How to Master Malay Language Effectively

Top 9 Tips For Mastering Malay Language


Learning some rudimentary Bahasa Malaysia (or BM, as the locals call it) will definitely allow you to navigate around town easier, especially since it allows you to understand signboards or ask for directions if you get lost in a rural area where little English is spoken. If you do take the bold step of learning BM, here are the 10 Tips for Mastering Any Language Fast for you, you can do to make the learning process easier:

1. Practise, practise, practise – slowly but surely

Whether you’ve just started, or whether you’ve been learning BM for some time, the best way for you to remember anything is by using the language with the locals. So even if you only know one phrase, like ‘Selamat Pagi’ or ‘Terima Kasih’, find the opportunity to use it with your colleagues, friends or even the office cleaning lady. I personally find that office cleaning ladies tend to have more friendly Malay talks compared to others, as their English proficiency is not there. However, they are my best Malay teachers.

Malaysia with signboard

2. Look out for signboards

As you drive around the city, or when you’re walking, look out for advertisement boards or signboards in Malay. You’ll begin to notice common words like ‘Jalan’, ‘Keluar’, ‘Kedai’ and more. Remember them and do a little research about what they mean. This will help you build your vocabulary faster. I love reading sign boards while I am in MRT, and most of the time, it comes in bilingual (English & Malay).

3. The media is your friend

To see how the Malay is used by the locals, it will really help if you can tune in to a Malay radio station or watch a Malay language programme once in a while. You may not understand everything that’s being said, but you can try in the beginning to pick up keywords that you’ve already learnt.

Language Partner

4. Find a language partner

It will be great if you can find someone else who’s also learning Malay, so you can practice speaking. If you’re not too shy, you can partner up with a native speaker who will be able to guide you and give you the relevant advice you need to improve.

5. Don’t just memorise Malay, live it

Although many students begin studying Malay by memorizing words and grammar rules, eventually you’ll have to leave ‘classroom’ Malay and actually use the language to communicate with others. In this case, the streets are your best teacher. Colloquial Malay is rather different from the formal written style, and the only way to learn it is to socialize with native speakers.

Set Goal

6. Set specific goals

Whether you’re learning Malay by yourself or with a tutor, you have to be specific in what you wish to learn. Setting objectives are even more essential if you’re self learning as there aren’t any external factors to push you on – and this is of course true for all new skills, not just languages. Maybe start with one word a day and keep a log of every new achievement.

7. Try a dictionary or translator app

In this age of smartphones, you can always download an English to Malay and vice versa translation app. It will make a world of a difference, especially if you find yourself lost for words in the middle of a conversation, or need to convey that crucial one word you can’t remember.

8. Practice the language in your daily live

Studying Malay doesn’t have to be serious and intense all the time. As long as you begin to regard it as a relaxing activity, and not make it about academic accomplishment, your mind will begin to absorb more.

It’s also important to remember that you will make mistakes. So If you find yourself buying things at the Pasar Malam or night market and want to try and use your limited Malay, just go ahead. Don’t worry if the vendor looks at you funny. This is the best way to learn.

There will be a million and one reasons to give up your study of Malay, including things like a busy work schedule or the difficulties in grasping Malay grammar. However, if you push through, you’ll find that at a certain point, the language becomes easier.

9. Make it Fun

Search through YouTube or visit a karaoke parlor for songs that you can sing in Malay. Several independent vloggers, as well as commercial local media all, have tried to translate some songs that are well-known from English to Bahasa Malaysia.

Some of these include some Disney classics like ‘Reflection’ from Mulan (Bayang), and even ‘You’ll Be In My Heart’ from Tarzan (Kau Di Hatiku). You will continue singing to the music even without realizing it.

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