3 Reasons Why Expats Need to Learn Some Malay

Learning some Malay opens you up to wonderful opportunities for expressions of Malaysian hospitality.

Learning some Malay opens you up to wonderful opportunities for expressions of Malaysian hospitality.

Sarah, an expat from Canada, was expecting a visit from her family during the upcoming week. She went to her usual supermarket located near her home to stock up on groceries and was in the midst of loading them all into a taxi when the driver unexpectedly drove off before she could get in. Flabbergasted, she stared helplessly on as she realized she had to shop again for the items she had just lost. To her great surprise, several minutes later the same taxi came around, parked right beside her and out jumped a familiar looking face – the guard from her previous condo that was situated not far down the same road. It turned out that he had seen the entire episode, jumped in front of the taxi to stop it and ordered the driver to turn around and return the items to her. The reason for his decisive and kind action? He remembered her fondly for having taken the initiative to smile and greet him in his native language every day back when she was still living in her previous condo.

This true story teaches us that being able to converse in the local language of the country we are currently residing in (even if it’s just a few phrases) can be beneficial and advantageous. This is especially true if we are living in a relationship oriented culture like Malaysia. Sure, with English, a smile here, a nod there, and using some international sign language to point and gesture, you can still get by just fine. But the truth is, having the initiative to communicate with people in their local language will most certainly reward you with better service and care. If you are an international expat assigned to Malaysia, here are some convincing reasons why you (and your family) should invest in learning and using Malay during your work stint here in Malaysia.

You will win the hearts and minds of the local people. It’s true, a friendly face and smile works, but nothing elicits a faster response and the building of relationships than when you sprinkle some Malay words into your sentences. “Apa khabar?” (How are you?), “Selamat pagi” (Good morning) and “Terima kasih” (Thank you) are simple phrases that will reward you with a surprised smile and an instant friend made. When Malaysians see that you care enough to put effort into learning Malay, we will be inclined to show you greater Malaysian Hospitality to make your stay here more enjoyable. Service providers will tend to your requests more readily, strangers on the street may not only point you to the direction you want to head to but perhaps walk along with you there, and your colleagues will welcome opportunities to lend you a helping hand at work. 

You will learn not just words, but the culture as well. Learning when to use “abang, bos, pak cik, mak cik, tuan, puan” (big brother, boss, uncle, aunty, Mr and Mrs) appropriately teaches you the values and respect important to our hierarchical culture. You’ll be able to holler out “Jom makan!” (let’s eat!”) when it’s lunch time because you know how much Malaysians love and are proud of the variety of Malaysian food. You might even be awarded bonus points in the form of a crispier ‘roti canai’ or ‘nasi lemak’ with more anchovies and nuts when you place your order in Malay (of course you may not view anchovies as a reward). Understanding the meaning behind the words “lepak” and “relek la” gives you insight into our laidback culture and how you can fit into it here should you choose to.

You will open doors to unique experiences. Online sites and travel books can teach you the touristy spots and activities, but endearing yourself to Malaysians with the local language is more likely to get you recommendations to travel the path less taken and truly enjoy unique experiences, exactly the way locals do. Malaysia is filled with natural wonders tucked away in places where English is not as commonly used, so a repertoire of Malay words will be useful in breaking down the language barrier and enriching your experience.

So if you want to truly experience Malaysian life, create unique memories and lasting friendships, as well as enrich your stay in Malaysia, try learning some of the local language and don’t be shy to practice it with your Malaysian counterparts. To help expats and their families obtain an introduction to Malay and achieve a working ability to converse in typical Malaysian life settings, we offer an Intensive twenty-hour Malay Language program designed for expats that you can request at a convenient time and location for you.

By:  Boleh Blogger

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