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I like to self-study the local language in the places I travel to. I don't do courses or attend classes.

I just arrived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It's a very multicultural city and though most signs are in Malay most of the spoken language I hear around me is English, Chinese, or one or another Indian language.

Other than going to Indonesia where a different variety of essentially the same language is much more universal, which city here in Malaysia would be the "most Malay" linguistically?

I'm aware that across Malaysia there are a good few other languages and dialects related to Standard Malay to various degrees, and I expect there will be lots of ethnic Chinese and Indian Malaysians everywhere, but I wonder if somewhere else (Johor Bahru? Penang?) might be more immersive if I want to hear and practice Malay with the most people every day in shops and restaurants, etc?

(I'm focusing on cities just because I find them easier to "live in" for longer periods than smaller towns or villages. I'm focussing on the peninsula because I intend to travel overland from here.)

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    In fact, there is almost no native languages in peninsular Malaysia. (modern) Malay came 1000 years ago and culturally wiped out everything. It is estimated only 50 000 people speak an "aslian"language (that is ANY native language other than Malay)
    – Madlozoz
    Commented Nov 20, 2014 at 11:11
  • I'll put "native" in scare quotes since it's not indigenous to the area but is that native language or the ethnic Malays who now live there. Well I was going to but that wouldn't fit y current wording. I'll think it over while I'm reading up on related topics. Commented Nov 20, 2014 at 11:16

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LOL! If you want immersion in Chinese culture then Johor Bahru and Penang are very good choices. You named the 2 most Chinese town of Malaysia.

Go to the east coast instead. To Kota Bahru then slowly travel south. Unfortunately, I think it is the rainy season now.

You can also stay in KL but move to Kampung Bahru (not far from the Petronas tower). Other "mostly Malay" location include Kampung Datuk Keramat, Segambut, Kampung Sungai Pencala, Gombak and Selayang (thank you @sabre23t)

You can also find small Malay villages near big Chinese cities. For example, when I am in Penang, I like to stay in Teluk Bahang, 1 hour away from Georgetown.

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  • Just shows how little us outsiders know about Malaysia. By the way you may not have noticed that I specifically rules out Indonesia in my question. It would be the right answer for some other question but not for me who wants to stay in Malaysia for now and who will be travelling overland. But pointing me to the right bits of KL is also good - thanks! Commented Nov 20, 2014 at 10:25
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    You can also stay in a Malay village next to a big chinese city. For example in Penang you will find the village of "Teluk Bahang" 1 hour away from Georgetown. It is next to the natural reserve and you can rent a room for 18 ringit (fisherman guesthouse). There is also an old hippy community but I forgot the name.
    – Madlozoz
    Commented Nov 20, 2014 at 10:28
  • You should add the details from this comment into your answer! Commented Nov 20, 2014 at 10:30
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    Since you are already in Kuala Lumpur, you don't have to go far from the city to immerse in "mostly malay" culture/language. Some nearby malay majority areas includes Kampung Baru, Kampung Datuk Keramat, Segambut, Kampung Sungai Pencala, Gombak and Selayang.
    – sabre23t
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 8:49
  • JB & Penang are very Chinese (as mentioned above). KL has a lot of Malays and if you want nearly everyone around you to be Malay go out to the rural areas. The more rural the more likely the people speak little English and you will have to learn Malay ;-)
    – bytedev
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 16:59
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I visited Malaysia again for six months last year and three months this year and this time finally managed to get my Malay to an adequate tourist level.

Perhaps surprisingly, I immersed the best in Johor Bahru! When researching accommodation options there just after the country reopened after the pandemic, I liked the look of a guesthouse called "Memory Guesthouse".

It turns out that this guesthouse is located about a half-hour walk from the city centre of JB in a suburb named "Kampung Mahmoddiah" which is majority Malay. The guesthouse is run by Chinese locals but there are no Chinese shops or restaurants nearby and only a couple of Indian ones. Everybody is very friendly and love it when you try to use Malay.

This time I also travelled the east coast from Sungai Rengit in the south to Pengkalan Kubor on the Thai border. I also got to use my Malay here of course and there were more people who didn't speak English, but the people were not quite as friendly as in Kampung Mahmoddia.

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