Posted by: y4ku24 | July 7, 2009

Malay Language/Bahasa Malaysia 101

It is quite a shock to me, but I have been getting viewers on a daily basis to my ‘Let’s learn the Scottish accent/slang!’ entry since it first came out. Though I am not sure whether it helps or not, I guess rather than promoting a foreign language, I might as well promote my very own native language, which is Malay or Bahasa Malaysia, as we Malaysians call it.

As some of you may know already, since Malaysia and Indonesia are neighbors to each other, Malay and Indonesian language are very similar in terms of grammar, pronunciation and also the vocabularies. In a sense, if you learn either, you get both! A 2-in-1 deal! There are some dialects/accents that are different of course, but if you learn the basics of either, it is not hard to understand the other.

Interested in learning our language? Very good!

A very nice book on language

A very nice book on language

Barry Farber, the author of a book called ‘How to learn any language’, who himself learns foreign language as a hobby and has 25 languages up his sleeves stated that Malay/Indonesian language is one of the EASIEST language on earth. How about that for encouragement from a pro!

I wrote this entry especially for foreigners who have the intention of coming to Malaysia someday, or who are just interested in our language and culture (thank you!). Hopefully it will become useful when you visit our beautiful country!

Please know that I am not a language teacher, but I am keen on sharing my language and country’s culture with all of you. I wouldn’t like you to just memorize the words (there are many websites for that), but at the same time I will try to explain some tips that might help you along the way.

That being said, let’s learn some Malay!

Tips #1 Yes, we use roman alphabets!

Before the roman alphabets, we used to write with arabic alphabets. How it changed is a long story, but to make it short, currently we are using the roman alphabets from A-Z (all 26 letters), with no additional letters whatsoever! To make things even easier, we pronounce the letters as it is!

For instance, in Malay we write coffee with a ‘k’, that is ‘kopi‘. This makes sense, since ‘c’ makes a ‘che’ sound, so in Malay, it is used only as such.

Tips #2 Know how to pronounce our ‘e’s.

This is a problem among foreigners. We have two pronunciation for our ‘e’s. One in pronounced as the ‘e’ in boxer (without the ‘r’ at the back), and one is pronounced as the ‘e’ in extra. Sadly there is no rule on how to differentiate when to pronounce which, but out of these two, the first one is commonly used. You will have to keep your ears open during your visit to know when the later ‘e’ is used! Or if you are just learning the language, maybe an audio assistance can help you on this.

Concerning this, usually foreigners make mistakes of saying things like ‘Selamat pagi’ (our good morning greeting) using the later ‘e’ pronunciation. Of course it is not a huge mistake and people will fully understand it, but the proper pronunciation indicates that you go that extra mile to make it sound correct. Some people (like myself) will appreciate the effort!

As in English, selamat in the above paragraph means ‘peace’ (nearly similar to ‘good’), and pagi means ‘morning’. Thus, if you happen to know the other words associated with the day such as afternoon (tengah hari, with the common ‘e’), night (malam) and evening (petang, also common ‘e’), just by adding selamat in front will form the greetings of the day!

Tips #3 Thank you in Malay.

I especially love this word, and I want to share it with all of you why I love it! The word ‘thank you’ in Malay is ‘Terima kasih’ (again, common ‘e’). Terimakasih loosely means ‘love’ (towards common people, not a specific individual. We have another word for that!). Put it together and you get ‘receive love’. What’s so beautiful about this is that, when somebody does you a favour, or helped you with something, as a sign of gratitude, you say to him/her ‘Please receive my love’, i.e. terima kasih! And the reply for this is ‘sama-sama’, which loosely translate as ‘the same goes for you’, i.e. let’s be kind to each other! Beautiful phrase, huh? literally means ‘receive’, and

Tips #4 When asking.

We have our own style of words to use when asking. In English speaking countries they use ‘excuse me, …’, in Japan they use ‘sumimasen, …’ (which means ‘I’m sorry’) before asking a question, but in Malaysia we usetumpang tanya, …, somewhat like ‘may I lend a question?’ Strange that we use the word ‘tumpang‘/lend, but that is what we use before asking something. Try to remember this, it might come in handy. If you use these phrase, people will not feel that you are barging in uninvited.

Well, I think that will do for now. If it is useful or have any questions, feel free to give a shout out below! Maybe I will try to continue with this in the future.

Jumpa lagi! (till next time!)




  1. Maaf ye, tumpang lalu.

    Erm, asyik terfikir tentang ‘101’. Kenapa ya apabila tajuk-tajuk begini ada ‘101’ di hujungnya? Apa signifikannya ‘101’ itu?

    Saya fikir yang ‘101’ itu merujuk kepada tambahan 1 kepada 100. Orang lain ada 100, tetapi yang guna 101 ada lebih 1.

    PS: Kirenya kalau orang lain ada 100 tips, kita ada extra 1 sebab kita guna 101. Haih, susah gak nak susun bahasa dengan tatabahasa yang betul.

  2. Thank you for asking. πŸ™‚
    These terms actually are parodies of subject codes in western universities (and maybe high schools too, i am not sure). Usually 101 means that it is the first/basic class of a certain subject, such as thermodynamics 101, fluid mechanics 101. At least that is what I understand and why I use such terms! πŸ˜€
    But your reasoning might be correct too.

  3. salam..

    may Allah bless you and your family. Good luck for your studies br.luqman

    dari kejauhan.

  4. salam Ibnu Salleh. terima kasih kerana menziarah. thank you for the wishes.
    may Allah bless you and your family too. πŸ™‚

  5. Learning Bahasa Malayu is not only getting friends from Malaysia, you can have opportunities to get the friends from Brunei, Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia and also in Southern Thailand. Actually I am in retired ages but owner of Mareeruk Chiangrai school given me a favor to teach English in their school. I am happy with my duties and teaching English and also teaching Bahasa Malaya language.
    Harry S.M
    Mareeruk Chiangrai

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