SHAH ALAM, Feb 8 — A Japanese exchange student in Malaysia was surprised to learn that some natives struggle to converse in Bahasa Malaysia while some migrant workers are fluent in it.
Masaya Ono who is studying at Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) on a foreign exchange programme said he was able to pick up Bahasa Malaysia after living here for only six months.
"In Japan, we prioritise our language to a point where many Japanese citizens can't speak English. Even tourists and foreign workers know the language.
"But what is shocking is that a foreigner like me can speak better Malay (than some Malaysians). Even Nepali and Bangladeshi security guards at my place can speak better Malay," the 21-year-old told ProjekMMO, Malay Mail Online's sister publication in Bahasa Malaysia an interview last week.
"Foreigners are better, how can this happen? It is strange," the student from Bunkyo Gakuin university added.
Ono admitted that it took him some time to learn the basics of the Malay language, and that he sought the help of his university mates in UiTM, several translation books as well as Google to help him understand the language better.
But he also related that he was compelled to speak the language because he has been mistaken for a local.
"Maybe, it’s because my face is not like a Japanese person’s, people think I am local. But it is good, indirectly it teaches me to speak Malay. Sometimes when I want to buy food, the food seller asks me 'hendak makan apa? Makan di sini?' (what would you like to eat? Eating here?)" he said.
Ono said he was taken aback during a recent holiday trip in northern states like Perak and Penang when he found that many people did not understand basic Malay.
"I was in Ipoh and took a GrabCar. I was shocked that the driver did not understand what I had said in Malay. In the beginning I spoke English and he replied in Chinese, thankfully I spoke some basic Mandarin," the student said.
He recounted a similar experience in Penang, where workers in several shops he went did not understand Malay or even English.
"I think it is impossible they are not fluent in the national language," he said.