Interesting phrases in Malay for your business

Located in southeast Asia, Malaysia occupies parts of the Malay Peninsula and the island of Borneo. The beautiful country is known for its beaches, rainforests, and mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and European cultural influences. Kuala Lumpur, the capital, is home to colonial buildings, busy shopping districts, and skyscrapers such as the iconic, 451m-tall Petronas Twin Towers. The World Bank indicates that “openness to trade and investment has been instrumental in employment creation and income growth, with about 40% of jobs in Malaysia linked to export activities.” With such growth in export activities, it is a given that there’s bound to be increased connections with other countries, whose inhabitants don’t necessarily speak Bahasa Malaysia (Malay). But if you find yourself doing business in Malaysia, there are some common Malay language words and phrases you ought to know in order to impress your business partners and to ensure you have business success. We take a look at some of these below.

General words and phrases

For general pleasantries and yes/no answers to questions, to thank your host or business partner, the following Malay for business words and phrases might come in handy.

How do you do? Apa khabar?
Fine/good baik
Goodbye Selemat tinggal
Bon voyage Selemat jalan
Yes Ya
No Tidak
Thank you Terima kasih
You’re welcome Sama-sama
Can you help me? Bolhkah cik tolong saya?
What is your name Siapa nama anda?


At the market

Bartering at markets is an important cultural element and you will find your negotiating skills coming in handy when you go to visit a market place in Kuala Lumpur, for example. Here are some phrases that will assist you with Malay to English translation to help guide you.

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How much? Berapa harga?
It’s too expensive/expensive Mahal sangat/mahal
Can you lower the price? Boleh kurang?
Is it available in another color? Ada warna lain?
Too big/too small Besar sangat/kecil sangat
I would like to exchange some money. Saya hendak tukar duit


Personal pronouns

Knowing the basic personal pronouns is going to help you out quite significantly, especially when it comes to formality. For example, in Malay, there is a hierarchical order in terms of which you address someone younger, the same age, or older than you. Let’s take the word “you” for example. If you were to address someone who is the same age as you or younger, you would say awak, anda or kita, but this is in Borneo Malaysia only. Otherwise, consider sticking to the more formal, “encik” when you address someone.

I Saya
You Encik (formal)
He/she Dia
We Kami (excludes the speaker)
We Kita (includes the speaker)
They mereka


Getting directions so you don’t get lost

Kuala Lumpur is a busy and bustling city and for a foreigner there, it might be quite easy to get lost. Asking for directions could be the answer to you reaching your destination accurately and on time. Here are some examples of common direction-related words and phrases that might come in handy.

Right Kanan
Left Kiri
Go Pergi
Stop Berhenti
Near Dekat
Front Hadapan/Depan
Behind Belakang
Here Dini
There Sana
How far? Berapa jauh?


Food and drink

Whether you’re opting for a Malaysian pancake or blue rice, Malaysia has a wide variety of delicious foods and drinks. At a restaurant, open air market, or somewhere else, these phrases might be useful.

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Eat Makan
Drink Minum
Bread Roti
Salt Garam
Delicious Sedap
Water Air (pronunciation: i-yeah)
A little Sedikit (sikit)
A lot Banyak


Days of the week and telling time

It just makes sense to know the days of the week and how to tell the time. This will ensure you’re punctual at your next appointment and that you’ll arrive on the right day.

Monday Isnin
Tuesday Selasa
Wednesday Rabu
Thursday Khamis
Friday Jumaat
Saturday Sabtu
Sunday Ahad
What time is it? Jam berapa?
Minute Minit
Hour Jam
Day Hari
Week Minggu


Question words

malay to english translationQuestions are a necessary and important part of any language, so if you hear one of the following words, you know that something is being asked of you. Conversely, you might be the one doing the asking, and it’s a good idea to know how to begin your sentence.

What? Apa?
Who? Siapa?
Where (location) Di mana?
Where (direction) Ke mana?
When? Bila?
How? Bagaimana?
Why? Mengapa?
Which? Yang mana?


Other general words

And, of course, there are some common general words which every foreigner in Malaysia will want to know. These are related to often-visited locations or to the all-important universal word – money.

Road/walk Jalan
Airport Lapangan terbang
Post office Pejabat pos
Shop Kedai
Coffeeshop Kedai kopi
Money Wang/duit


Concluding thoughts

If your next journey on your way out is to Malaysia, you’ll be well prepared for your trip if you try to remember these small groups of words described above. They’ll not only help you not get lost, but you can also make a memorable impression on your hosts who will be delighted with your knowledge of some local words. Being a southeast Asian country, Malaysia is full of friendly people who will want to help you find your way, and you’ll be able to prepare the road to their hearts by learning a bit about their language. Selemat tinggal!

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