Languages in Malaysia

The Golden Chersonese was the term used by ancient Greek and Roman geographers for peninsular Malaysia, and over the years, the gold has been refined with the immersing of various cultures, religions, races, and even languages.

Being a major transit sea-way through the Straits of Malacca, there was an intermingling of languages with Sanskrit, Tamil, Dutch, Portuguese, English, Arabic, Hokkien, and Hindi, which coincidentally, is what the national language of Malaysia (Malay) is made up from.

Malay

Malay, or known officially in Malaysia as Bahasa Malaysia, is a major language in the Southeast Asian region and has over 250 million speakers. It has official status in Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, and Indonesia, and is also a major language in eastern Thailand, East Timor, & Cocos (Keeling) Island.

Though not used often in the business environment, learning Malay will help you assimilate into the local culture as locals will appreciate your efforts in trying to speak to them in their local language and may open a few doors to you personally or even professionally. This is true especially in the rural areas of Malaysia or even Indonesia where those who understand English are severely limited. Do note that most road signs and public signboards are in Malay so learning simple Malay can assist you greatly when you are driving or seeking directions.

Mandarin

As a major language not only for Malaysian Chinese but also growing in the international sphere, Mandarin is spoken and/or understood by 93% of ethnic Chinese families in Malaysia and there is a growing number of non-Malaysian Chinese who are beginning to take up the language due to the influence of Chinese Medium schools in Malaysia. Pop culture also plays a role due to major Taiwan artistes and movies.

Tamil

Most of the Indian migrants to Malaysia in the 19th and 20th centuries were mainly from south India with Tamil being the major language from that area. Most Malaysian Indians speak and understand the language with again pop culture being a major influence especially Tamil cinema from India. There are over 500 Tamil medium schools in Malaysia but the younger generation has started to shift to English and Malay in recent years.

Manglish

No, the above is not a typo. Manglish or Mangled English is An English-based creole spoken in Malaysia with English, Malay, Hokkien, Cantonese, Tamil, and a few other Asian languages blended together.

Manglish is closely related to Singlish which is the creole spoken in Singapore and can a source of confusion and curiosity especially for those unfamiliar to it.

Below is a fun comparison that can help you understand Manglish better:

Manglish English Example
Mat Salleh Caucasian He is a Mat Salleh from the UK
Fuyoh To express astonishment Fuyoh! That’s an awesome picture!
Half-past six Below average It was a half-past six job.
Syiok! Satisfaction / Delicious Syiok-lah this durian!
Gostan To reverse Be careful when you gostan your car ok?
Lah Slang. Malaysian/ Singaporean colloqial language. A suffix to place emphasis on the sentence/word before A: How are you?
B: I’m okay lah.
Where got Used as a literal translation from the Malay word ‘ada’ Where got? (To deny something, as in Malay “Mana ada?”)
One Used as an emphasis at the end of a sentence. A: Do you think it can be done?
B: Sure can one.
Can (or not) To denotes possibility I wanna go shopping, can or not?
Boss A common form of address, particularly in eateries Boss, teh tarik one.
Uncle/auntie An informal but respectful term for someone elderly Good morning uncle.

Written by: Jeremy, Relocation Consultant at Pathfinder Relocation Services