Bahasa Malaysia

Tips and Tricks For Language Learning

Useful Strategies for Summer Learning

Throughout any language course, there are effective and ineffective methods that can either elevate and contribute meaningfully to your language development, or exist as a stumbling block for you. As I share my own goals and hopes from the past eight weeks of learning and what helped me best work towards those, I hope you will feel inspired and encouraged to do the same! These are all just stepping stones on a long journey towards language proficiency.

My ISP Goals:

By the end of one semester of language study, I will be able to:

    1. 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. (High Intermediate)
    2. I will be able to understand and single out words from native speakers and will be able to either ask them to provide synonyms to words I don’t know or to describe them and learn new words through conversation. (High Intermediate)
    3. I will be able to have confident conversations about appointments, groceries, school, work, family, holidays, directions, hobbies, along with future and past events. (High Intermediate)
    4. I will be comfortable asking questions about the other person and comprehending their responses to the point of being able to ask pertinent follow-up questions. (High Intermediate) I will develop my vocabulary of common words (about 300-400) and phrases so that I can remember the most common words and phrases of Bahasa Malaysia for near-instant recall.
    5. I will begin to pick up more of the contextual meanings of certain phrases and words (e.g. gembira verse bahagia). (High Intermediate)
    6. I will grammatically be correct (or colloquially correct) during the majority of my time speaking and writing. (High Intermediate)

I was coming from a High Novice hoping to advance to a High Intermediate. Considering where I was before and where I am now there has been improvement and here are some tips on what worked best for me and my overall goals:

  1. Having conversations nearly every day.
    You would like to speak? Practice, practice, practice. One of my weakest aspects of language before these eight weeks was my speaking and while it’s not impeccable now, my fluency and conversational skills have certainly vastly improved and that is entirely due to the fact that I talked to someone for at least an hour five days out of the week in Bahasa Melayu. I know, not everyone has that advantage or it’s beyond other’s price range or means but if you can practice speaking daily, take advantage of that. I don’t mean sitting and talking about the language or speaking to one another and using phrases or little conversations in Bahasa Melayu. I mean taking an hour IN Bahasa Melayu. All of it. The clarifying questions, the pauses, the lessons all of it in Bahasa Melayu as much as you can- you will improve. It’s also an amazing way to develop your vocabulary because you are actively trying to find new ways to express your thoughts and ideas.
  2. Practice writing every day.
    Similarly with speaking, and particularly if you are vocabulary-focused like I was for this class, writing every day coupled with reading can be a fantastic way to improve your writing- especially if you then have someone like your mentor read it with you.  For my plan, I learned twelve vocabulary words each day (more about how those were picked in the tip below) and integrated them into my writing. At first, it was just simple paragraphs and creative writing but I got to experiment and try new things like poetry in Bahasa Melayu. These can prove to be really fun and it’s really helpful as you learn sentence structure and seek to improve as well as providing context and a framework to review the vocabulary at a later time.
  3. Having my vocabulary interconnected with my resources and conversations.
    This one is the biggest. When I first started the class and I decided I wanted to focus on gaining new vocabulary I had no clue what vocabulary would actually be pertinent and useful for later conversations. So I started with the basics and became flexible. I looked through my vocabulary, language books (like Malay for Everyone and Learn Malay: Quick/Easy/Efficient: 2000 Key Vocabularies), and my online resources (like for the startling vocabulary. This however was not my final list. As I had conversations throughout the week or I read from Putra Gunung Tahan and listened to my music I picked up other words, more applicable to my daily life than just the stereotypical common ones that I really wouldn’t use. I learned the most from my conversations with my mentor and language partner so when you’re speaking always be sure to be asking about words and have a notepad and pen (real or digital) at the ready to jot down vocabulary. This also can serve to reinforce vocabulary. Revisiting newly learned vocabulary inside the stories or books you read can strengthen your memory of them later and help you to understand their meanings more fully in context. You could even take your vocabulary all directly from a passage in your book and work on really developing that vocabulary inside its intended context.
  4. Centering my weeks around topics.
    When I was planning to accomplish these goals in my ISP I ended up each week, taking a unique topic and dedicating a week to it. This really helped especially with my specific goals of what I wanted to be comfortable talking about and helped to narrow down my vocabulary. It also gave me built-in conversational topics for my mentor and language partner to discuss which in turn allowed me to practice my specified vocabulary (or as I noted in the previous tip contributed to deciding what vocabulary I wanted to study).
  5. Consistent daily emersion. 
    Even on a day off from speaking, take some time to listen to a song or two in Bahasa Melayu, watch a movie in it or read a fun book in Bahasa Melayu. Maybe make a meal from a recipe in Bahasa Melayu or make up a little song to remind yourself of some of the vocabulary words you learned the day before. Try to integrate it into your daily routine as much as possible. Little things add up and it might be a little tedious at times but ultimately it will result in a more intimate knowledge of the language in daily life and little joys associated with growing in a language.
  6. Know your affixes.
    In a language where arguably 80% of the vocabulary is built through prefixes and suffixes, there is good reason to commit to learning your affixes well. I committed to reviewing/learning one a week and made effort to work it into my conversation and writing because of how important they were to learning Bahasa Melayu. These will assist in understanding sentences more than anything else you do. Learning affixes opens up a world of possibility in Malay allowing you to go from memorization to experimentation as you try to figure out if “mengikutan” is a word or not and what “membukukan” means based on the context and root word. It almost becomes like a game, one that you can check and rejoice when you get something right and learn well when you get something wrong. But you can’t do any of that if you don’t have any tools to begin. Affixes will help you build on Bahasa Melayu in so many different ways.

So those are just a few of the tips and tricks that helped me as I worked towards my Bahasa Melayu goals for this summer, and perhaps they’ll assist you in yours! Happy learning everyone!


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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.