The Local Lingo

13.07.2011 updated by admin
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While Malay language classes are compulsory at this private university, some foreign students have found appreciation in the language and are keen to learn further.
AFTER only two years in Malaysia, Iraqi student Ali Haidar can confidently converse in Malay, and even introduced himself in the language, saying: “Selamat Pagi. Nama saya Ali Haidar. Saya dari Baghdad, Iraq. Saya ada dua adik perempuan, dua adik lelaki.
(Good morning. My name is Ali Haidar. I’m from Baghdad, Iraq. I have two younger sisters and two younger brothers).
Ali, 21, is among the many international students who have learnt the language during their studies in Malaysia.He learnt the language from scratch, after arriving in the country in 2009 to pursue a degree in Information Technology (IT) at Universiti Tenaga Nasional (Uniten). Remarkably, the former Al Kwarzme High School student from Baghdad could not speak English either, and had to take lessons in it as well for a semester.
At Uniten, Malay is a compulsory subject. Ali took Malay lessons for one semester and earned an A grade.
“I can understand and speak. It is not difficult, because I like to learn the language. It is easy for an Arab to learn Malay as there are 1,000 Arab terms in the Malay language,” Ali said in an interview recently. However, he admitted that there were a lot of subtleties in the language which could only be learnt through social interaction, such as the formal and informal terms to refer to oneself.
“When I spoke using the word ‘aku’ in class, the teacher corrected me,” he said with a grin.
Ali, a self-sponsored student, said he has also made many Malay friends.
“During holidays, I follow my Malaysian friends back to their hometowns. I have been to Terengganu, Malacca, Kelantan, Johor Baru, Kuala Perlis, Langkawi and Penang. The food I really like in Kelantan is the ‘budu’. International students with Malaysian friends find it easier to learn the language. If you have lots of Malay friends, then you can easily pick up the language,” he said.
Ali added that there were many advantages of speaking Malay.
“If you speak in Malay at the wholesale or night market, you are going to get lower prices,” he laughed.
Digotetso Matema, also known as Dee, is 21, and hails from Mathabhane, Botswana. He said he faced many difficulties in the early stages of learning Malay.“Initially, it was an uphill task. However, after I became the executive council member of the Student Representative Council for International Affairs, I had the opportunity to polish my Malay,” he said.
Dee, a Botswana government scholar, said he had seniors who continued to speak in Malay, or at least count in the language, even after returning to their home country upon completing their studies in Malaysia.
Omar al-Kaf, from Hadhramaut, Oman, has had similar experiences.
“It is not difficult to learn the Malay language, but it needs lots of practice which I initially did not do.
When I arrived, I was the only international student in the class; the rest were Malays. I could initially understand and utter a few words,” said Omar, who is also a self-sponsored student at Uniten, pursuing a degree in IT.
Although they have completed their Malay lessons, Omar and other international students said they were keen to learn the language further.
Immersive learning
Omar said he was learning the language by befriending Malay students, and even accompanying Ali to Kelantan. He also enjoys taking a break in Penang. “My father has a friend in Penang. My hometown now is in Penang,” he joked.
Dee carries a Malay dictionary with him wherever he goes, adding that it was useful when he is in cafeterias and restaurants, or when using taxi services. He has also downloaded an English-Malay translation software on his mobile phone. Dee, who is pursuing a degree in electrical and electronics engineering, has even designated Mondays as “Malay Language Days”, even if all he does is shout out greetings such as “selamat pagi” (good morning) or “jumpa lagi” (see you again) to whoever he comes across.
Idriss Moussa Ali and Abdoulaye Abakar, both from Chad, said they were encouraged to learn Malay after doing well in the subject at Uniten. “It is easy to learn, we had an A in the test,” said Idriss, who speaks fluent Arabic. To his surprise, this self-sponsored civil-engineering undergraduate found that many of his Malay friends preferred to converse with him in English.
Idriss said although his Malay vocabulary is limited, he continues to converse with friends, or at shops and restaurants. He added that he also took the opportunity to learn more of the language while taking in the sights of Malaysia by accompanying his friends to their hometowns.
Idriss, who has two more years remaining in his course, said he has been to Malacca, Batu Pahat, Johor Baru and Ipoh.
Meanwhile, Abdoulaye, who can speak French, Arabic and Urdu, said he can understand Malay if it is spoken slowly.
“I like to learn Malay and speak the language. But studying the language for one semester is not enough,” said Abdoulaye, also a self-sponsored student.
Abdoulaye, who arrived in Malaysia in 2009, initially enrolled with International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). He later switched to Uniten, since IIUM does not offer courses in civil engineering.
He said while English was widely spoken, it was difficult to move about, eat or shop without knowing Malay. During his visit to Langkawi Island last semester break, Abdoulaye also observed that it was easier to approach locals when speaking in Malay.
Source: The Star Newspaper, 3rd July 2011