Why Bahasa Melayu should be the next language you pick up

Cos you can't order nasi padang in French.

Joshua Lee | September 05, 2016, 05:00 PM

Community efforts to get us learning languages are not new. From the Speak Mandarin Campaign to My Father's Tongue, they aim to get us re-acquainted with our cultural roots and languages.

Towards this end, the Malay Language Month (Bulan Bahasa), launched by the Malay Language Council Singapore (Majlis Bahasa Melayu Singapura), aims to preserve the Malay language and culture, especially so when the number of Malay speakers has been steadily decreasing since 2005.

We bring you three reasons why you should learn Malay.

It's our national language

Malay (Bahasa Melayu) was instituted as Singapore's national language. You can see this on our coat of arms, our National Anthem, and even when your sergeant yells at you to hentak kaki under the hot sun cos some bugger didn't polish his boots.

Long before Raffles came with his white entourage, Singapore was home to a thriving Malay kingdom, and had close ties with regional powers. These are documented in Malay stories as well as artefacts excavated from Fort Canning and Empress Place, among others. Instituting Malay as our national language is a nod to our history. Learning Malay could be a way of understanding our past - like when PM Lee talks about electing a minority president and you remember that we had our very first (and only) Malay yang di pertuan more than 58 years ago.

Golden_coat_of_arms_of_Singapore_(cropped)_-_20081001 Lions and tigers don't speak Malay but you can. Source.


As pointed out very concisely by this Quora user, Malay (both Bahasa Melayu and its variant Bahasa Indonesia) are easy to pick up. They use the same Roman letters from the alphabet which makes it so much easier if you already know English. Malay does not have any of the crazy tones that Mandarin uses, so you don't have to worry about accidentally swearing when you use the wrong tone.

Last of all, Malay does not use tense, grammatical gender, or plural forms, making it easier for you to use pick up lines like:

Don't get the pun? Ask a Malay friend. Don't get the pun? Ask a Malay friend.

Everyone loves practical choices

There are more than 230 million speakers of of both Bahasa Melayu and Bahasa Indonesia in our region. In Singapore alone, there are about half a million Malays (who presumably speak Malay) - that's a lot of friends you can practise your new language with. How many people did you say you can practise your Italian with?

Consider your visits to your favourite nasi padang stall. Instead of jabbing at the glass panel and going "this one", "that one", try:

"nasi satu makan, campur ayam merah, sayur, telur"

That would be one plate of rice, add red chicken, vegetables, and egg. Makcik will love you for it, and possibly throw in a free drumstick. Now, that's something you can't do in French.

Order your nasi padang in Malay and get free food. Source. Order your nasi padang in Malay and *maybe* get free food. Source.


The Malay Language Month runs from 15 August 2016 to 15 October 2016 and will be held at different locations across the island. You can look forward to activities such as concerts, singing competitions, and artefact displays that aim to teach you more about the Malay language and culture. You can visit the official Malay Language Month website to find out more.

Appreciating our heritage and culture here in multi-ethnic Singapore sometimes start from learning each other's languages. Give it a try and you might find surprise yourself with what you learn. You will definitely end up with more than a free drumstick.


Other languages that we need to learn:

Free dialect classes in campaign to “revitalise” use of dialects among young S’poreans

Here are 300 Hokkien animal names, because who knows, you might need it in S’pore some day


Top photo generated from a meme.

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