say that with a smile on her face. Doesn’t she understand what she just said?”
To her great surprise, no longer than half a minute went by, and Jenna got called by the nurse. “And I am, again, flummoxed. That wasn’t a while; that was a moment!” she laughs. “And that is the difference between American English and Singlish.”
Jenna went on to explain that in the US, when someone needs to wait for an indefinite amount of time—but that time is short—they’re told to “wait a moment.” But for longer waits, say something like half an hour while a doctor attends to other patients, you’ll be told to “wait a while,” often with an apology in advance for the long-ish wait ahead.
Jenna added that her appointments in Singapore have been prompt and that she hasn’t had to wait long until they start. She also asked viewers what the equivalent of the Singlish “wait a while” is and to drop her a comment if people know the answer.
One commenter told her, “To wait a long time we usually would say “u will need to wait for some time.” Some said “wait ah,” means a longer wait. Another warned her, however, that when you’re told “wait long long,” it means “don’t even think about it.” /TISG
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difference between Singlish and standard English: