Language in Kuala Lumpur - Your Essential Language Guide

If you happen to listen carefully to the myriad of languages that people around you in Kuala Lumpur are speaking, there are high chances that you will end up being a little overwhelmed and surprised, since there are multiple languages and dialects that people use. In fact, there are a total of 137 languages that are used in different parts of Malaysia, as a result of the many races that live here; and you will also come across many of these local dialects and languages in Kuala Lumpur. 

That being said, the official language of Kuala Lumpur is Malaysian, which is also referred to as Malaysian Malay or simply just Malay. This is spoken by the majority of the people in Kuala Lumpur, closely followed by the English language. Other than these, Chinese dialects such as Mandarin and Hokkien are also quite common, and so is the Tamil language, which is primarily spoken by the Indians who now reside in Kuala Lumpur. 

You can easily get around Kuala Lumpur if you are well versed in just English. All major tourist spots and attractions are well labeled in English; and other than a few local stalls and coffee shops, all restaurants have an English menu. However, knowing about the languages that are spoken in a foreign country as well as having some idea about the common words in these languages surely does help and make your life easier. So, read on to find more about the languages in Kuala Lumpur!

1. Malay

The Malay Language, or Bahasa Melayu, is the national language of Malaysia, and it is mandatory for all schools to teach Malay to the students. In fact, Malays make up for half the population of Malaysia, and thus you will hear a lot of this language throughout your stay at Kuala Lumpur. 

When foreigners in Kuala Lumpur speak in Malay, it shows an effort on their part, as well as a genuine interest to learn more about the local culture. This works as a great ice breaker. Moreover, greetings in the Malay language are extremely basic and easy to learn, with easy rules of pronunciation and the classic Latin alphabet being used. 

Common Phrases and Translation in Malay:

All greetings in the Malay language begin with the word ‘selamat’, which means safe; which is then followed by the appropriate phrase corresponding to the time of the day. 

Good MorningSelamat pagi
Good AfternoonSelamat tengah hari
Good Afternoon/EveningSelamat Petang
Good NightSelamat Malam
How are you?Apa kabar
I am fineKabar baik
WelcomeSelamat dating
Welcome backSelamat kembali
Goodbye (if you are the one leaving)Selamat tinggal
Goodbye (if the other person is leaving)Selamat jalan

2. Chinese

The Chinese are the second largest ethnic group in all of Malaysia, and these residents usually speak Mandarin, though Cantonese is also widely spoken in all of Kuala Lumpur. Hokkien is also a common dialect; and more often than not, the Chinese in Kuala Lumpur speak more than one Chinese dialect. These include Hakka, Teochew, Fuzhou, Hainanese, and Foochow as well. This being said, all Chinese residents all over Kuala Lumpur understand Mandarin very well. 

Common Phrases and Translation in Mandarin:

Hellonǐ hǎo
Thank you!xiè xie
You’re welcomebú yòng xiè
How are you?nǐ hǎo ma
OK/Goodhǎo/ hǎo de
Not OK/ Not Goodbù hǎo
I’m sorryduì bu qǐ
Do you speak English? nǐ huì shuō yīng yǔ ma?
Where is the washroom?xǐ shǒu jiān zài nǎ lǐ?
Help!jiù mìng

3. Indian Languages in Kuala Lumpur

The Indians make up the third-largest ethnic group in Malaysia. Of this Indian community, the majority is made up of Tamils; followed by Punjabis, Gujaratis, Telugus, Sindhis, Ceylonese, Malayalees, and a couple of other smaller ethnic Indian groups. Thanks to the large Tamil population, Tamil is the most widely spoken Indian language in Kuala Lumpur. However, other Indian languages are also quite popular, including Telugu, Hindi, Malayalam, Punjabi, and Gujarati.

The present Indian generation in Kuala Lumpur tends to mix up a lot of Malay and English into their local language, and the result is a language which is easy to pick up for almost all English speakers. At the same time, the Indians there are keen on learning Mandarin to expand their business, and they also send their kids to Chinese school so that they can learn an extra language.

Common Phrases and Translation in Tamil:

Good morning! Kaalai Vanakkam
Good evening!Maalai Vanakkam
Good night!Iravu vanakkam
Thank youRomba Nandri
You are welcome!Paravaa illa
How are you?Eppadi irukkinga? (or) Nalamaa?
I'm fine, thanks!Nallaa irukéan! (or) Nalam! , Nandri!
Can you help me?Enakku udhavi seivienkala?
Goodbye!Poittu varén!

4. English

Travelers and foreign visitors in Kuala Lumpur need not worry at all, since English is widely spoken, and is known as the second language of Kuala Lumpur. Because of the increasing influence of television and western cinema, spoken English in Malaysia is influenced by American English, and even business in Kuala Lumpur is conducted in the English language. 

English speaking tourists definitely take some time to adjust to the ‘Manglish’ accent that Malaysians have, but you will easily be able to get by. Manglish is basically the English language, which is influenced by the Malay, Chinese and Indian languages. You will encounter a lot of people using fillers like ‘lah’ and ‘meh’, which are considered to be Manglish. 

Luckily, all signs in Kuala Lumpur are in English; and even for those which are not, they are easy to translate using Google since they use Latin characters anyway. Besides, the residents there are used to speaking with tourists on a regular basis, so even they try their best to converse in English, making life a lot easier for you. 
The local inhabitants of Kuala Lumpur tend to mix a lot of languages when speaking, which is referred to as ‘Bahasa Rojak’ or ‘mixed languages’. For instance, you will find people starting off with speaking in Malay, and then switching to using English, Chinese and Indian words in between, and that too with Manglish words and accent thrown in. This is a very unique blend of language that you will find only in Kuala Lumpur. 

Most people in Kuala Lumpur, however, are multilingual, which especially includes the younger generation. They are able to speak English, Malay, and Mandarin with decent fluency and clarity; making it a little easy for foreign visitors to get around. At the same time, before visiting Kuala Lumpur, it is also a good idea to refer to a few basic dictionaries and handbooks, so that you can learn a few basic words in their local language, and use them as and when the need arises. These days, however, Google Translator also comes in really handy, so you need not worry too much about the language problems there. Moreover, the people in Kuala Lumpur are really friendly, and they will never fail to go the extra mile to make you feel comfortable and at home!

This post was published by Muskan Ahuja

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