Common Malaysian Phrases Every Traveler Should Know


Getting acquainted with a few common Malaysian phrases. 

Malaysia is home to many ethnic and race which makes most of multi-lingual in our own country. This means that majority of us speak Bahasa Malaysia (Malaysian language) and English. Visitors to Malaysia will find some words useful during their travel here as it would get plenty of smiles and helpful hand from the locals. Not to say that if you don’t know the words, you won’t receive any kindness from us, but at least it makes for a good conversation starter.

Since our cultural is mixed, so does our language which is why sometimes you hear a mix of English with Malay, Chinese, Indian or other ethnic dialects. We call it Manglish (Malay plus English) sometimes too due to the mish-mash words. Since today is our 58th Malaysian Independence Day, you could practice these words with your new friends or to navigate around the city.

1. Hello is still Hello. 

Whenever we greet each other, we still say the universal hello which is “Hello!” or “Hi!” Although if you hear someone calling you with a “Halo! Halo!” it could probably mean they’re trying to get your attention since they don’t know your name. Here are the most basic words you’ll hear for greeting purposes.

Selamat datang! – Welcome!
Apa khabar? – How are you?
Sudah makan?Have you eaten? 

2. Words that make you feel like a family.

We greet people who are older than us as big sister, Uncle or Aunty, and this extends to people we don’t know. More often than not, we use these callings when talking to business owners, staff or when we’re not sure of the persons name.

kakak / kak / akakolder sister (also used when talking to a slightly older female person).
abang – older brother (also used when talking to a slightly older male person).
adik / dik – younger male or female person.
Pakcik / Uncle – older male person that’s similar age to our parents.
Makcik / Aunty – older female person that’s similar age to our parents.
Bro / Brader – short form for brother.
Boss / Macha – heard in the mamak restaurants as this is what we often call the staff there.

3. If you want to address yourself.

There’s also these words that you can use to say something about you or to other people. There’s the formal and non-formal versions to these words and I’ve listed the friendly ones which is easier to remember.

Saya (casual polite) – I or Me
Awak (casual polite) – You
Kita / Kami – We
Kitaorang – We all
Korang – You all

4. Polite words to get by. 

You walk along the streets, looking at the map and trying to find your way. Ok so maybe it’s a digital map and you’re still trying to locate that popular dim sum shop with good online reviews. You could stop someone and ask for directions just to be sure and this is where the following words might help.

Tumpang tanya – Excuse me or it also means “Could I ask…”
Mintak tolong – “Please”. If there’s an emergency and you hear the words “Tolong! Tolong!” it means a cry for help.
Terima kasih – Thank you.
Berapa harga? – How much (is the price)?
Mahal – Expensive
Murah – Cheap
Kanan – Right
Kiri – Left
Berhenti – Stop

5. Other common expressions. 

Conversations can get interesting with these local words as it shows expressions and excitement. It also makes you feel as though you part of the group or what we call as ‘geng’.

Bagus – Good!
Takde masalah – No problem.
Ya / iya – Yes
Tidak / Tak – No
Cantik / Lawa – Beautiful or pretty, usually for females.
Kacak / Hensem – Handsome or good looking, usually for males.

The easiest way to learn.

People often say that the first words you’ll learn and the easiest are the bad words! It’s not a bad thing really because at least you’ll understand what they’re saying to you. Directions are also easy to pick up as it’s most often used when you’re traveling in the city. Practice with the locals and they might teach you more words in the process. Most importantly don’t be afraid to try it out and get warm smiles in the process.

About Yafieda Jamil

A Malaysian girl currently working abroad in Phnom Penh city. I love a good road trip, hot cappuccinos, spicy food and staring at old buildings. My mission is to inspire people to see the world differently before we all get any older. Oh and giraffes are the most beautiful creatures on earth.

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