With my suitcase all packed again, I got in my Grab and headed to the Jakarta, Indonesia airport for my flight back to Vietnam. I was a few hours away from ending my streak of nearly six months visiting countries that spoke Malay (Malaysia and Brunei) and its extremely close cousin, Indonesian (known to locals as “Bahasa”).

It quickly became apparent that my Grab driver didn’t know any English. How was I going to pass the time? I only knew a little Indonesian and this was Jakarta traffic, after all. In other words, as always, the traffic was horribly congested and we had an hour and 15 minutes ahead of us.

“Oh, I know! I’ll write down all the words I know in Malay and Indonesian!”

With that goal in mind, I got out my phone and quickly recalled all I could (hereafter, for simplicity, when I refer to “Malay”, I’m referring to Malay and Indonesian, unless otherwise noted).

Malay and Indonesian are easy to learn

So far, I’ve visited 12 non-native English-speaking countries. Save for my existing beginner’s level knowledge of Spanish, Malay has become my next strongest language. But why was it so easy to learn a few basic words?

For starters, similar to the aforementioned language of Spanish, Malay words are very easy to read and pronounce. Interestingly, I found out the word for “free” (i.e. “no cost”) is the same in Spanish as it is in Malay – “gratis”.

However, Malay is even easier than Spanish because, like English, their words don’t have any accents. Plus, in Malay, there are no verbs to conjugate! Wow, so refreshing!

Furthermore, when I spoke Malay to Malays, they almost always understood me. This was very encouraging and made me feel like learning more words.

The list

As you read through the list, you can see what words became most important for me to learn. The list may look long to some readers, but I can assure you, I feel the list is too short. I wish I’d kept a running list of words, rather than hurrying to remember them all on my way to the airport.

Note: All words are the same in Malay as they are in Indonesian, unless noted with an asterisk (*). Asterisks denote the Indonesian translation.

keluar = exit

masuk = entrance

berhenti = stop

awas = caution

selamat datang = welcome (when entering the next city, usually you’ll see a huge sign with this greeting)

sejuk = cold

panas = hot

tandas = toilet

ayam = chicken

daging = beef

nasi = rice

mee/mei* = noodles

goreng = fried

jam = hour

satu = one

dua = two

tiga = three (when taking pictures, “satu, dua, tiga!”)

sampai ketemu lagi = see you again/later (more common in Indonesia)

jumpa lagi = see you again/later (more common in Malaysia)

terima kasih = thank you

sama sama = you’re welcome

telur = egg

ikan = fish

kota = city/town

di = to

paket = combo (as in “combo meal”)

air = water (pronounced “ah-eer”)

air terjun = waterfall

selamat pagi = good morning

selamat malam = good night

besin = gasoline

minuman = drink

susu = milk

tidak = no

gula = sugar

pedas = spicy

roti = bread

wanita = women

pria = men

jalan = street/road

Musholla = Muslim prayer room

kloset = toilet

gratis = free

dilarang merokok = no smoking

gua = cave

bukit = hill

gunung = mountain

orang = people

The easy list!

Malaysia was a territory of the British Empire. This is partly why Malay has adopted a ton of words that are extremely similar – or in some cases, identical – to their English translations. Here’s a short list of examples:

ya = yes

bir = beer

Parkir = parking

sekolah = school

bas/bus* = bus

petrol = gasoline

terminal = terminal

komputer = computer

amerika = america

minit = minute

teksi = taxi

telefon = telephone

menu = menu

foto = photo

restoran = restaurant

sosej = suasage

tol = toll

informasi = information

internasional = international

plastik = plastic

organik = organic

teh = tea

kopi = coffee

es = ice

jus = juice

motor = motorcycle

tahu = tofu

polis = police

Safe travels

Now you know more about Malay and Indonesian. Remember to bring my list with you when you visit Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, or East Timor – you’ll be ahead of the game! Have fun!