The official language of Malaysia is Bahasa Melaya. Bahasa Melaya is written in the Roman alphabet, unlike other Asian countries’ languages which are written in scripts that are beautiful but undecipherable to tourists. By the time we arrive at the guest house, my Bahasa Melaya vocabulary has grown to a modest but exciting 5 words: Keluar (exit), Kopi (coffee), Bahaya (danger), Restoran (restaurant) and Bilik (room).
I never realized what a visual learner I am before I moved to Japan. Since I learned Italian and Spanish purely by listening to my parents and relatives speak and retain thousands of facts told to me by friends, I always assumed my learning powers are linked to listening. And yet, surrounded by what seemed like an endless cacophony of Japanese sounds, I could only pick out “desu ka” and “ne” for close to a year. Faced with thousands of characters to learn, my Japanese development crept. It is only now, over 2 years later, where I have progressed to the point of being able to pick up new phrases simply by listening. I must have been reading your lips all this time, folks – that’s how I remember your childhood rabbit’s name.
I’m staring at the language guide in my Malaysia guide and by now, I’ve picked up the phrases for Thank you, you’re welcome, goodbye (to someone leaving), goodbye (to someone staying), excuse me, and where is? I have no doubt my pronunciation is tremendously laughable but I can’t help but feel pleased. The official language here might be Bahasa Melaya, but it seems that most people speak English. Most signs, many magazines and newspapers – English. How different from living in Japan.
Because most people speak English here, I doubt any tourists try to learn any phrases in the local language. Perhaps my attempts are more ridiculous than appreciated: I try out my freshly acquired mangling of Bahasa Melaya every chance I get and get laughs and grins in return. But they do respond in Bahasa Melaya. They do respond.