Learning Bahasa Melayu


I lived and went to school in the UK from the age of 4 to 9. This meant that my first language is, of course, English. To this day, I am more comfortable thinking and speaking in English than I am my "native language" of Bahasa Melayu. It didn't help that the reason I ever learned BM in the first place was because of being traumatized by the bullying that occurred when I returned to Malaysia and went to school here.

Fast forward roughly two decades later (let's not talk actual number of years!), and now my 6-year-old is about to enroll in primary school with 0% knowledge of BM. I KNOW this is my fault. I KNOW I should have started teaching him earlier. And I KNOW that he very well could face the challenges that I did when I was in school.

The thing is, my brother was 7 when we came back - the same age Aqil will be next year - and he caught onto the language really fast. Way faster than me! So I have faith that Aqil will be just fine.

For the time being, though, I'm trying to make sure he masters BM at least well enough to socialize in school and not be utterly confused the whole damn day (almost all subjects in the Malaysian school curriculum is in BM...and my teachers were worse than my peers in how they treated my "impairment"). Lucky for me, he is a good reader, so it makes it easier to teach him.


Aside from the bunch of books I've bought, I've gotten some pretty great tips from my awesome family and friends:

  • Say everyday phrases in both English and BM
  • Watch Oh My English! (We have started watching it...but it's not to learn BM, IYKWIM ;p)
  • Reading books in BM (I need to get more of these)
  • Repetition and positive reinforcement
  • Use Malay nursery rhymes and songs
I've also been playing word games and exercises, like telling him to "bawa" different things around the house for me, and saying "boleh" or "tak boleh" (I realize it's more grammatically correct to say "ambil" but he learned "bawa" from a book, and seems to like the word):
Me: Aqil, tolong bawa cawan dari dapur.
Aqil: Boleh! *Takes a cup from the kitchen*
Me: Aqil, tolong bawa cicak dari luar.
Aqil: Tak boleh! *laughs* 
Mind you, we've only been doing it a couple of days. And I now understand why people say that "Teachers find it hard to teach their own kids." 

So, parents of multilingual kids: how do you do it? Any tips? I need them!