Learning a language is one of those goals that is always floating about somewhere in my mind, but never quite makes it to the top of the priority list.
With a basic, if possibly terminally rusty, level of French from my school days,that would perhaps be the easiest choice for some degree of success. Although for years I have fancied learning Italian. In my mind, Italian is linked inextricably with food heaven and the semi-dormant dream of one day maybe ending up in a little Italian village, getting fatter by the second on all the incredible Italian cheese, wine, pasta and ice-cream. A good reason to learn a language, I would say. And then, in my moments of (admittedly fleeting) wisdom, I would think about the benefits of something with global currency, like Mandarin or Spanish.
If I’m honest, I never thought about Malay. But then I moved to Brunei and thought I should make an effort to fit in and communicate with the locals. Sandwiched between the two East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, Brunei’s first language is Malay, albeit with some linguistic quirks unique to Brunei. Well, we got to Brunei over two years ago. I’m embarrassed to say that in that time I’ve learnt only a handful of basic words or phrases. So it seemed like a gift when the garrison put out an email offering four free two hour basic Malay courses. Learning in a class environment, rather than at home under your own steam is always more likely to get results. Not least because you’ve made the commitment and can’t just bail out because there are other more pressing issues at that moment in time. Although I wasn’t so confident about it all this morning when, with 15 minutes before the first class started I was still shovelling baby porridge and trying to stop baby girl from smearing it all through her hair, whilst trying to get the crusty baby purée off my top and find the car keys.
But after the stressful run up, the first lesson was brilliant. Just me and four other ladies, which was a lovely group size. It allowed for lots of question time and focused attention from the tutor, without it being overly intense. Thankfully neither the other students nor the tutor minded me taking baby girl along. And luckily she was far too busy being nosey about what was going on, and listening to us talking Malay to make a fuss, and eventually got bored and went to sleep. I’m hoping for a repeat performance for the remainder of the classes!
I’ve learned today that a key point about spoken Malay is that it is a very lazy language. Why use three words when you can use one? Why use two whole words when you can shorten each and roll them together? Genius. Especially for non-native speakers, because it means that within hours you can learn a smattering of words which, with appropriate inflection, and the right accompanying gesture can give you basic conversational abilities. Three of the key words from today were ‘terima kasih’ – thank you; ‘bagus’ – good; and ‘boleh’ – can. The tutor commented that ‘Malaysia boleh’ is a common phrase and cultural attitude; a ‘can do’ approach to everything. So I am taking the boleh bull by the horns and will see how much Malay I’ve mastered by the end of the course. If it continues to be lots of one word sentences perhaps it will be easy ride. I can hope!