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 not coincidentally is what the current national language of Malaysia – Malay, is made up from.


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.


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.


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 have started to shift to English and Malay in recent years.


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 That Mat Salleh cun-lah
Fuyoh To express astonishment Fuyoh! Damn terrer lah that driver
Half-past six Below average That referee real half-past six lah
Shiok Satisfaction Shiok-lah this durian!
Abuden “Wasn’t that obvious?” Abuden, in zoo got monkey what
Gostan To reverse Be careful when you gostan your car ok?
Lah Used to affirm a statement (similar to “of course”). Come on lah! Faster!
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. Why is he so naughty one (ah)?
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 anyone older than you Good morning uncle.

Written by: Jeremy, Relocation Consultant at Pathfinder Relocation Services