Bahasa Malaysia

Finding a Mentor

Finding A Suitable Mentor

A good mentor… who can find them? That is the primary and probably most important question of any language learner. There are two ways to answer this question. What traits are necessary to make a person a good mentor, who should I be looking for? The second is physical, where is a good place to start looking? What if I don’t live near my target people group? Rest assured, there are tips and tricks for finding both.

  1. Find someone who will talk to you in the language.
    This may feel obvious, but once you begin lessons it’s crucial that you have someone who will speak to you in Bahasa Melayu and PRIMARILY IN BAHASA MELAYU if not ONLY. This goes for every single language you encounter. The best and most productive way to learn a language is through actually speaking in the language. If you have a friend who speaks the language fluently but you both start on a tangent about why “hati” literally means liver but also means the metaphorical heart in English then the whole point of the meeting deceptively becomes null and void. Talking about the language outside of actually using the language. A good mentor will foster an environment where the principal language is the only language spoken during the session. Some mentors might ideally be monolingual, only speaking the target language, which may initially be difficult to describe instructions but in the long run, will definitely benefit the learner. Though, particularly with Bahasa Melayu being used primarily as a trade language with many in South East Asia learning it as their second language, and many in Malaysia regularly learn and speak three languages sometimes more- English often being one of those. 
  2. Consider their background with the language. 
    Culture and language are deeply intertwined. Someone does not have to necessarily be a native speaker of the language to be a suitable language mentor, but they do have to have fluency and ideally a deep understanding of cultural norms related to the language. In the case of Bahasa Melayu, a majority of speakers have a different mother tongue yet, they live using the language every day for everything from shopping to listening to political developments. Being a diverse country, Malaysian citizens often are bilingual from a young age and in more than just one language. This means though Bahasa Melayu might be their second language they would still have a thorough understanding of cultural nuances. Still, it never hurts to have multiple mentors who are both monolingual and bilingual.
  3. Consider their background in the community.
    Do they know the people in the Malaysian community or other people groups that use the language well? Are they respected by the community by the community, do they work in the local schools or nursing homes? Specifically for Bahasa Melayu, how diverse is their friend group, do they only have Chinese-Malay, Indian-Malay, or Malay friends, or do they have a blend of cultures? Do they know local markets and vendors or hot spots for local Singaporeans? Having someone who knows the country or culture will serve you in the long run, particularly if you live or are planning to spend time in that community or country. Mentors with communal ties can connect you to more resources, other language partners, or possibly other friends.  
  4. Are you both compatible together? 
    For any relationship, you want to consider how well you and the other person would work together. Do they help teach and correct you in a way that you learn from or just in a way that irritates you? Are you both able to read each other’s moods and needs? A mentor could have everything you want, but if you just can not see yourself being friends with them then the mentorship won’t work. A mentor is your gateway into Bahasa Melayu or any language, they are your steadfast ally, your patient guide, your understanding friend. That being said, also be mindful of social and cultural norms, particularly in Islamic South East Asia between men and women. Having an oppositely gendered mentor, mentee relationship can sometimes color your perception and theirs in the community you’re hoping to enter. Again, since Malaysia is such a diverse country and different from Singapore and Brunei, this also depends on which community you’re hoping to enter into. Muslim Malays will tend to have stricter boundaries socially between men and women than Chinese or Indian Malays or others and each has its cultural norms. This is a good chance to do research and learn them!

Be mindful, these are suggestions and it might be that you can find someone who teaches really well and that you click with but who doesn’t have a strong presence in the community of interest. That’s alright! Weight the pros and cons before making a decision.

Where are Mentors?

Now where to find them? Even if you’re living in a country that may be a challenge, but the best advice I can offer you is to get involved in the local community however you can. My mentor was initially my high school Bahasa teacher but I really only got to know her well through coming with her on her volunteering expeditions to a local school. We eventually grew to be fantastic friends and came to the point where she became my sponsor for a bilingual project. You can begin your mentorship formally through classes online or live or tutors, like I initially did, and find a community there or you can seek out people in your local community. Check out your South East Asian communities (respectfully and at their invitation), if you know someone who speaks Malaysian fluently but you don’t think will be a good fit as a mentor ask if they have anyone they would recommend and would be willing to introduce you to!

Bahasa Melayu in the States?

From what I know of, there is a limited Malay community within the states- at least in Mississippi and around the Philadelpia area (I might be wrong though, Philadelphia is considerably diverse and new people from everywhere are arriving all the time!) however I have found friends who know Malaysian students at a university that’s near by so their may be more than meets the eye. Look around!

Starting off

If you’re unsure where to start, I would say, check the source. Chances are you didn’t hear Bahasa Melayu for the first time in a dream. Where did you first come in contact with the language? Was it a friend or college, a family coming back from overseas? Was it online or through a forum? You don’t need to have all the connections, just find someone who does and is willing to plugg you in.

In the mean time, do what you can on your own, listen to Bahasa Melayu Music (highly recommend Eza Edmond) or watch some dubbed movies on Netflix. Look up little phrases and listen to them, practice saying “Nama saya Mary” or “Apa khabar? Khabar baik!” in the mirror. Do what you can as you search for someone who can guide and teach you later on.


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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.