Yes, Malaysians speak English

You know, the idiom “Never judge a book by its cover” is so damn right. Whenever non-Asian foreigners look at me, they probably think I’m just another Asian girl; especially since we’re traveling in Asia. Heck, they don’t even bother to talk to me sometimes unless I feel sociable and attempt to make small talks.

And boy oh boy, you should see the surprise look on their face when I open my mouth and speak proper English. At first, the compliments were flattering because they must be thinking 1) “Wow, this Chinese girl speaks great English!” 2) “I didn’t know Malaysians speak English :o” (some don’t even know where Malaysia is FFS).

Nope, don't ever put this on your storefront

After a while, I think their “surprise” is rather belittling. What makes them think that Asians don’t speak English? Just because we’re not white?

Yesterday, I was tasked to look after the store coz the rest were away. A bunch of guests visited and I introduced some products to them. The man turned to me and said, “Wow, you speak perfect English!” with a bewildered look on his face, as if people in China don’t speak a word of English. At that moment, I thought to myself how ignorant is he.

Time and time again, people question our comprehension of the language. Why? How?

Yes, Malaysia is a complicated country – yet colourful, diversed and multi-cultural. You gotta come see it for yourself. Some don’t understand when I explain that we have 3 major races (Malay, Chinese, Indian) together with groups of indigenous people in Malaysia.

Hi, I am Malaysian. No, I’m not Malay. I am a Malaysian Chinese.

The Chinese and Indians came from their respective countries to make a living in Malaysia. My grandfather took the long and arduous journey in a ship from Guangzhou to Penang.

There are different types of schools in Malaysia (status quo as when I was a student):

  • National schools run by the government: Classes are taught in Bahasa Melayu (Malay language), our national language
  • Chinese schools built by Chinese merchants back then and continue to stand today: Classes are taught in Mandarin
  • Tamil schools for the Indian community back then and continue to stand today: Classes are taught in Tamil
  • Missionary schools set-up by Catholic missionaries (especially abundant during the British colony): Classes were taught in English back then but changed to Malay afterwards

I went to a missionary school, Convent. It’s an all-girls school. We have a little chapel at the front of our school field with a statue of Mother Mary. My Catholic friends used to say prayers there every morning. When I was in primary school (both primary & secondary are in the same compound), we still had a few Sisters in the school. We had some of the best teachers in town who were British educated; the same as any other reputed missionary schools.

Although classes were conducted in the Malay language, our main medium of conversation was in English. Heck, I even spoke English to my Malay language teacher. I spoke English to all my friends. I conversed in English with my Mom. So yeah, English is literally my mother tongue.

On average, Malaysians speak pretty decent English. Especially well in the bigger cities. And we don’t speak English with some crazy inaudible slang. We pronounce and enunciate our words clearly. In fact, Asians have an upper hand during debates because the adjudicators can understand us better.

So. Yes, Malaysians speak English and we’re a country in South-East Asia with Thailand to the north and Singapore to the south.

Hey! If you’re a well-exposed foreigner reading this, just take it with a pinch of salt. Don’t mean to upset anyone – just sharing, blatantly.

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