It is often said that there is no reason to learn Malay. After all, most Malay speakers are able to speak English, even if they aren’t fluent in it. Therefore, one would argue that there is no real motivation for learning Malay. What use do you have for Malay when English will do just fine? Here are some of the uses of Malay that you can’t just ‘make do’ with English.
Communication With Government and Semi-Government Institutions
It is the standard official language for correspondence with the government in Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. Maybe you’re from the UK and you wanted to start an apartment renting business in Malaysia, Brunei or Indonesia. You then applied for the permit for such a business and sent a formal letter in English. Most of the time, the government official will instead send you a letter, telling you to write it again in Malay. So now you have to find a translator, and since you don’t understand Malay, you have no idea if the translation is correct or if you will get in trouble with the government due to mistranslation.
As mentioned in the previous article, speakers of Malay (and Indonesian) can easily understand each other, with only vocabulary being the point of difference. In the past, a formal letter written in Bahasa Malaysia was readily accepted in place of Bahasa Indonesia for the purpose of correspondence with government institutions. Sadly, this was changed from 30th September 2019 under Presidential Regulation No.63. That doesn’t mean that you can’t benefit from Bahasa Malaysia in your correspondence with Indonesian government. The two languages are still has the same grammar, the only difference is in the vocabulary present in its street language. The formal language, the language you’d use to communicate with the government under formal capacity, is actually mostly the same.
So you want to start a business in Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore or South Thailand? Maybe you want to start a fast food franchise?To be absolutely honest, you don’t really need to know Malay for this purpose. However, knowing Malay gives you a huge advantage in dealing with the locals.
Most Malaysians, Singaporeans and Bruneian can speak English. However, Malaysians and Bruneians prefer to speak Malay and knowing Malay gives you some brownie points with them. If you are able to speak Malay with the locals, they would consider you as someone who at least tried to fit in and therefore will at least give you a chance. Most Malay speakers would be reluctant to support a business owned or run by someone who can’t speak Malay. Indeed, it was said that one of the reasons J.W.W. Birch (a British official from the colonial era) was assassinated was because he couldn’t be bothered to learn Malay!
Most Singaporeans use Malay words in their daily lives as part of the street language called Singrish (or Mangrish, depending on who you ask). Singaporeans nowadays are more familiar with English, but there are parts of Singapore that are still populated by native Malays such as Geylang. While you can open a business in without knowing a word of Malay, not knowing Malay in these areas will likely cost you your business as the locals may not be so willing to support your business.
A More Personal Reason
It is not really a secret that there are foreigners who learned Malay for a more personal kind of business, which is to marry a local man or woman. While it is not necessary to learn Malay to get married to a Malaysian man or woman, your ability to speak Malay will really impress their family. Most Malaysians can understand English to some extent, but most can’t speak it fluently. Communication issues are generally the biggest fear for the parents. Most Malay parents will not stop you from marrying their children if you can’t speak Malay, but their opinion of you will most likely be quite low as they see you as someone who can’t be bothered to try. But if you can speak Malay, you will almost always enjoy acceptance from your girlfriend or boyfriend’s family, even all the way to their extended families.
The Malay people are easily impressed by foreigners who can speak Malay. You will find that the ability to speak Malay will grant you immediate acceptance among the locals. Are you a businessman? Learn Malay and enjoy patrons who want support you who tried to learn their local language. Are you a youtuber? Learn Malay and your follower count will skyrocket the moment a Malaysian come across your videos where you speak Malay. Just look at Rhys William(youtube: Destinasi TV; IG: si_rhys), a British youtuber whose popularity went to the moon when the local medias started talking about his fluent Malay.