5 Useful Malay Phrases

Language is one of my interests. I learnt English since I was in my elementary school. When I was in high school, I learnt French, managed to get a certificate for it but of course, already forgot most of it. I tried to pick up Arabic in university, I learnt it and amazed by its beauty but finally didn’t have any more time to learn it (or maybe losing momentum). Arabic is so beautiful and the meaning of its words is so in depth that you can imagine living as a Bedouin in the Desert of Arabia, stargazing at beautiful moon and sky.

I appreciate any language more when I able to speak it. I learn faster as well if I get the chance to practice it and use it in context. I remember going to Syrian refugee camps in Turkey but having so little knowledge of Arabic. So, I just memorised dozens of common phrases and compliments to help me at least having some personal engagement with the people that I met.

Therefore, for you, travellers that maybe looking forward to visiting Malaysia, here are 5 useful Malay phrases for you.

5 useful Malay phrases

First of all, excuse me as this list will not include simple phrases like yes, no, thank you, good morning, good night, see you etc. Most Malaysians especially the younger generation learn English since elementary school and high school. Courses in the university are also thought in English. Therefore, at the very least of proficiency, most people will understand these very basic phrases. Unless you are going to a very remote place like jungle trekking in the very heart of Borneo.

1) Berapa? – How much

Be – as in Bermuda, Ra – as in Rat, Pa – as in Pearl
Usually, people will understand that you are asking for the price if you ask them Berapa?
However, if you feel like wanting to say more, just add Ringgit (Malaysian Currency) after this word, so it becomes Berapa Ringgit?

5 Useful Malay Phrases

You can also imagine Berapa as a way to ask for any numerical information, like Berapa kilo, berapa umur (age), etc

2) Tak Nak – I don’t want or NO!

Maybe you find yourself in a tricky situation. Anyone asking for your money for something that you don’t think worth as much, or a taxi driver that offer you a ride and about to rip your wallet apart. Just say,
Tak Nak!
Tak – as in Tuck, and Nak as in – Knuckle

3) JOM! – Let’s go!

I introduce this word to my Arab friends, they became so obsessed with it that they say it on every occasion that fits this word. If you are Arab, you can imagine this word as Yalla! Yalla! Lol. For the rest of you, I can guarantee that you will impress your Malaysian friends by saying this simple phrase.
Just say Jom! as in Joe + mmm sound.

4) Sedap – Delicious

Imagine that you booked your accommodation here with AirBnB, your guest invites you for a free meal, be it breakfast, lunch or dinner and you want to compliment his/her food as a nice gesture. Or maybe simply you want to appreciate foods that you bought from any street carts and you want to compliment the sellers.
Just say sedap.
Se – as in Serene and Dap as in Dark plus P sound

5 Useful Malay Phrases

Of course, this is a universal gesture for goodness

5) Bereh Boh – No problem (Boss)

This is an agreeing gesture or a word that you say when you feel like expressing awe.
You can use this on so many occasions. One interesting fact, being Malaysian, we call everyone as ‘boss’, ‘uncle’, ‘aunty’, bro, sis – although we don’t even work for them or having any family relationship with them. It is just a way to show common respect. You call one person boss, he will call you boss too. Isn’t crazy? So we end up being the boss for our boss? 😇😇

I save this one for the last as this phrase is rather a slang for people living in the east coast area but generally, everyone understands it. For example, when your mate invites you for a teh tarik, and you want to join him/her, say Bereh Boh!

Be – as in Bear, Reh as in -Breath and Boh – as in Boar plus H sound

Hope this helps.

Posted in Local Customs, Travel Malaysia Guide.

36 Comments

  1. I have been vying to get to Malaysia, I would love to visit the country and see what’s up. It never dawned on me that I had better started studying basic phrases! I had intended on relying on my smartphone lol!

    But thank you for this starter. Do you know of any other resources where I can expand my knowledge of the language and the culture?

    • Hi Christian, there is no harm in relying on smartphone for assistance. I do it too sometimes. But it is way different when you able to speak it for yourself. After all the purpose of travelling is to expand our horizon and meet new people. So, to somewhat being acquaintance with strangers, we need to talk to them with their language.

      On resources, I highly recommend these books
      1) Everyday Malay: Phrasebook & Dictionary, you can find it in amazon >> http://amzn.to/2jOtt1z
      I love this book because it teaches pronunciation that is not sounds too formal and akward. It sounds like local pronunciation.

      and for learning culture this book will help you for a start
      2) Malaysia – Culture Smart! The essential Guide to Customs & Culture you can find it in amazon >> http://amzn.to/2jGxoLA

      Hope this helps
      Thanks

  2. I would love to travel to Malaysia sometime soon, one of my best friends is from Kuala Lumpur, so I’ve been trying to learn some Malay. These phrases seem really useful for day-to-day life there and interacting with the locals. The helpful pronunciations that you have provided are also really useful.

    • Hi Lauren. Hope you will find this interesting and will start exploring Malay language and maybe visiting Malaysia soon. Let me know if you need any help. Thanks

  3. Wow, that would be a great start using this words when I travel to Malaysia.

    Having 2 questions in case I plan to visit your beloved country.

    1. Did you travel also to the north of Malaysia? I’ve heard it can be quite dangerous up there.
    2. I’m from the Netherlands. Would I need a visa or is it free to travel to Malaysia?

    I hope you’ll make new posts with more malaysian words, JOM!

    • Hi NicoA,

      1) I actually live in the northern part of Malaysia, near to a beautiful island named – Pangkor Island.
      I don’t know how did you get this information, but generally it is safe everywhere in Malaysia. There is no places that well-known for being dangerous. In fact, as the northern part of Malaysia is a bit out skirt, it is safer than big city like Kuala Lumpur and Penang (even Penang is in the very north part of Malaysia). So, looking at the condition of the world that we live in today, Malaysia is relatively wayyy safer than most parts of the world. Dont worry.

      2) No. I’ve visited Amsterdam and Rotterdam before without Visa. I really enjoyed your beautiful country with very friendly people.

      Thanks

    • Hi Nicola,

      Just Reitirate A.Habil’s reply, Malaysia is very safe! I live very far north, in GeorgeTown,Penang and have never seen nor heard of any troubles/problems. Visa wise as you enter either by land, air or boat you get a 90 day social visitors stamp in your passport permitting you to stay for a maximum of 90 days. There is no tourist visa as such, at least not for many of the EU countries plus Canada, USA, Canada, Australia Japan etc!

      Hope this helps!

  4. Hey Habil,
    I think you should add like top 50 most used Malay words for tourists, I’m dying to read more although I live here lol, it so cool to see our language on the internet.

    Words like calling everyone boss, brader for youngsters, auntie or uncle for elderlies are all something new to people outside. Awesome post, keep up the good work, brader 😉

  5. Hii there,

    A great post and much fun to read indeed. It’s really interesting the thought that through simple few words one can have a better travel experience, and the more interesting is the way in which words are related to culture.

    Some good info within the article that encourages exposure and curiosity about different cultures. Enjoyed reading it, thanks.

    Aydo 🙂

  6. Malaysia is on my list of places to visit and while it may be a visit a long time a way, it only makes sense that I start now, right? So that at least I will know some basic phrases and even get into speaking conversationally. This is definitely a good start and thank you for providing the pronunciation too…it really helps. I am saying the words and really hoping that I am pronouncing them properly. Wish me luck!

  7. HI there,

    Great article and I learned something new today! Berapa ringuut! – pretty useful like “Anda Cantik!” (my fave phrase!)

    Although I live here I must say my Malay is appalling due to the fact that it is just so easy to just speak English all day every day. I am sure local people would open up much more If I could speak a little conversational Malay. Pretty handy language to learn as it is like 95% similar to Indonesian!

    • Hi Marshall,glad you find this useful.
      Like I said, it is possible to get by with English.
      and of course, it is very similar to Indonesian, just maybe the accent and some words are different. Grammar wise, it is similar.

      Thank You

  8. Interesting post. I have never been to Malaysia and would like to go there someday. Other than the phrases you mentioned do you know if there are pocket phrases books for travelers available? I’m a little bit old fashioned and don’t rely so much on my phone. Would prefer to have something tangible in my pocket.

  9. Hi there,
    As a UK expat living in Malaysia since 2011, I appreciate all of these helpful tips and advice. I know most of these and more, but I’ve never used the Bereh boh phrase before maybe because I am in KL and not the East coast. I also don’t say Tak Nak, but prefer to say Tak Mau (means the same). Anyway, it’s great to read about Malaysia and I will be coming back to your website on a regular basis.
    Terima Kasih 🙂

    • Hi craig, thanks for dropping by.
      It is true, some phrases above are influenced by the region too.
      Tak mau is a good way of refusing as well.

      Again thanks

  10. This is really useful since I would be going to Malaysia during the summer holidays. It is really interesting that you have given the most important phrases that I might end up using while in the place. However, i do think that I could do with a few more sentences maybe? Or is there an app that could help me with that?

    • Hi Shrey, thank you for your comment. These are some of the common words that may help you to get by the daily situation, yes, you can learn some more sentences and words to be more fluent, but Malay is generally a quite easy language to learn, so dont worry.

  11. I am planning a trip to South East Asia for this summer and have heard great things about Malaysia so am considering stopping off there for a short time. This article is really useful for me and I can use my newly learned phrases when I go there on my trip, thanks!

  12. Thank you for sharing this information. I love to travel to new places. I have never been to Malaysia but if I do ever go now I know five phrases.

    Thank you for providing some help on pronouncing the words. I found those helpful and am now practicing them. I will definitely be showing off my new skills of being able to say five Malaysian phrases lol. Thank you again for sharing this great information.

    • Hi Makayla, good that you like this post, I will try to write about similar topic in the next post.
      Cheers, have a great day!

  13. I’m malaysian but have left the country for more than 20 years. I’m still learning new words from your post here. These phrases don’t exists in my time.

    Bereh Boh and JOM!

    Thanks.

    • Hi there, thank you for dropping by,
      I hope that this article has brushed up your Malay language proficiency.
      May I know where do you reside at the moment?
      Don’t you miss Malaysia?

      Thanks

  14. I love these expressions! Thanks for your post. I’m getting ready for a trip to Malaysia in the summer and these phrases to know will be perfect.

    Do you have any tips for me when traveling there with two young kids?

    • Hi Grace, you may look at the Things to do section to get more ideas about activities that are suitable for kids. Thanks

  15. Always good to know a few words and phrases wherever you go – the locals really do appreciate it, as it shows you’re actively interested in their language and culture.
    When I was last in Thailand (work-related!), I made the effort to learn a few basic greetings, but the phrase I really wish I’d learned was how to say “No, I’m not interested in your lady boy, no matter how clean!”
    Your Malaysia posts are very interesting – every time I read one, I want to go there.
    Please carry on the great work.

    • Hi Derek, thanks for your words of encouragement.
      Lol..the phrases that you mentioned seems like a rather long sentence, must be hard to learn and pronounce!
      🙂
      Thanks

  16. Love this post of yours! Useful for those who are visiting Malaysia. I personally do know some of the phrase and the way you write to help writer sound it out is interesting and the sound is accurate. My favourite phrase is sedap! Because there are so many yummy food in Malaysia!

  17. I really like the way you use the words most people are familiar with to sound out the word.
    I need to learn Tagalog since my wife is from the Philippines.

  18. This is a must read article for anyone visiting Malaysia as it is always better to be able to speak the local language so that you get a better deal wherever you go and the locals also feel that you are very much interested in knowing their culture and tradition.

    Learning a language is a difficult task but if we know a few phrases at least it will make our life easier while travelling a foreign land. Hence, thank you for sharing and I will keep a print of this post to make sure that I know these small sentences when I visit Malaysia next year.

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