How an Australian Learned to Speak Fluent Malay

Learning a new language takes time, effort, and immersion. For one Australian expat who has called Malaysia home for over 30 years, his journey to fluency in the Malay language has opened doors to understanding the culture and people.

In a recent interview, Max shared insights on:

  • How he mastered speaking Malay after 30 years in Malaysia
  • Wild monitor lizards and other wildlife found even in bustling Kuala Lumpur
  • The vital role mothers and women play in Malaysian family and society

From Losing His Aussie Accent to Blending Right In

When Max first moved to Malaysia, he picked up on the uniquely Malaysian style of English. After 30 years immersed in the culture, his Aussie accent has faded away when he speaks English. In fact, native speakers often assume Max is Malaysian when they hear him on the phone with his mom.

As Max explains, “Accents are like languages you should use an accent if you can use it to communicate effectively.” For him, adopting the local language and accent has been key to building relationships.

But Max acknowledges Australian English can be one of the toughest dialects to master, both in accent and vocabulary. “Technically it’s English, but it’s very much Australian communication,” he notes.

Over the years, Max worked hard to become fluent in Malay (known locally as Bahasa Malaysia). He credits his decent Malay skills to having “been here for quite a while” and traveled all across Malaysia.

Speaking the local language has let Max connect with people and experience Malaysia beyond just a tourist. As he says, “If you don’t speak Malay you kind of miss out on some of the beauty of the place that is Malaysia.”

Up Close With Wildlife in the City

When Max first arrived in Malaysia, he stayed just off Jalan Ampang near the future site of the iconic Petronas Twin Towers. Back then, the area still had trees, greenery and plenty of wildlife nearby.

He has an early memory of small house lizards called cicak darting across walls to catch moths. Max says these sightings took some getting used to, but now spotting cicak around Malaysian homes is perfectly normal.

However, one day his brothers discovered much larger intruders—a pair of monitor lizards over 6 feet long had somehow wandered into their living room! Also known as biawak, these reptiles are more typically found in forests and mangroves.

As the shocked brothers yelled, Max recalls the biawak frantically trying to scramble back out the window. He notes it’s vital to know whether you’re dealing with small harmless cicak or giant monitors that could be dangerous.

Top Spots for Living in Malaysia

When asked about the best places to live in Malaysia aside from KL, Max immediately highlights the island of Penang.

He explains its draws: “One food of course the sea, the ocean, you’re close to the ocean…quite a bit of Industry going on up there, an international airport so you can fly in and out quite easily.”

Penang’s multicultural history and famous street food scene also make it appealing. Max adds that George Town’s UNESCO-listed shop houses and architecture add cultural interest.

For business opportunities, Max suggests considering Johor due to its proximity to Singapore. He notes Johor has been attracting considerable investment and development.

As for retirement living, Max thinks Langkawi or Sarawak could be ideal to relax amid beautiful beaches and nature.

The Vital Role of Mothers in Malaysian Families

Max observes that Malaysians have a deep pride and obsession with food as both a social connector and cultural touchstone. But even more foundational is the role mothers and women play in Malaysian society.

He highlights how women traditionally hold authority over household finances in certain Malaysian subcultures. Mothers also emphasize educational excellence by guiding their children’s studies daily.

Max notes: “All of that it creates a different understanding of the level of empowerment that women have in Malaysia.”

He points to leading women politicians, CEOs and ministers. But believes female influence runs even deeper. As Max puts it, at the family level in Malaysia “you don’t mess with this side of the discussion.”

Mothers and grandmothers command tremendous respect for all they contribute. Their voices resound when making household decisions.

Working Moms Get Help from Extended Family

In many Western countries, new moms face tough choices between professional work or full-time childcare duties. Often the only options are expensive nannies or quitting their career.

But Max highlights Malaysia’s extended family support system as invaluable for working mothers. In many cases, grandparents willingly help care for young kids. This allows both parents to pursue careers if desired.

When working parents return home, the whole family eats dinner together. Then mom and dad catch up on homework assignments or other parenting responsibilities in the evenings.

Per Max, relying on relatives for childcare helps sustain intergenerational respect in Malaysia while empowering women. He believes it embodies the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” better than Western cultures.

Tips for Smooth Malaysia Relocation

Considering a move to Malaysia? Max suggests first checking visa options carefully based on your goals for length of stay or residency goals. He advises having realistic expectations about application timelines.

Upon arrival, Max strongly encourages getting out and exploring this safe country on your own. To fast-track cultural immersion, he also recommends connecting with some locals right away.

Malaysians are famously welcoming. Max says many will proudly bring you to their favorite restaurant to showcase Malaysian cuisine.

So be prepared to eat lots of remarkable food as you make new friends!