Southeast Asian Languages

Hello everyone! I am very interested in Southeast Asian languages so I am wondering if there are any native SEA language speakers (mainly Bahasa Melayu/Bahasa Indonesia, Thai and Vietnamese) here? I would like to interact and learn more about these cultures and languages. Thank you :grin:


Hi, a native Indonesian here interested in learning Thai and Vietnamese. In terms of Malay, I can only passively comprehend the language as it has so many similar words with a whole different meaning (we always find this amusing!).

I knew a few Thai phrases from my past travel, but never really learned the script because it somehow seems so… daunting. Both Thai and Vietnamese are indeed challenging and also very exciting to learn about, especially with the tones. Looking forward to talk with everyone here!


Hi! So, although it’s an L2 for me, I used to speak and write Malay at a near-native level (I studied it in school and used it regularly with Malay friends). I’m admittedly a little rusty these days since I haven’t spoken it for over 20 years.

Something that has been percolating in my head about Malay lately is the politeness levels of certain personal pronouns. I wouldn’t have thought them important – because I’d always felt that Malay culture was generally easygoing and not super formal – but even then there are rules around familiarity and politeness built into the language which are liable to cause offense if not respected. For instance, the usage of the words for “I” and “you” can be very complicated:

  • “Aku” and “Engkau”/“Kau” are considered extremely informal and can come across as rude if used with strangers or elders.
  • “Gua” and “Lu” (borrowings from Hokkien), as well as “Hang” are very informal and are sometimes used in a joking way (or is used conventionally in dialect).
  • “Saya” and “(title) + (name)” e.g. “Encik”, “Cik”, “Abang”, “Kak” (and sometimes English titles like “Uncle”, “Auntie”, “Miss”, etc.) are polite and safe to use.
  • “Kamu” is sort of in the middle – it’s a little more polite than “engkau”, but still cannot be used with elders or strangers.
  • “Anda” is is the impersonal you used in advertisements and such.

And to make things complicated, in Indonesian the politeness rules for the exact same pronouns are completely different! What a landmine! (When Indonesians say “aku”, it sounds a little off to Malaysian ears. :slight_smile: )

(p.s. The reason I became interested in this idea is because in Brazilian Portuguese, the 2nd person singular, formal and informal, pronoun is “você” (you). But I recently learned that in European Portuguese the use of the pronoun “você” is considered ill-mannered – and I saw a parallel cultural interpretation between Malay and Indonesian. The solution in European Portuguese is to conjugate the verb for “você” and drop the pronoun, or to use the person’s name in a 2nd person sense, which is something we do in Malay as well for politeness reasons, e.g. “Ana nak pergi makan?” when talking to Ana, is analogous to the Portuguese “A Ana quer ir comer?”. This sounds strange to English ears, “Ana wants to go eat?” when you’re talking to Ana who’s in front of you, but sounds perfectly natural in Malay and Portuguese! :slight_smile: )


On the use of personal pronouns, we generally don’t emphasize on age difference unless it is a really obvious gap, compared to in Korean language where a few months/years of difference really matters even in close relationships.

The use of “saya” is indeed commonly used when talking to strangers or in various public situations.
But in saying “you”, it is strange and rather impolite to do so in any kind of conversation, other than ones between friends. This has little to do with age, it’s more about the formality of situation.

The right way would be to refer to the person’s title and their names, e.g. Bapak/Pak, Ibu/Bu, or Mas/Mbak (brother/sister in Javanese but commonly used in Jakarta when talking to strangers/people in service), very similar to Malay.
I get called “Bu” or “Mbak” a lot by clients who are obviously older than me, for the sake of formality.

Additional notes for the “you” pronoun:

  • “Anda” is very formal. Other than in ads and public announcements, sometimes it is used in a condescending way when one’s angry.
  • “Engkau” or “Kau” is rather poetic and lyrical, only used in songs, poetry, or reference to God in prayers. It is usually paired with “aku”.
  • “Kamu” is more casual and intimate, mostly used among couples/spouses, close friends (usually among girls), family members to children, or between kids. It is always paired with “aku”.
  • “Lo” is colloquial, to be used with friends and paired with “gue”. Age doesn’t matter here either, as long as you acknowledge each other as friends. I have friends 5-10 years older than me and we use “gue-lo” casually. “Gue-lo” is almost only exclusively used in Jakarta.

Fun fact about “Aku”:
In Jakarta, the use of “aku-kamu” signify a milestone of closer relationship in dating, as casual friends usually use the more colloquial “gue-lo”.

In situations where we meet new friends like this, either “saya-kamu”, “aku-kamu”, or “gue-lo” is perfectly acceptable.

Wow this is a long-ass post, really apologize if I bore you out. Just very excited to share this!


Hi Jinyoung,

Indonesian speaker here :blush: I am Oscar.

I am really happy if somebody out there is interested in Bahasa Indonesia. I hope it’s alright to put external link on this forum, but I am glad to share what I have been doing so far with my page related to my mother tongue. Feel free to follow and share it to anyone out there who has the same interest in Bahasa Indonesia. Have a great day!

Cheers! :smile:


Hi Wenchong! Thank you for the insights on personal pronouns in Malay and Indonesian! Although I am at a C1 or both Malay and Indonesian, I still get confused sometimes on when to use which pronoun. Thank you so much :slight_smile:


I usually use “aku-kamu” when with indonesian friends and “aku-kau” when with friends who speak bahasa melayu. But i agree that we don’t usually use “you”. I always refer to my bahasa teacher as “cikgu” so when I want to say “you” I just say “cikgu (name)”. I actually haven’t heard a lot of people using “gue-lo”. Is it common in Indonesia?


Hi Oscar! Thank you for your sharing! I think it will benefit many people because there aren’t many resources for bahasa Indonesia. I will check it out soon. Terima kasih! :slight_smile:


“Gue-lo” is used only in Jakarta among teens and adults as everyone use it to talk with friends (I personally always use this).

People in Jakarta tend to be more casual and colloquial than other regions, so the use of “aku-kamu” between friends is seen as awkward and somewhat “too cute”, especially between guys. But for people from outside of Jakarta/foreigners it is of course perfectly acceptable to use “aku-kamu”.

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Hi Jinyoung. Malay native speaker from Malaysia here. I think @wenchong has accurately summarised different levels of pronouns in standard Malay which depends on the second person’s status. The second person’s name could also become a pronoun in casual conversations.

To add to that, street Malay is not the same as standard Malay, as it evolved from various dialects spoken throughout the country. As you probably know, the widespread definition of Standard Malay is the Malay language spoken in regions of Johor and Riau which includes present-day Singapore. However if you were to choose one dialect I’d suggest the KL/Selangor colloquial dialect as it is understandable in most parts of Malaysia, and to a great extent, when talking to the Malay population in Singapore.

I was raised in one of the northern states which means I have my own native dialect. However I can switch between the two dialects seamlessly.


Hi everyone, hoping to see you in the Asian Earth room any day!

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I visited it a few times today but there was no one there except me


Yup, been checking other rooms as well and they’re all empty. I think you have to set a time with others to have an exchange, saw someone reminding people to join in another language thread :slight_smile:

interesting! Can you share some phrases that you’ve learned, and type them out? :butterfly: I’m really curious of how beautiful the alphabets look like

Very interesting indeed. I used to travel to Indonesia quite a bit for work and was once invited to a “Hari Ulang tahun” event and I thought to myself why is anyone celebrating a “repeating year”? Found out later it was a birthday party.

Makes absolute sense, a birthday is repeated yearly. In Malay, however, it would be “Hari Jadi”,literally meaning a “day of becoming”.

Had always wanted to learn Indonesian but the books are too beginner level, would you have any recommendation for something more intermediate to get a Malay speaker to learn it quicker?

Thanks in advance.

Just like your FB page.

@AlexanderThe do you have any recommendations for Indonesian intermediate-level books for Malay speakers?

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Hi Jinyoung,

Malaysian Chinese here. I spoke and wrote in Malay all the way from elementary to finishing high school and grew up in a multicultural town and school environment.

I am from the Northern state of Malaysia, so we do speak in a different accent as compared to the other states while in school we were taught to speak in standard Malay.

One of the Malay culture which I am mesmerised with is the concept of “budi Bahasa” . Translated literally it would mean “kind language” but it has a deeper meaning. It is a way of life where you are guided by the gracefulness of your heart. You are to be gracious in words, deeds and manner.

I was taught from day 1 in school by my Malay teacher that without “budi Bahasa” you have achieve nothing even if you are the richest man on earth. what a wise teacher.

As compared to my Chinese culture, where almost everything has a measure of worth to it, it was and still a breath of fresh air for me.


Ribuan terima kasih ! Read about your experience in learning Russian.
One of my plans in the future is to learn it but there are too many interest at the moment. :slight_smile:

That happens all the time - at one point I was thinking of doing German, Turkish and Swedish together lol