When we talk about the word “Malay”, what first comes to your mind? An island somewhere in Sumatra? Java? Borneo? A phrase used to refer to people in Malaysia? A kind of native language?

While all these are (somewhat) true, the concept of being a Malay and speaking Malay (or Bahasa Melayu, as more commonly known in Malaysia) has seen progress and numerous changes with the times to become the version it is today. And talk about versions – there is no one specific version of Malay because it is spoken across different countries, each with its own unique take on the language! But what does it mean to learn Malay and why should you take up a Malay course particularly if you’re living in Kuala Lumpur?

A tutorial in Malay
Writing in Jawi. Source: pexels.com

"I am Malay" or "I speak Malay": A tutorial in Malay

What is Malay?

The word “Malay” in itself refers to any member of an ethnic group in the Malay peninsula and portions of its surrounding islands of Southeast Asia, including the east coast of Sumatra, the coast of Borneo, and other smaller islands that in this area. More specifically, in Malaysia, being a Malay (“Orang Melayu”, or “Malay people”) means to profess the religion of Islam, speaks Malay habitually, and conforms to Malay custom.

When we refer to Malay as a language, we are referring to a branch of the Austronesian, or Malayo-Polynesian language family. While being widely used as the main language in Malaysia and Indonesia as a second language, Malay is spoken as a native language by people across the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, Borneo, and the many small islands of the area. The exact number of folks who speak Malay is estimated to be around 198 million to 290 million people!

It is said that of the various versions, or dialects, of Malay, the most important is that of the southern Malay Peninsula, which is the basis of standard Malay and the official language used in Malaysia (the other one is Bahasa Indonesia, or Indonesian, which is the official language of the Indonesian archipelago). This standard version of Malay is also widely spoken in Indonesia, Brunei, Thailand, and Singapore, which are all neighbouring countries to Malaysia.

How does Malay look like?

One distinct characteristic of Malay grammar is the use of affixes (adding particles to the beginning or end of a word or inserting particles within the word) and doubling to offer changes in meaning or for grammatical purposes. For example, while the original word for “buy” in Malay is “beli”, we can add affixes to “beli” to change the way the word can be used – “mem-beli” means “to buy” whereas “di-beli” brings the meaning of “be bought”. In doubling words, we may use this technique to indicate the plural form of the original word (e.g. “bunga-bunga” to demonstrate many flowers while “bunga” itself refers to only a single flower) or to derive new meanings (e.g. changing “melompat” to “melompat-lompat” to specify from simply “jumping” to “jumping around”).

Modern Malay is written in two slightly varying forms of the Latin alphabet (the Roman alphabet, or the 26 letters everyone had to sing along to in kindergarten), of which one is used in Malaysia and the other Indonesia, as well as in a form of the Arabic alphabet called Jawi, which is also used in Malaysia and parts of Sumatra. Fun fact: the earliest written records in Malay are Sumatran inscriptions dating from the late 7th century! (These were written in the Pallava script which was developed in Southern India.)

With its ties to Malaysia and various other regions, it is no wonder that this language is spoken by up to 290 million people today.

Taking a Malay course.
Learning Malay. Source: pexels.com

Time to take up a Malay course!

Get the most out of the most spoken Malaysian language

As Malay is the official language of Malaysia, it is also the most widely spoken language throughout the country. The Malaysian community never falls short of its multitude of races and ethnicities – apart from Malays, there exists a strong population of Chinese, Indian, Orang Asli, Bumiputera Sabah, and Bumiputera Sarawak. Even in KL, where English is used as one of the main mediums for communication, Malay remains the lingua franca of the country and its capital, despite the presence of different cultures living together. Hence, finding a tutor in Malay who is qualified to teach you will allow you to better engage with the wider community, which would make it easier for you to get around, or even ask for directions (i.e. “Di mana tandas?” or “Where is the restroom?”).

Become a qualified graduate

If you are a student studying in Malaysia or a fresh graduate seeking a permanent government post, then read on! The Malaysian government has mandated that all candidates sitting for the Malaysian Certificate of Education (Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia, or SPM as it is more commonly referred to) examination pass the Malay subject to qualify for the certificate. In recent years, the government has taken a step further to preserve the national language by making it compulsory for all those applying for government jobs to pass the Malay subject in the SPM examination – even medical graduates require SPM Malay subject qualifications to be accepted into permanent government positions. It is no wonder that many parents eagerly send their children to get tuition in Malay to ensure that their children would meet these qualifications.

Stay informed, stay updated

Press releases, news articles, radio broadcasts, announcements from the government… you name it, most of what is out in the country’s mass media is delivered in none other than Malay. The pandemic has made it even clearer for the public to be well-versed and literate in Malay now that we are seeing official statistics and reports released by the Ministry of Health and the National Security Council displayed only in the Malay language. If you look left and right in the city of KL, running into billboard signs or LED displays in Malay is inevitable – how are you going to know what is being advertised or what is happening in the area if you can’t read what is being shown? Thus, being knowledgeable in Malay helps you become more knowledgeable in what is happening around the country, too!

Find a Malay teacher
Find a Malay course in KL. Source: pexels.com

Meet your Malay teacher! 

So you’ve decided it would be worthwhile to take up a Malay course, and what better reason would it be to do so than to be living in the heart of Malaysia? But what are the best places in KL to study Malay? Luckily for you, we’ve broken down the top 5 places in KL to take up a Malay course.

Inter-Cultural Language School (ICLS Malaysia)

ICLS is one of the oldest language schools in Malaysia. The institution, with its three centers located in the metropolitan areas of KL, Subang Jaya, and Damansara Jaya, has been teaching foreign languages since 1990. The languages offered include Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, German, and of course, Malay. ICLS offers both intensive and part-time Malay courses for students to join after their weekday schooling hours and adults who intend to come after work hours or on the weekends. Additionally, the school offers both private lessons and group lessons, so you can choose to have in-house training if your company requires it or have a one-to-one session with a Malay teacher – the choice is yours!

Superprof Malaysia

With their mission to facilitate and democratize the connection between those who wish to learn and those who wish to teach, Superprof has successfully linked students and teachers throughout 23 countries! With Malaysia being one of the recent global partners to join Superprof, learning has never been easier. Superprof offers Malay lessons in KL – all you need to do choose from the catalogue of available tutors in the area, and let the tutor come to you.

“We’re in the middle of a pandemic – what if my area is under the MCO?”

The special thing about Superprof is that it also offers Malay classes online, and with the choice of an even wider range of tutors! This allows classes in Malay to be done anywhere and it is meant for anyone in Malaysia. You set the time for yourself - study whenever and wherever you want to be! The only thing you need to do is go to the homepage to find your tutor – there, you can check out each tutor’s ratings and price range to decide which tutor is the right one for you.

ALS Language

ALS Language teaches only Malay and their tutors go right to your doorstep! ALS Language offers a Malay language course for foreigners or expats who are looking to make daily usage of the Malay language or to engage in conversations with the wider Malaysian community. They provide private tutoring, translations, and even cultural anecdotes for those who really want to go local. Expats who have graduated from the course have shared that they “could put to use on the street immediately” what they have learned and been able to “understand Malaysian culture and history in a new way”. Interested? Give it a go!


We mustn’t forget one of KL’s renowned institutions for language learning, which is conveniently located at Sri Hartamas, KL. MyTeacher prides itself in building conversational skills among students in a relatively short amount of time. Getting a tutorial in Malay can be experienced both physically at their center and online – it may also be worthwhile to note that their fees vary depending on the number of persons in a group. So, if you and your friends are interested in learning Malay at a lower price rate, this is your chance to form a group together – learn more for the price of less!

Vision International Academy (VIA)

“I want to be able to read, write and speak Malay just like the locals here.” Located in Ampang, KL, VIA carries the slogan, “Speak Malay Like Malaysian!” Their course offers elementary Malay language and conversation to international students while exposing their students to the social factors of the language which have been embedded in our Malaysian society. Not only will students learn from qualified Malay native speakers, but a lot of personal attention is also given to each student – VIA maintains a maximum of only 6 to 12 people per class. Here, you will be able to master the basic listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills of the Malay language.

What do I need to join tuition in Malay?

It is important to be consistent - set aside the time that you can dedicate to studying Malay so that you can really focus in class and reap the fruits of your labour! In the end, though, all you need to bring is a willing heart and a willing mind – nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it. Get started today!

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