Difference Between Indonesian and Malay Language


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Although similar and mutually intelligible, Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Malaysia do have some differences in the vocabulary, spelling, pronunciation and grammar.


There are some common similar accents and dialects of Malaysian and Indonesian. This so happened because of the common cultural heritage and strong bond between the two cultures and countries. But even as it may be, differences between Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Malaysia were caused by their history of colonialism. The Indonesians had a very long mutual coexisting history with the Dutch and the Malaysian had theirs more with the British. This interaction brought some differences between the two regions. Bahasa Indonesia words were more derived from Dutch and absorbed some words from the locals diverse ethnics like the; Javanese, Balinese, Sundanese, and many more. This infiltrated the slight differences between Bahasa Indonesia and that of Bahasa Malaysia.

Some of the ways Bahasa Indonesia differs from Bahasa Malaysia

Having understood the origin of the two languages and what brought about some of the differences. Let us take a look at some of the ways Bahasa Indonesia differs from Bahasa Malaysia.

1. Same word but different meaning


Click on the Youtube video above to learn some words that exist in both Indonesian and Malay, but have completely different meaning, giving you more reason to not simply assuming by learning one, you’ll also master the other. It will certainly give you a headstart as both languages share some similarities but mind you, they are not that similar as many may falsely think!

Bahasa Indonesia Bahasa Malaysia
Shop Toko Kedai
Tandas Complete, finished Toilet
Pengajian Learning Quran Education
Percuma Useless Free
Kereta Train Car
Cakap Small chat

(not serious)



Cocok Perfect match, fit Having sex
Banci Drag/man-woman Census
Bisa Poison (snake), could Could
Bercinta Having sex Expressing love
Budak Slave Kids, youth
Butuh Need Penis
Gampang Easy Bastard
Pelan Slow(ly) Plan
Pejabat Person in important position Office
Cermin kecemasan Mirror of anxiety Emergency glass
Sila berkaki ayam Principle of having chicken legs Please enter with bare foot
Kesulitan Discomfort, Inconvenience Difficulty
Dikesali Annoyed regretted
Pembinaan Human development Construction
Pintu kecemasan Door of anxiety Door of emergency
Tandas orang kurang upaya Finish is the person who doesn’t enough effort Disable toilet

We can also look at some other additional words to extensively increase our knowledge on the two languages, Bahasa Indonesia and Malaysia.

Jeruk: ‘jeruk’ is actually refers to as ‘preserved fruits’ or ‘vegetables’ in brine and tinted in varying hues in Malaysia. In Indonesia, ‘jeruk’ is actually refers to an ‘Orange’; while to preserve fruits in Bahasa Indonesia is called ‘asinan.’

Perhentian Bas: ‘perhentian bas’ literally mean ‘bus stop’ in Bahasa Malaysia and ‘halte’ is ‘bus stop’ in Bahasa Indonesia.

2. Words with the same meaning but only similar spelling or not exactly the same spelling

These words have the same meaning in their English interpretation with closely similar pronunciation but their spellings are not exactly the same. Take a look at these words in the table below closely and you will see their slight differences.

English Bahasa Indonesia Bahasa Malaysia
Apple Apel Epa
Broken Rusak Rosak
Bus Bus Bas
Business Bisnis Bisnes
Because Karena Kerana
Different Beda Beza, Lain
Taxi Taksi Teksi
Television Televisi Televisyen
University Universitas Universiti
Which is Yaitu Iaitu

Looking at these words, Bahasa Indonesia words are following the Dutch alphabetic pronunciation. While on the other hand, Bahasa Malaysia words are derived from the English pronunciation. The ‘es’ in Indonesia is derived from the Dutch ‘ijs’ and the ‘ais’ in Bahasa Malaysia is derived from the English ‘ice.’

Take a look at the table below:

English Bahasa Malaysia Dutch Bahasa Indonesia
Ice Cream Ais krim Ijs je Es krim
Ice Water Air ais Ijs water Air es
Ice Sugar Gula ais Ijs suiker Gula es
Ice Drop Kejatuhan ais Ijs drupel Tetesan es
Ice Bag Beg ais Ijs zak Kantong es
Bean ice Ais kakam Bonen ijs Es kacang

3. Words with the same meaning but completely different spelling

These are words that you may not find in either Bahasa Indonesia or Bahasa Malaysia but they refer to the same word in English. Take a look at this table below. So for instance you would never find the word ‘Ketua’ in Bahasa Malaysia dictionary, and similarly, you would never find the word ‘Pengerusi’ in Bahasa Indonesia dictionary.

Words in English Bahasa Indonesia Bahasa Malaysia
Chairman Ketua Pengerusi
Clerk Juru tulis Kerani
Head Office Kantor pusat Ibu pejabat
Hospital Rumah sakit Hospital
How Bagaimana Macam mana
Teacher Guru Cikgu
Towel Handuk Tuala
Zoo Kebun Binatang Zoo

Some of the Bahasa Malaysia words are the same with English words because of their relationship with the English people as discussed earlier.

Do you find these differences interesting? If you are learning either Bahasa Indonesia or Bahasa Malaysia, don’t stress so much about the differences between the two language for now.

Both languages belong to the same language group and are about 60-70% mutually intelligible for daily conversation. That means if you are learning one out of the two languages, it would certainly give you a head start to learn the other.

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