Language of Malaysia

Malaysia’s national language is Bahasa Melayu (Malay language). It is claimed that this very old language originated in the Central and South Pacific and has been refined, under the rule of the ancient kingdom of Srivijaya and during the 15th century Melaka Sultanate, into a language of the bangsawan (elite).

Although Bahasa Melayu is the official language, the mother tongue of the other communities such as Hokkien, Hakka, Tamil, Mandarin, Benggali and others are also widely spoken. On top of this, is a wide range of dialects representing the various sub-roots of the races themselves.

In practice, you’ll be able to get by with English in almost all the areas in the country, since the language is often used as the means of communication between the races, as well as being the language of business.
Nevertheless, it helps to be familiar with some basic words and phrases. Understanding the often fast-paced spoken word takes a lot of getting used to as they often stray from the rules of the language. For example, Malaysians in the Peninsular often use 'lah' at the end of a word or sentence, such as 'masuklah' and 'bolehlah'. In Sabah, 'bah' may be used instead.


The evolution of Manglish (Malaysian English) has taken a life of its own. It is not only confined to the used of the suffix 'lah', but is more pervasive and convoluted than can be imagined. Manglish is traceable way back during the British rule, when the rules of spoken English were often ignored and improvised to suit local ‘tastes’. On a more serious note, with the country aspiring for developed nation status, the government is aware of the need to raise the level of English proficiency in the country. This is a positive recognition of the importance of the language as the international lingua franca. However, this born-again stance will not be at the expense of the national language.