Comment: Is it okay to speak a language other than English at work?


SINGAPORE: The online retailer, Shopee came under fire Recently, allegations of discrimination and a toxic work culture have surfaced on social media. One of the complaints was that Chinese was spoken in meetings or used in internal documents, according to a Glassdoor review.

Since 1966, Singapore’s bilingual policy has required that all students in national schools learn English as their first language in addition to an official mother tongue as a second language.

The bilingualism policy has successfully turned Singapore into a source of economic power and shaped the dominance of the language domestically as well. Census information shows that English was the most widely spoken language at home for nearly half of Singapore’s residents.

Another study published in 2020 by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) on Race, Religion, and Language found that in 2018, up to 71 percent of respondents from different ethnic groups said that interethnic interactions in public spaces should be in English.

English as the preferred language in the workplace is not a sure-fire success, but complaints still arise from time to time.


To illustrate when using non-English in the workplace can be problematic, we can use two common scenarios.

The first goes something like this: There is a team of four engineers with three foreigners of the same nationality. They brainstorm or chat in the office in their own language and only speak English if they give their local teammate the necessary information.

The second scenario is when a department meeting is still starting and a group of managers are speaking animatedly in a non-English language. And because the majority belong to an ethnic group, during the meeting the participants sometimes use a word without translation here or there.


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