In Malaysia the language of the people is Bahasa Malaysia (BM) and is a national language, but most Malays also speak at least some amount of English. When traveling to Malaysia it can be helpful to learn some of the most common phrases ahead of time. The locals will appreciate your effort and are usually quite polite when foreigners make pronunciation mistakes, although they may have a respectful laugh.
The most common greeting is, “Apa khabar?” which translates to, “What news?” An appropriate response would be to say, “khabar baik, terima kasih” or “I am fine, thank you.” If you would like to preface this by saying good morning or good evening, start with, “Selamat Pagi” or “Selamat Petang”. To say goodnight to a Malay you can say, “Selamat malam” (good night) or “Selamat tinggal” (good bye). “Yes” is “Ja”, as in German. “No” is “Tidak”.
There are a few more phrases that will help a foreigner get to know new acquiantances better. Welcome a guest to come in and sit down by saying, “Sila masuk” and “Sila duduk”. Introduce yourself with, “Nama saya ialah John”, and share where you come from by saying, “Saya datang dari Los Angeles”. To ask someone else’s name simply ask, “Siapa nama anda?” As a polite gesture, let people know that you like their homeland by saying, “Saya suka berada di sini.”
There are a few more phrases that are good to know if a traveller is in need of directions or help. If you find yourself lost simply say, “Saya tersesat”, and ask for help by the words, “Bolehkah anda membantu saya?” To ask for directions to the nearest bathroom facilities ask, “Di manakah bilik mandi”. To ask for the price of an item you are interested in purchasing ask, “Apakah harda barang ini?” If you make a mistake and feel the need to apologize simply say, “Maafkan Saya” or say the same phrase as a question if you did not understand what the other person was saying.
Bahasa Malaysia is a beautiful language and the Malays are a welcoming people. Learning a few of these simple phrases will earn you respect and appreciation amongst your hosts.