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To which language should you translate to localize in Malaysia?

What we know from our community


As someone who’s been living in Malaysia my whole life, I never thought that our neighboring country (Singapore) spoke better Bahasa Melayu than me. I always thought that since it was introduced as Bahasa Malaysia when I was in primary school, we Malaysians spoke it better than anyone else.  How shallow I was. Until recently, when I heard this comedian from Singapore speak Bahasa Melayu in full, perfect, proper sentences. It blew my mind! 

Well, Bahasa Melayu doesn’t just belong to Malaysia and Singapore alone. Indonesia and Brunei speak it as well. And it might be a surprise to some, but many of the words that we use nowadays come from the Philippines. 

There’s another special thing about Bahasa Melayu too. Especially the variety shared between Malaysia and Singapore. We tend to add ‘lah’ at the end of sentences. It makes them sound better, more emotional and full of expression, and it makes speakers feel closer to home. On top of that, we can mix and match with other languages, especially in English. 

For example, ‘lah’ is the fine line distinguishing between a cold, emotionless sentence and a warm, polite and thoughtful sentence: ‘No need’ and ‘No need lah’. 

Another good example: ‘lah’ is used to add emphasis to an adjective: ‘She is so pretty!’ to ‘Why lah she so pretty?’

So how do you know when to use it? I say, come on over here and you’ll master it in no time. 



Official language
Malay 80%, English 20%


T-Index ranks countries according to their potential for online sales.

Other languages
Manglish, Chinese, Dusun and Kadazan, Bajau, Murut, Lun, Bruneian, Rungus, Bisaya, Iranun, Bawang, Sungai, Suluk and Sama

High proficiency (EF) – 28 of 112 countries/regions in the world- 3/24 position in Asia.


Capital: Kuala Lumpur
Currency:  Malaysian ringgit
Population: 32,78 m
Population density: 100 /km2


GDP: 372.7 billion USD (2021)
GDP per capita: 11,371.1 USD ‎(2021) ‎
Exports: $266 billion (2020)


Internet users: 89.6% penetration, 29.55 million
Unemployment rate: 4.5% (2020)
Urbanisation: 76.61% (2019)
Literacy: 94.85% (2018)


Numbering system
Arabic numbering system and dot as decimal separator.

Date format: yyyy-mm-dd / dd-mm-yyyy
Time: 24h time system
Country code: 0060

Language data sources: Worldatlas/Britannica//EF/Wikipedia; Demography data sources: IMF/Worldometers; Conventions data source: Wikipedia; Economy data sources: WTO/OEC/CIA/Esomar/Datareportal; Statistics data sources: Datareportal/WorldBank/UN/UNESCO/CEIC/IMF/Culturalatlas/Commisceoglobal

Facts and data


$196 billion (2020). Integrated Circuits ($27.8B), Refined Petroleum ($13.4B), Crude Petroleum ($4.75B), Special Purpose Ships ($4.39B), and Broadcasting Equipment ($3.43B), importing mostly from China ($51.5B), Singapore ($22.9B), United States ($12.4B), Japan ($12.1B), and South Korea ($11.6B).

Financial inclusion factors (over 15 years of  age)
• 85% have an account with a financial institution
• 21% have a credit card
• 11% have a mobile money account
• 39% make online purchases

Ease of doing business
Easy to conduct business (81.5 out of 100) 3rd out of 25 East Asian and Pacific countries 12th worldwide out of 190 countries (2019, World Bank).

Global Innovation Index
Ranked 3rd out of 25 East Asian and Pacific countries, 12th out of 132 worldwide.

The Global Innovation Index captures the innovation
ecosystem performance of 132 economies and tracks the most recent global innovation trends.

$266 billion (2020).  Integrated Circuits ($65B), Refined Petroleum ($15.9B), Palm Oil ($10.6B), Semiconductor Devices ($8.67B), and Rubber Apparel ($8.25B), exporting mostly to China ($38.7B), Singapore ($36.5B), United States ($33.8B), Hong Kong ($18.2B), and Japan ($15.6B).

Main local online stores,,,,,,

Economic freedom
Mostly free (68.1 out of 100) 8th out of 39 countries in Asia-Pacific, 42nd worldwide out of 186 countries (2022, Heritage Foundation and Wall Street Journal).

Economy data sources: WTO/OEC/CIA/Esomar/Datareportal

Service Imports (2018)

Source: OEC

Service Exports (2018)

Source: OEC

Most complex products by PCI

Product Complexity Index measures the knowledge intensity of a product by considering the knowledge intensity of its exporters

Source: OEC

Most specialised products by RCA Index

Specialisation is measured using Revealed Comparative Advantage, an index that takes the ratio between Malaysia observed and expected exports in each product

Source: OEC

Export Opportunities by Relatedness

Relatedness measures the distance between a country's current exports and each product, the barchart show only products that Malaysia is not specialized in

Source: OEC



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Media language Malay, English

Information channels
Media freedom experienced a “breath of fresh air” following the change of government in 2018, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF). But a “draconian legislative arsenal” still poses a threat to journalists, it says. The government has considered repealing some of the laws which were used by the former administration to restrict reporting. A proposed industry-run Media Council would oversee print, broadcast and online media, but not social media comment. The TV sector comprises state and private networks and pay TV. Media Prima and Utusan are leading media conglomerates. The former’s national TV networks include TV3, the biggest terrestrial broadcaster. Print newspaper titles have experienced falling circulations. State-owned Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) operates two main TV networks. Private stations broadcast in Malay, Tamil, Chinese and English. More than 26 million Malaysians were online by 2019, around 81% of the population (InternetWorldStats). Online and social media are predominant sources of news, says Reuters Institute. Malaysian and international websites that criticised the former government were unblocked following the 2018 change of government, says Freedom House.

The press

New Straits Times – English-language daily
The Star – English-language daily
The Sun – English-language daily
The Malay Mail – English-language daily


Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) – state-run, operates TV1, TV2
TV3 – commercial terrestrial network
ntv7 – commercial terrestrial network
8TV – commercial terrestrial network
TV9 – commercial terrestrial network
Astro – pay TV, networks include Astro Awani news channel


Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) – state-run, operates some 30 national and regional networks
Era – private
Hot FM –private
Sinar – private

News agency

Bernama – state-run agency
Malaysiakini – news site
Free Malaysia –Today (FMT) – news site

Media data source: BBC

Internet Data

Internet users
83% penetration, 26.69 million

Share of web traffic by device
55.62% mobile phones, 40.53% computers (laptops and desktops), 3.82% tablet devices, others 0.02%

Median speed of mobile Internet connection
24.56 Mbps

Median speed of fixed Internet connection
74.84 Mbps

Mobile connection as a percentage of total population 127.7%

Percentage of mobile connections that are broadband (3G-5G) 97.3%

Most popular web search engines
Google (98.36%), Yahoo (0.79%), Bing (0.67%), Duckduckgo (0.07%), Baidu (0.05%), Ecosia (0.02%)

Most used social media
Facebook (77.51%), Twitter (10.65%), Instagram (4.82%), Pinterest (3.63%),  YouTube (3.01%), Tumblr (0.2%)

Internet data sources: Datareportal/Statcounter

Social statistics

Life expectancy
76.22 yrs (2020)

Healthcare expenditure
3.8% of GDP

The 3 main ethnic groups generally work well together but from time to time certain problems arise due to their totally contrasting natures. Malays are usually suspicious of Chinese Malaysians and Indians. Malaysians of Chinese descent tend to be more aggressive in their approach towards business and are frequently geared toward being successful. Malays, on the other hand, due to history from the colonial days are slower in their approach. In recent years though, Malays have achieved quite a bit through government programs. The New Economic Policy (NEP) grants special privilege to the Malays and through this policy the economic level of this group has risen, although it still not quite on par with the Chinese Malaysians. These privileges and the differences in economic wealth between the races have caused some friction but the NEP has been generally well accepted; the Chinese have also gained from the NEP.

Resentment does arise ocasionally: Malays will resent the Chinese worker especially if he or she is a hard worker. This is a rather difficult issue to understand but all these are related to local history. Perhaps reading the book called The Malay Dilemma by Dr Mahathir Mohammad will clear some of the unanswered questions. Indians are more likely to sit on the fence, not taking sides and leaning where the wind blows.

Class exists in Malaysian society. For instance royalty is treated with deference here. People with titles are also treated differently although it is much resented by the bulk of the middle class population. Recent years have seen much upheaval about changing these class divisions but not much has changed in the meantime. This class division scenario is similar to Britain’s but the so-called higher classes, like royalty and people with titles, do not have public profiles.

Average age of the population
30.3 yrs (2020)

Malaysia is a male-dominated society, although it is well accepted that women and men have equal opportunities. Women make up about half the workforce in Malaysia and although in recent years women have made tremendous leaps in acquiring high-level jobs, most top executive posts are still held by men. Women are well treated and respected but in certain matters of women’s rights, Malaysia has still a long way compared to the West. At the workplace, women and men work well together and are remunerated based on their abilities and regardless of gender.

Malaysia is a multi-religious society. Islam is the official religion of this country but other religious beliefs are practiced freely. There are more churches than there are mosques. The four main religions are Islam (about half of the population), Buddhism (about 20%), Hinduism (13%) and Christianity. Catholics form the largest number of Christians, the bulk being in East Malaysia (on Borneo). Malaysians respect each other’s religious beliefs and do not tolerate forms of religious extremism in any of the religions. Most workplaces provide a small prayer room for Muslims since they pray 5 times a day and at least 2 of the prayer times fall during working hours. Regardless of their religion, Malaysians work well together and do not seem to have serious problems with their differences in religious backgrounds.

Social statistics sources: WorldBank/UN/UNESCO/CEIC/IMF

The Data Factbook is a work in progress project. Our community is helping us to fill it up always with new and updated data. Your contribution is precious. If you want to help us, please write your advices at

Languages research

Dialects spoken in Malaysia


  • Bahasa Asli

  • Bahasa Malayik

  • Bajau

  • Tagalog

  • North Bornean/ Melanau-Kajang

  • Badayuh

  • Creole

  • Uninhabited

The geographical distribution of languages that you will find in the maps published in this section is a work in progress. Our community is helping us to fill it up with always new and updated data. Your contribution is precious. If you want to help us, please write to

Photo credit: Sadie Tapier, Unsplash