Languages in Penang

As you walk around Penang you can hear many languages being spoken. In this section we will give you a few lessons and guides to help you get around.

Bahasa Melayu

Bahasa Melayu, also called Malay, is one the national languages of the country. It is spoken by almost everyone to some degree and will be seen on most street signs. This will probably be the most helpful language for you to learn as you adapt to living in Penang.


Mandarin, or Chinese, is spoken by most of the Chinese population. It is taught in the Chinese schools. I have actually seen some Indian kids speaking Mandarin with each other. When I asked them about it, they told me that their parents put them in a Chinese private school.

I will not be sharing many Mandarin lessons because there are many online that can do a much better job than I can. If you are interested I recommend Rocket Chinese!


The local Chinese use Hokkien for colloquial conversation. It is not a literary language and it hasn’t been taught as part of the formal education system in over a century. I understand it because I speak Taiwanese and it is very similar. Once you know some numbers and simple phrases, you can have a great time shocking the sellers at the wet market with your Hokkien ability.