Culture & Religion

English to BM Phrasebook – Part 5: Starting a conversation

tourist talking to local

If you’ve been following this series and practising what you’ve learnt so far, you are probably ready to tackle having an short conversation in BM. We’ll start off with a list of question words that you will need to know as well as some simple conversational phrases.

You’ll also need to familiarise yourself with honorifics in BM, including how to address yourself and others depending on who you’re speaking to, which can be challenging in BM. So, we’ll tackle that in Part 6. For now, let’s start with question words.

Question words

English Bahasa Malaysia
Who Siapakah
What Apakah
When Bilakah
Where (general) Di manakah
Where (coming from) Dari mana
How Bagaimanakah
How many Berapakah
Do..? Adakah
Why Mengapakah

Most of these question words have a suffix ‘-kah’ attached to it, which is the formal and most accurate way to use these words – it’s basically adding ‘is’ after the word. For example, ‘siapa’ = who, while ‘siapakah’ = who is. You can also use the word without the suffix like most Malaysians but you’d essential be saying ‘who that?’ instead of ‘who is that?’, which is grammatically incorrect but again, it’s what many Malaysians do.

I’d suggest sticking to the formal version for now. Once you get the hang of the language, then you can start dropping suffixes and using lah like a pro.

Example:

You can use most of these words like you would their English counterparts.

  • What is your name? = Apakah nama awak?
  • When did you arrive? = Bilakah awak sampai?
  • What is that? = Apakah itu?

Conversational phrases

English Bahasa Malaysia
How are you? Apa khabar?
I'm fine Khabar baik
Nice to meet you Selamat berkenalan
My name is… Nama saya…
You can call me… Awak boleh panggil saya...
What is your name? Apa nama awak?
I come from… Saya dari…
Where are you from? Awak dari mana?
I am ...years old Saya berumur...tahun
How old are you? Berapakah umur awak?
Are you Malaysian? Awak orang Malaysia?
I'm in Malaysia for work / holiday Saya berada di Malaysia untuk cuti / kerja
I'm here on holiday Saya di sini untuk bercuti
I am working here Saya bekerja di sini
I have been in Malaysia for … days / months / years Saya sudah berada di Malaysia selama…hari / bulan / tahun
I've been in Malaysia since... Saya sudah berada di Malaysia sejak…
How long will you be in Malaysia? Awak akan berada di Malaysia berapa lama?
I like to eat... Saya suka makan...
What do you like to eat? Awak suka makan apa?
Pardon me? Maaf?
Do you speak...? Adakah anda fasih bahasa...?
I don't understand Saya tak faham
I'm sorry Maafkan saya
Please Tolong
Thank you Terima kasih
You're welcome Sama-sama

Note on the phrase ‘How are you?’: The word apa (what) is used here because the phrase directly translates to ‘what news’, instead of being a direct translation from English. A direct translation of ‘How are you?’ would be ‘Bagaimanakah awak?’, which is not entirely inaccurate but is quite unusual.

touritst in malaysia

Example conversations

Here are two examples to help you put these phrases in context.

Example A

A: Hi, my name is Susan. What’s your name?
A: Hi, nama saya Susan. Apakah nama awak?

Promoted

B: Hi, Susan, nice to meet you. My name is Ali. Are you Malaysian?
B: Hi Susan, selamat berkenalan. Nama saya Ali. Awak orang Malaysia?

A: Yes, I am. Where are you from, Ali?
A: Ya. Awak dari mana, Ali?

B: I’m from America. I’m here on holiday.
B: Saya dari Amerika. Saya di sini untuk bercuti.

A: How long will you be in Malaysia?
A: Berapa lamakah awak akan berada di Malaysia?

B: About one week.
B: Lebih kurang satu minggu.

Notes:

  • lebih kurang = more or less
  •  There are alternate ways you can phrase the same questions. For example:
    • How long will you be in Malaysia can also be ‘Awak akan berada di Malaysia berapa lama?’
    • I’m here on holiday can also be ‘saya bercuti di sini’ (direct translation: I’m holidaying here)
Dalit durian | Photo credit: fmpgoh
Dalit durian | Photo credit: fmpgoh

Example B

A: Did you try Malaysian food?
A: Adakah awak cuba makanan Malaysia?

B: Yes. I like nasi lemak! What do you like to eat?
B: Ya, saya suka nasi lemak! Awak suka makan apa?

A: I like to eat durian.
A: Saya suka makan durian.

B: Pardon me?
B: Maaf?

Promoted

A: Durian, the fruit! You’ve not tried it?
A: Buah durian! Awak tidak pernah cuba?

B: No, I haven’t.
B: Tidak pernah.

Notes:

  • Pernah = have (experience, not possession)
  • Buah = fruit
  • BM words don’t have past or present tenses, so the word ‘adakah’ works for questions beginning with ‘did’ or ‘do’.

If you need any clarification, leave a comment down below and we’ll try out best to help you unravel the mysteries of BM. Check out the entire series of English to BM Phrasebooks here. 

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