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Malay or Bahasa Malayu is the official language of the country of Malaysia.
Unlike many other languages of south east Asia, it’s a very simple language to learn and for travellers to pick up basic phrases when in the country. If you’ve been to Indonesia, you may notice that the two languages are basically the same and any Indonesian you’ve picked up will be useful in Malaysia and vice versa.
Malay is an easy language to learn as there are no tenses to words, no masculine or feminine to remember and word order is similar to English (although not the same!). If you have a simple phrase book, it will be easy to remember some Malay words.
As someone that try’s to learn a little bit of the language everywhere I go, I know the essential Malay phrases that you’ll need when travelling Malaysia to be able to speak to locals, from greetings, asking for things and numbers. Finally, I’ll cover the most important Malay words, food!
Essential Malay words for travellers:
Good morning – Selamat pagi
Good afternoon – Selamat tengahari
Goodnight – Selamat malam
Goodbye – Selamat jalan
Please – Sila/ Tolong
Thank you – Terima kasih
Thank you very much – Terima kasih banyak
You’re welcome – Sama sama
How are you? – Apa khabar
I’m fine – Khabar baik
What’s your name? – Apa nama kamu?
My name is… – Nama saya….
Where is…? – …di mana?
Where is the toilet? – Tandas di mana?
How much…. – Berapa…?
I don’t understand – Saya tidak faham
I understand a little Malay – Saya faham sikit Malay
Simple Malay phrases for travellers
Question words in Malay
What? – Apa?
Where? – Mana?
Who? – Siapa?
Why? – Kenapa?
Numbers in Malay
One – satu
Two – dua
Three – tiga
Four – empat
Five – lima
Six – enam
Seven – tujuh
Eight – lapan
Nine – sembilan
Ten – sepuluh
Eleven – sebelas
Twelve – duabelas
Thirteen – tigabelas
Fourteen – empatbelas
Fifteen – limabelas
Twenty – duapuluh
Thirty – tigapuluh
Fourty – empatpuluh
One hundred – seratus
One thousand – seribu
Malay food words
Rice – Nasi
Noodles – Mee
Bread – Roti
Chicken – Ayam
Beef – Daging
Shrimp/ prawns – Udang
Squid – Sotong
Vegetables – Sayur
Egg – Telur
Popular malay foods
Fried rice – Nasi goreng
Fried noodles – Mee goreng
Add the meat to the end of the dish e.g. nasi goreng ayam – Chicken fried rice
I also have a guide for all the best foods you need to try when you’re in Penang!
How to order foods in Malay
Malay is a very direct language. For those that translate directly from English, it may seem rude but its pretty common to ask for things without a please or thank you.
I want to order – saya mahu pesan
Can I have…. – bagi saya (literally “give me”)
Malay is not a difficult language for English speakers to learn and it is easy to pick up a few phrases of Malay when you travel through Malaysia. The added bonus is that knowing a bit of Malay will also help you in Brunei, some parts of Singapore and in Indonesia where the language is very similar.
With this guide, you’ll now have enough of a grasp of some essential Malay words and phrases for when you’re travelling around the beautiful country of Malaysia!
Check out my other posts for travelling around Malaysia:
- Visiting Bako National Park From Kuching: A Detailed Guide
- How To See Orangutans at Semenggoh Nature Reserve
- Visiting Mulu National Park: The Essential Guide
- How To Get From KL International Airport To The City Centre
- What To Do In Kuala Lumpur: Top 10 Things
- Which Lounge Should You Choose at KLIA
- Petronas Twin Towers vs KL Tower: Which Is Best To Visit?
- Visiting Pantai Pasir Panjang, Penang from Georgetown
- The Best Coffee Shops in Georgetown, Penang
- What You Must Eat in Penang: Top 10 Foods To Try
Dan is an avid traveller from London. His first big adventure was in 2010 living in Malaysia for 3 months and becoming a divemaster. He has been on the road almost constantly since 2015 travelling to destinations that aren’t on the mainstream tourist trail.