Knowing how to say hello in Malay will help you break the ice with locals while traveling in Malaysia and also shows that you have an interest in their culture.
Because of such cultural diversity, most of the people in Malaysia with whom you interact will speak and understand English well. Regardless, basic greetings in Bahasa Malaysia -- the local language -- are easy to learn. Unlike other languages such as Thai and Vietnamese, Malay is not tonal. The rules of pronunciation are very predictable and straightforward. To make learning even easier, Bahasa Malaysia uses the Latin/English alphabet most familiar to native English speakers.
The Language in Malaysia
Officially known as Bahasa Malaysia, the Malay language is very similar to Indonesian and is understood in neighboring countries such as Indonesia, Brunei, and Singapore. The language is also commonly referred to as Malaysian and Bahasa Melayu.
"Malay" can be used as an adjective to describe something from Malaysia (e.g., the Malay language), but as a noun, the word is most often used when talking about a person from Malaysia (e.g., Malays speak the Malay language).
By the way, Bahasa simply means "language" and is often used standalone when referring to the entire family of similar languages in the region. Although not completely correct, it is common to hear people say that "Bahasa" is spoken in Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and Singapore.
A country as diverse as Malaysia will inevitably have many dialects and variations of the local language, particularly the farther you get from Kuala Lumpur. The dialects in Borneo won't sound very familiar at all and not everyone you meet speaks Bahasa Malaysia.
Vowel pronunciation in the Malay language generally follows these simple guidelines:
- A – sounds like "ah"
- E – sounds like "uh"
- I – sounds like "ee"
- O – sounds like "oh"
- U – sounds like "ew"
How to Say Hello in Malaysian
As in Bahasa Indonesia, you say hello in Malaysia based on the time of day. Greetings correspond with morning, afternoon, and evening, although there aren't really hard guidelines for what time to switch over. Generic greetings such as "hi" or "hello" aren't formal, but locals often simply use a friendly "hello" when greeting familiar people.
Play it safe and greet most people using one of the more polite, standardized greetings that are based on time of day.
All greetings in Malaysia begin with the word selamat (sounds like "suh-lah-mat") and are then followed with the appropriate phase of the day:
- Good Morning: Selamat pagi (sounds like "pag-ee")
- Good Afternoon: Selamat tengah hari (sounds like "teen-gah har-ee")
- Good Evening: Selamat Petang (sounds like "puh-tong")
- Good Night: Selamat Malam (sounds like "mah-lahm")
As with all languages, formalities are often simplified to save effort. Friends will sometimes greet each other by dropping the selamat and offering a simple pagi -- the equivalent of greeting someone with just "morning" in English. If unsure about the time, sometimes people may simply just say "selamat."
Note: Selamat siang (good day) and selamat sore (good afternoon) are more commonly used when greeting people in Bahasa Indonesia, not the Malay language -- although they will be understood.
Continuing the Conversation
After you say hello in Malaysia, be polite and ask how someone is doing. As in English, asking someone "how are you" can also double as a greeting if you want to forego deciding on the time of day.
- How are you?: Apa kabar (sounds like: "apah ka-bar")
Ideally, their response will be baik (sounds like "bike") which means fine or well. You should respond with the same if asked apa kabar? Saying baik twice is a good way to indicate that you are doing well.
Saying Goodbye in Malaysia
The expression for goodbye depends upon who is staying and who is leaving:
- Goodbye (if you are the one leaving): selamat tinggal (sounds like "teen-gahl")
- Goodbye (if the other person is leaving): selamat jalan (sounds like "jal-lan")
In the context of goodbyes, tinggal means "stay" and jalan means "travel." In other words, you are telling someone to have a good stay or a good travel.
For a fun way to say goodbye to a friend, use jumpa lagi (sounds like "joom-pah lah-gee") which means "see you around" or "meet again." Sampai jumpa (sounds like "sahm-pie joom-pah") will also work as a "see you later," but it's more commonly used in Indonesia.
Saying Goodnight in Malaysia
- Goodnight: selamat tidur (sounds like "tee-dur")
If either of you are off to bed, you can say goodnight with selamat tidur. Tidur means "sleep."
- These 10 basic expressions in Malay will come in handy on your trip!