One week from now, as I write this article, Malaysia will be celebrating their 60th year of freedom or Merdeka. My Malaysian friend told me that they were once colonized by Portuguese and has British influence. Then I started thinking how this reflects in their English.
I can list a few similar words between Bahasa Malaysia and my native language but other than that English is the common language that connects us. But how well is English spoken in Malaysia?
I’ve been an expat for quite some time now and I can say my Bahasa can use some improvements. But I have reason to believe that I am unable to use it on a daily basis is because I work for a multi-national company. Though I have local colleagues when we talk in general, we use English as our language. Same goes in shopping malls, retailers, information counter, guards, etc. speak in English to cater those tourists, which is a good idea I think. Not all road signs are written in English, so this might be a challenge especially if you’re not familiar with the place.
But when you go outside KL, to those provinces or ‘kampung’ as they call it, a little Bahasa Malaysia will bring you a long way. Not everyone has interaction with tourists therefore on a daily basis they converse using their vernacular language. I strongly recommend knowing a few essential words such as directions: kanan (right), kiri (left), tandas (washroom), makan (eat), minum (drink), kecemasan (emergency) and the like.
Here are few Malaysian English words and how they use it.
1. Boss – they use this word to refer to their manager or supervisor, example: “Boss I will go on lunch now”
2. Balance – change, example: “I gave you 10 ringgit you give me my balance of 5 ringgit”
3. Go back – go home, example: “What time will you go back?”
4. Can / Cannot – Yes or No; In general, they love to answer every question with ‘can’ or ‘cannot’. Example: “Do you think we should buy this?” “Can!”
5. Is it? – they often say this to confirm a statement; Example: “I think she is in bad shape” Answer: “Is it?” Note: it usually comes with convincing expression
6. Take away – Americans would say for here or to go, Malaysians would answer “take away”
7. Jam – you would not want to spread this in your bread because when they say jam they meant traffic jam; Example: “I will be late today, very jam”
8. MC (medical certificate) – sick leave, up until now I don’t understand what they use this when they can’t make it to work because they are not feeling well. Example: “I’m so dizzy to get up; I think I’ll go MC today.”
9. To send – to bring or drop off someone somewhere; Example: “Son, please send me to the airport”
10. Bank in – deposit cheque or money; Example: “My mother asked me to bank in money for my brother’s allowance”
These are just few words, there could be more. They may use these words differently but it contains the same meaning. And it’s not that hard to get accustomed on how they speak English. After all, I believe that their English is a work in progress.