Useful Malay Phrases Every Expat Family Should Know

Useful Malay Phrases Every Expat Family Should Know
Living in Kuala Lumpur language

Moving to a new country and mastering a new language isn’t easy for everyone. As an expat in Malaysia, it’s handy to know some useful Malay phrases to help you not only feel and become part of the community but also to interact with the local residents.

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Learning Malay and understanding the culture takes time but to get you started, settle in and politely converse with the locals, here are our 10 basic Malay phrases every expat family should know.

Apa khabar = How are you?

Pronounced apah ka-bar, this phrase is not only a conversation opener but checks in with people to ensure they are okay. If you are the receiver of this phrase, a common Malay response is ‘khabar baik’, which translates to ‘good news’ but generally means ‘I’m fine’.

Tolong = Please

Pronounced toh-long, this Malay phrase is a must when asking for anything and shows immense respect. In response, of course, is thank you and we’ll come to that phrase shortly. Tolong can also be used for the word ‘help’; useful when asking for directions.

Berapa = How much

Pronounced be-raa-paa, this phrase is used when you’d like to know the cost of anything, like a coffee or when visiting street markets. In reply, the person can respond by holding up the right number of fingers or, indeed, show you written down on paper or a calculator.

Bolehkah anda berbahasa Inggeris = Can you speak English?

Yes, it’s good to be able to speak Malay with the locals, even if it's only a few words, as it
shows respect. But to have a longer conversation, it’s worth asking this question, which is pronounced bo-LEH-kah ahn-DAH ber-ba-HAH-suh ING-grees, and hopefully, you can revert back to your mother tongue.

Di mana tandas = Where is the toilet?

This phrase, pronounced DEE muh-nuh THAN-das, is a must for all expats arriving in Malaysia as many toilets are in public places. So, if you can’t spot the familiar signs or the toilets, use this Malay phrase and avoid getting lost.

Terima kasih = Thank you

To Malaysians, showing gratitude is very important, which you’ll discover as soon as you step off the plane. Pronounced te-ree-mah ka-she, you’ll be using this appreciation phrase a lot.

Sama-sama = You’re welcome

This phrase, pronounced saa-ma saa-ma, is also used as a term of gratitude. It shows politeness and respect, which is important for the people of Malay. It’s also used as a response to ‘terima kasih’ but you can shorten it to just ‘sama’.

Saya tidak faham = I don’t understand

You may find yourself using this phrase quite a bit when you first arrive in Malaysia, it’s an important one to learn. Although many Malaysians do understand English, if you don’t understand someone, politely say this phrase – pronounced saa-yah tee-dak faa-haam – and they will know you don’t speak the language… yet!

Ya / tidak = Yes and no

You’ll be using these two words frequently throughout the day so commit them to memory, although with constant use, you’ll pick them up quickly. They are pronounced yah and tee-dak.

Selamat tinggal = Goodbye

Despite a lot of Malay people knowing and understanding the English term of ‘bye’, it’s good to be respectful and use the Malay term for goodbye. Pronounced S’LAH-maht TING-gahl, it’s useful having this phrase at hand.

As well as learning the language, it’s also important for children to enrol in an international school that has a strong language programme, like The Alice Smith School in Kuala Lumpur, and is committed to teaching Malay.

International schools in Malaysia offer excellent educational programmes, English curriculums and an abundance of extra-curricular activities that are tailored to their students, no matter their nationality. They are important to any expat community in Malaysia, providing that vital bridge to help children and families to adapt and settle into a new environment.