Bahasa Malaysia

Conversations with Mentors

Beneficial Conversations

Congratulations on presumably finding a mentor! Hopefully, they are supportive, helpful, patient, and work with you well, you have just begun the foundations of a beautiful friendship or maybe you’ve built upon an older one, either way, you are now meeting together and working on ways to improve your language skills, so what do you talk about?

The hope is always foster language learning in your meetings but they also can be places of cultural discovery, personal interests, meaningful interactions, and laughter with your mentor.

A couple of suggestions for you as you continue with your conversations:

  • Predetermined Topics: A fantastic way to enter into a conversation is to have something you both are already planning to talk about. Set up designated topics for the call or week and figure out some activities to do based on them. That way even if you already finish what you were planning you still have a thread of conversation to continue on.
  • Dialogues: If you have found dialogues in your chosen language I would highly suggest doing them with your mentor. Going back and forth, maybe having them read the whole thing through first to get pronunciation on it before each choosing a person and going through it. Switch speakers, change out words and phrases, even continue the conversation in the dialogue beyond the words written on the page. This will be really good practice for daily interactions!
  • Outside Reading or Watching:  If you choose a book in Malay (Putra Gunung Tahan by Dr. Ishak Haji Muhammad is a good suggestion for intermediate to higher-level learners) or a movie. Anything in Bahasa Melayu you can then discuss with your mentor that allows you to have a back and forth conversation with questions and answers- possibly on both sides.
  • Create and Share: Practicing Bahasa Melayu writing is awesome to grow more familiar with the vocabulary, the structure, and the flow of Bahasa Melayu, particularly if you are doing it along with reading each day. This can also be a way to practice reading to your mentor and to get their thoughts and corrections.
  • Don’t be afraid to REPEAT: If you do not understand something, ASK. If you think your pronunciation is off, ASK. If your mentor said something you just could not catch, ASK. Do you not understand a word, ASK. Do not be left in the dark, your mentor is here to help you. If you want to learn the language to the best of your ability then you need to be willing to go over things over and over again. Get stuff down. “Sila Ulang“, (please repeat) should be a go-to phrase.
  • Figure it out (In Language of Course): Say you are trying to say: “Kamu akan rugi duitnya.” (I will lose my money) but you don’t know the word “rugi“. You could ask for the word “Kata untuk “lose” apa?” and bring English into the conversation, or you could try to continue in Bahasa Melayu and attempt to foster it naturally while working on asking for definitions in Bahasa Melayu. You could say, “Mereka akan ambil duitnya dari kamu.” (They will take money from you) or “Kamu akan duitnya sedikit selapas ini.” (You will have less money after this). Also, try describing in Bahasa Melayu to your mentor what you want to say, talk about someone having money and then not having any, and try to work out it with your mentor through context and close words. “Seperti” (like) will be your friend. You can ask your mentor if one word is like this other word or phrase and ask if your mentor would be willing to use words in sentences so that you can develop an understanding of their different meanings.
  • Don’t try to push beyond your means: Thinking about a phrase that you would like to tell you to mentor but you have no idea how to even begin phrasing it or even half the words you would use to make it. Stop. Don’t try pushing way beyond your current speaking level, you’ll just end up confusing everyone. If you don’t have the vocabulary yet, then you can’t say it till you have that vocabulary. If you don’t know the structure, then you need to practice using sentences of that nature. Once you get to the means where you can say that, you may find it’s not even a phrase that’s correct or will ever be said! There will be time to get to a higher level when with your mentor focus on the back and forth conversation and build your skills in that. It’s ok to reach, just don’t overreach and trip yourself up.
  • Laugh: If you and your mentor get in an open-ended conversation about the art of their culture, invest in it. If you say a word wrong and it’s funny, laugh. You’re building a relationship as well as a skill, make sure you’re enjoying your time with your mentor and it will make the lessons even more enjoyable.

Relationship with my ISP: 

My goals in my ISP are very much connection based with one of the main goals I set for myself this time being:

I will consistently hold meaningful conversations with a mix of simple and complex sentences over a variety of topics without the need to use a dictionary to constantly look up words.

Thus, I wanted to work really hard to be able to ask and probe for understanding in Bahasa Melayu with others. So, my tip about asking in the language is a big important part of understanding my goal. I also have lots of reading and writing activities I do on a daily basis like writing a paragraph of Bahasa Melayu every day to gain proficiency in the daily vocabulary and reading my book Putra Gunung Tahan as well as a weekly topic to have discussion points with my mentor, that way I am able to practice explaining and answering questions that my mentor may have. This focuses on my speaking and pronunciation and works to being understood.

I also use dialogues and drills which are more sharpening tools and dive deeper into the normal conversation and focus on vocabulary retension. These can take a more open-ended twist too if your mentor and you change the words (like in a buying and selling dialogues, changing what’s being sold) or continue the dialogues on. These work on my comprehension and pronunciation as well as my vocabulary and discerning appropriate responses to questions or phrases.

These each can also branch into a discussion where I can go deeper with my mentor and focus on listening and asking questions much like my mentor did when I was describing my paragraphs or story. This really pushes towards the overall goal of meaningful understanding in language terms and more often than not, in cultural ones as well.

And most importantly everything should be attempted all in Bahasa Melayu, I have people I meet with five days out of the week for at least an hour where we attempt to work in all Bahasa Melayu. Forcing yourself to use the language daily will contribute to your progress.


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Resources for Self-Instructional Learners of Less Commonly Taught Languages Copyright © by University of Wisconsin-Madison Students in African 671 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.