Learning the local language of a country you are going to visit is always helpful. Not only is it impressive, the locals will also appreciate the extra effort you as a tourist took to increase your immersion into the local culture. Here are some key phrasings in Malaysia‘s national language, Malay.
Similar but not immediately equivalent to Indonesian, Malay is a fairly simple language—no guttural or tonal rules to follow. Speaking informally is more common, so do not get flustered if you find some rather short, boisterous phrases directed at you. Just remember that ‘a’ is pronounced like ‘ah’ as in ‘water’.
Berapa (Ber-ra-pa) – How much?
This is the most necessary word for dealing with money. Simply add the word ‘ni’ at the beginning of ‘berapa’ to form ‘how much is this?’ (Ni berapa?) You might get a numeric response in Malay, but given that the value of many things can be counted on one hand and provided on signboards, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
Maafkan saya – Excuse me/pardon me/forgive me
An essential phrase for making your way through crowded trains and congested night markets. It can also be used as a polite opener should you need to establish a connection or inquire about something. ‘Maaf’ by itself translates into ‘sorry’, which works as a quick, informal alternative.
Tolong – Please/Help
Add this phrase to your questions as a polite but gentle indicator of a pressing urgency. Again, the use of tones in Malay functions the same way as English, so keep an ear out for urgent or polite friendly tones. If you want to use please as in ‘please sit down’, use ‘jemput’ instead of please for help.
Terima kasih – Thank you
Always remember to remain courteous and say thank you after receiving any kind of service or help.
Jangan – Don’t
If for any reason you happen to find yourself in an unwanted situation which a simple ‘No thank you’ (Tidak, terima kasih) can’t solve, ‘jangan’ serves as the next best thing. This word appears on many of the warning signs, along with ‘Awas’ (danger) and ‘Perhatian’ (attention), so it’s best to make a note of this to avoid any unwanted mishaps.
Di mana – Where
This should be part of every tourist’s arsenal. As soon as you touch down somewhere, you will definitely be asking where essentials like the taxi stand, the train station or the toilet is.
Ya/tidak – Yes/No
Of course you need to know how to say yes and no. The phrasing of ‘no’ changes slightly if you want to convey a ‘no thank you’, for this use: ‘tak apa‘. For ‘yes please’, simply combine yes and please to get the equivalent context across.
Sedap – Tasty
Pay compliments where they are due – and be aware that as a foreign tourist, you are going to be asked ‘Do you like [food dish]?’ a lot.
Murah sikit boleh – Can you go cheaper?
Do you dare to put your haggling skills to the test? The prices of practically anything sold at a stall can be haggled, with the one golden exception of food. Stall food is already as cheap as it can get, but haggling for trinkets can get a little wonky, so shop smart and learn how to say no if the vendor gets a little too pushy.
Selamat jalan – Safe journey/ Goodbye
When alighting from taxis, Ubers or GrabCars, or even thanking your pizza delivery man, be sure to say this sweet parting phrase to make sure they know their efforts are realised and worth it.
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