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The Malay Language or Bahasa Malaysia ("BM") is taught to all Malaysians in school, though Malaysians may pick up different dialects regionally. All Malaysian schools also require their students to take English as a second language. Mandarin Chinese is widely spoken among the Chinese community of Malaysia, who make up about 25% of the country and Tamil is also widely spoken among the Indian population of Malaysia, who make up 7% of the country.
However as English is widely used in Malaysian cities, do not worry about not knowing local phrases, unless you are heading towards rural areas. Many products on sale in Malaysia have both Malay and English labels on them, though some cottage-industry products might have only Mandarin and/or Malay labels on them. If you are visiting a city with a high Chinese population like Malacca or Penang or intend to bargain at the street markets and stalls, it would be useful to learn some Malay and Mandarin phrases.
Adjectives always follow the noun. For example : kereta (car) and besar (big) together "kereta besar" means a big car, so cantik (nice or beautiful), kereta cantik means nice car, and so on.
In sentence construction, the structure is subject-verb-object: Dia (he / she) suka (loves / likes) membaca (reading) "forum TripAdvisors". Dia suka membaca Forum TripAdvisors = He / She loves reading TripAdvisors Forum.
Usually when greeting a Malay, the traditional greeting is Apa khabar? means "What news", and similar in function to "How are you?", to which the reciprocated reply is Khabar baik - literally translates to "good news" but essentially meaning "I am fine."
Before starting off with some words and phrases, let's look at the general pronounciation guidelines:
a as in car. apa-what: makan- eat
ai as in aisle. kedai-shop; sungai-river
au as in how. pulau-island; jauh- far
This is mentioned as many visitors will be going to Malaysia's beautiful islands and may want to find out if it is far to get there.
c as in chat. capal-sandal; cinta- love
e as in early. membeli - to buy; besar- big
g as in go, and not gem. pergi- go; guru- teacher
gg as in single. ringgit- Malaysian currency denomination; tetangga- household
h as in halt. mahal-expensive; murah-cheap
i as in feet. minum-to drink; lagi- again
j as in judge. jalan- street; juta-million
ng as in singing.sangat-very: bunga-flower
ny as in onion. minyak- petrol/oil; banyak- alot
o as in hop. orang- people; tolong- help
u as in pool. ukiran- carving; minum- to drink (see above for i) .
There is one appendage that is widely used here and expats and even visitors have come to getting used to. It is "lah". Its purpose is purely emphatic e.g. the Chinatown traders may utter, "cannot-lah" when you are trying to bargain.
Many Malaysians use both Malay and English in everyday speaking, even throwing in some words from other languages commonly spoken by the many races here. This mash of different languages is known as Manglish (a mash-up of the word "mangled" with Malay and English). "Lah" is liberally used in Manglish.
Example of Manglish: Semalam, I pergi see show di Saloma, I tell you I jatuh cinta dengan main performer, dia bukan main cute lah. In English: YLast night, I went to see a show at Saloma and I fell in love with the main performer. who is so cute.
Below are some useful phrases which will impress the locals, followed by a few phrases for the food buff so that in ordering chicken, beef is not served up.
So, let start off on a good note: Welcome to Malaysia- Selamat Datang Ke Malaysia.
Good Morning- Selamat Pagi
Good afternoon -Selamat tengah hari
Good evening - Selamat petang
Good night -Selamat malam
Good bye- Selamat tinggal
Jumpa lagi - see you again
Yes- Ya (as in German yes)
No - Tidak
Thank you- Terima kasih (Thank you very much - Terima kasih banyak banyak or in writing ribuan terimakasih)
Please sit down - Sila duduk
Please come in - Sila masuk
Please - Sila
Excuse me- tumpang lalu
I come from - Saya datang dari..
My name is - Nama saya...
What is your name - Siapa nama anda (though in a advertisement with little kids getting to know each other-- the kids asked - apa nama, which is also acceptable)
Can you speak Bahasa Malaysia - Boleh cakap bahasa Melayu
I like it here - Saya suka berada di sini
Where are you going- pergi ke mana
I am going to ..Saya pergi ke....
Turn right -belok kanan : turn left - belok kiri ; go straight - jalan terus
Junction - simpang
Please stop here- Sila berhenti di sini....
How much - Berapa harga
That's too expensive - Mahal sangat (mahal is also the Philippines Tagalog for expensive)
Can you reduce the price - Boleh kurang?
Wait a minute - Tunggu sekejap (usually when the shop assistance has to refer to his/her boss or a senior person)
I would like to change money -Saya hendak tukar duit/wang
Could I make an enquiry - Tumpang tanya (useful if you feel lost)
Where is the toilet - Di mana tandas...?
In the back - di belakang ; over there- di sana ; over here- di sini
What time is it - jam/pukul berapa sekarang?
One thirty or half past one- pukul satu setengah
Quarter past one - pukul satu suku
Quarter to one - Suku sebelum pukul satu
what time does the bus leave -pukul berapa bas bertolak (bus- bas ; plane- kapal terbang ; boat - sampan ; ship- perahu; train - kereta api)
Since you will be bargaining and exchanging money, words for numbers may be helpful:
9 - Sembilan
11 - Sebelas
12- Dua belas
13- Tiga belas
20 - Dua puluh
21- Dua puluh satu
101- Seratus satu
105- Seratus lima
3000- Tiga ribu
3030 - Tiga ribu tiga puluh
3330 - Tiga ribu tiga ratus tiga puluh
Here are some useful words, which could help in moving around
Airport -lapangan terbang
post office - pejabat pos
shop - kedai
money- duit, wang
hour- jam ; minute -minit ; day - hari
week - minggu
Mr- Encik, Tuan
The higher echelon of Malaysian society are given titles of Dato', Datuk, Dato' Seri, Tan Sri or Tun, and they are addressed by their title. Generally, a Datuk's wife is addressed as Datin, the Tan Sri's wife is Puan Sri, and a Tun's wife is Toh Puan. However, husbands are not given courtesy titles and are to be addressed by their own titles, if any, otherwise it is Encik or Tuan.
When you address a significantly older Malay man, you may call him "Pakcik" and a lady "Makcik". Someone obviously younger can be addressed as "Adik". For a man of similar age or slightly older than you, the term would be "Abang" or "Bang" (pronounced "bung"); whereas a slightly older woman would be "Kakak" or more commonly "Kak".
you (to someone the same age- awak, anda or kita) But kita applies in Borneon Malaysia only.
you (formal) encik
he, she- dia
we- kami (excluding the speaker), kita(including the speaker). E.g. Barang kita - if the goods (barang) belongs to both the speaker and the person he/she is talking to-kita is one
what- apa; who-siapa; where(place) - di mana: where(direction)- ke mana; when- bila; why-mengapa; how- bagaimana; mengapa - why; which - yang mana
to eat- makan ; to drink- minum; to sleep - tidur; to bathe- mandi;
And now, to words for food:-
daging - meat
cow - lembu
beef- daging lembu
chicken -ayam (ah-yarm)
fish - ikan (ee-karn)
fried noodles- mee goreng
fried rice- nasi goreng
simmered noddles- mee rebus
salt- garam ; sugar- gula; spicy - pedas
a cup of coffee - kopi satu (black coffee- kopi o ; coffee with milk - kopi susu). If you do not want it sweet- kurang manis, for no sugar- tanpa gula.
a cup of tea - teh satu ( a favourite tea Malaysian like is called teh tarik, and more ginger tea- teh halia)
ice lemon tea - teh o limau (if want ice- teh o ais limau)
water - air (ah-yayr)
Add- tambah (e.g. if you want to add rice - tambah nasi)
big- besar ; small- kecil
Pasar - market
On a final note, since Malaysia was under the British administration, most products have English labels and even food stalls and coffee shops will display their food signs in English.