AlwaysWoW! For a Great Great WoW in Life

Thoughts from me about things that are cool, that are WoW, that blow me away. Observations about businesses and people from a wide variety of life. Daily encounters - and thoughts outside the box, inside the box and without any box. New thinking, and challenging old thinking. Passionate about life, about respect, and about integrity.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Learning Bahasa Melayu - a long and rambling blog entry

I know, I know, I know - and I am somewhat ashamed. I am in Southeast Asia for about 11 years. I was in Malaysia from 1993 to 1995, than in Indonesia for three years, living through the crisis (so the crisis wasn't my fault, I promise!!). Later, I was in Singapore for one year on a contract, that brought me over the crisis and came back to Malaysia in the very end of 1999 (this starts to sound like a resume).

So I have been here long enough to learn Bahasa Melayu (for those from overseas, this is how the national language is called in Malaysia). Okay, I am struggling along - I can speak enough to fool a taxi driver that I know a lot - after running out of my words I just nod my head at the right points, or say something, when i catch up with the content, or think, I know what he (it is always a he) is talking about. I can order food at the hawker stalls or in a restaurant and thus impress visitors from overseas.

I understand more than I can speak, that is true. But it is not enough to bring me over the first 5 minutes of a conversation, and that is what I always want. A major part of my wife's family lives up in the North, and while they speak English, I know that I would go much further with them and learn a lot from them, if I could speak a better Bahasa. Problem - they speak the local dialect and this sounds very much like Thai to me.

The English of some of the Malays that I do know in Kuala Lumpur is not that good either and I always regret that I cannot follow their discussion in Malay, especially, if it sounds interesting and is at the edge of a topic where I have an opinion. But I cannot expect them to speak English, because they might get lost in that language - to dicuss, you need emotions, and if you struggle to think in another language, you might get lost in the discussion.

I am speaking Malay with the maid that works with my sister in law, but my wife tells me that I shouldn't because she wouldn't have a clue what I am saying, and that she wouldn't expect a Mat Salleh (white person - for those from overseas) to speak their language.

It is said that Bahasa is the easiest language on Earth and that might be true. Well, I could say, German is the easiest language on Earth as well - hey, I am speaking it since I was what? - 15 months old or even younger - hehe. Over my life, I learnt French - but forgot over 85% of it, and haven't spoken it in may be a decade - when I try to speak it, I actually flip into Bahasa.

I learnt Italian - one of my girlfriends back in German was Italian and when her mom and her brother came and both couldn't speak anything butItalian (okay, her brother spoke broken English), I learnt 200 words of Italian in one night. Our conversation went on in broken English, an Italian-German dictionary in my hand, my 200 words, and a lot of laughters.

I also learnt Spanish in Germany - met another girlfriend in the course and forgot all my Spanish the week after I left the course.

When I came to Malaysia, I attented a course in Mandarin. That was one of the heaviest struggle in my life. It took me hours to memorise the words and sentences, and honest by God, I had muscle ache in my jaw. A lot is gone now - 98% to be exact. I know how to say "I love you", "Thank you for your concern", "Good Morning". Through my kid's learning in school, I learn some new words again, like "Fish" or "School" or "Teacher". I still have the certificate - it says something like - "... Daringly took the challenge" or so and that is true - it was a challenge.

Bahasa is easy, since it doesn't have much grammar - some say no grammar at all. But there is no similarity to English or German or whatever other Roman or Anglo-Saxon language. Once you know a bit of the European languages, you see similarities between them.

For example - table is Tisch in German or tableaux in French (I think). Or Sun is Sonne in German or Soleil in French.

But table is Meja in Bahasa and sun is Matahari. Meja could be fork, food, eating, sleeping, book - anything in English. Same with Matahari and so on and so on.

So what I want to say is that I really have to learn one word after the next to get started in Malay. Memorising one after the next - drudging along. And that is the tough part. It is easy to speak English in Kuala Lumpur or the rest in Malaysia - no one forces you to speak the language. In contrast, in Indonesia, one needs to practice Indonesian, in order to make yourself understood. English is pretty bad, or hardly existing in many parts of Jakarta or in the rest of Indonesia. That is why I speak more Bahasa Indonesia than Bahasa Melayu as well.

Do I have the time? Well, I work about 10 to eleven hours a day, learn and play with my kid in the evening, bring him to bed, read a book for another hour or two to keep my knowledge updated and I am just tired after all this. Okay - excuses. I have to learn it. I want to learn it. It is on my New Years Evening Resolutions (yeah - I actually have those). Is there any chance that I will have my break through? I think, if I learn another 2,000 words, I will get started and things will get easier. How? Only time will tell - but I will go for it word after word after word - may be one word or two, three four, a day. Pushing my old brain, upgrading the hard disk up there some more.

So - that is my Sunday afternoon entry.


Powered by Blogger

Blogarama - The Blog Directory