Localization: Training & Development in Malaysia

Carmazzi Global Solutions Training and Development Leave a Comment

By Jen Weaver, Carmazzi Global Solutions

malizyaAs we continue our journey around the world, let’s explore some common cultural facts about Malaysians and their expectations when it comes to T&D.

Test your knowledge of Malaysian culture with the Fun-Fact questions below:

  1. Malaysia shares which large island with two other nations?
    1. Java
    2. Sumatra
    3. Borneo
  2. Malaysia is well-known for its manufacturing capacity. Which of the following items are commonly produced in this country?
    1. Timber
    2. Rubber
    3. Computer disk drives
    4. All of the above
  3. True or False. At one time Malaysia was a British colony.

Quick Tips for Training & Development in Malaysia1:

  • The three main ethnic groups in Malaysian culture are Malay, Chinese, and Indian. This comes at no great surprise, since Malaysia is located on the trade route between China and India. Most governmental officials will be Malay, while the business sector is predominately Chinese. The presence of these diverse ethnicities brings unique cultural dynamics to Malaysia, as each group typically holds on to tendencies and values from their own ethnic heritage. When interacting with these ethnic groups, you will find that cultural norms expected in China or India are also heavily influential in the Malaysian culture.
  • The term “Malay” has several different meanings depending on the context. It may be used in reference to the country’s linguistic group, the dominant ethnicity, or the Malay Peninsula, which is shared with Thailand.
  • Malaysia’s official language is “Bahasa Malaysia”, but English is commonly understood due to British colonialism in the country’s history. As is common in countries with diverse populations, ethnic groups may speak different languages at home than at work or school. It would not be uncommon for an Indian family living in Malaysia to speak Hindi or Tamil while at home together.
  • Business meetings are commonly conducted in English. However, should you meet with governmental officials, having an interpreter to conduct the meeting in Bahasa Malaysia is generally preferred.
  • The official religion is Islam. However, nearly half of the current population identifies as non-Muslim in faith.
  • New information is generally processed subjectively. One’s personal feelings often overrule logic or fact.
  • Foreigners are expected to be on time, but the promptness of your local counterpart will vary. Ethic Malays tend to be more relaxed about time, while ethnic Chinese are less flexible in their schedules.
  • Courtesy is highly valued in building business relationships, and this may mean that your Malaysian contacts will verbalize a courteous “yes” when they really mean “maybe” or “no.” Be mindful of student responses as a “yes, but”, as this is usually indicative of a hidden negative view.
  • As in other Asian cultures, age means seniority.
  • Feet are considered unclean, so don’t show the soles of your feet or use images of feet or shoes in your training materials.

Fun-Fact Answers:

  1. (c) Borneo. This island is shared by Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Sultanate of Brunei.
  2. (d) All of the above.
  3. The Federation of Malaya gained independence from the U.K. in 1957.

Developing training & development materials for use in Malaysia? Contact Jen Weaver with Carmazzi Global Solutions for a free consultation.


1Morrison, Terri, & Conaway, Wayne A. (2006). Kiss, bow, or shake hands (2nd ed.). Avon: Adams Media.

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