Learning Malagasy Language

Hello fellow expats,

For native speakers of any European language like English, French or German, the Malagasy language can seem incredibly complicated and with very few similarities to the languages that we are used to. For many expats, it must seem like quite a big challenge to learn a language that is so foreign and indeed difficult - I know this is the case for myself! With that said, I really want to learn Malagasy, as I consider it imperative in order to communicate with Malagasy people. Indeed, French language is not sufficient. Maybe if you only go around Antananarivo center, then most people are able to communicate in French as a second language, but as soon as you go a little bit further, or talk to the poor guy in the street, then French is practically useless (in my experience).

What is your take on learning the Malagasy language? Is it vital to every day life in Madagascar? What are some tips that we can share among each other to improve our fluency? Do you know anyone who teaches Malagasy to an English speaking audience? (Personally I would like to find a class or a Malagasy tutor).

Share your thoughts!


This is a very interesting subject. The Vazaha expat and tourist will have a difficult time communicating their ideas in Malagasy.  It is also a challenge for the Malagasy as well with their 18 different tribes and each with a spin-off of their own language and dialect.  I have been in a group of Malagasy people and one is Sakalava,
another is Betsileo, Tsimihety.   And even when they speak with each other they will throw in words from their tribe causing the conversation to slow down and stop as the other tribe is asking what are you saying, what does your word mean?
Now to add to this confusion, Mahajanga has its own set of language rules or dialect as Mahajanga has a mix of several tribes and over the years the words have mixed into a new set of words Mahajangese.
But when trouble happens as my guardian , of my school, had family problems.  When the community came to understand the situation the talk was calm and in Mahajangese.  However when his tribe which is Antandroy ( south Madagascar) came and gathered around they spoke fast and fluent Antandroy.  My Malagasy wife who is Sakalava only understood half of what they said. 
It is said that there is an official Language one language taught throughout Madagascar in the schools.
Again, this is far from enforced for those that go to school in the different regions throughout Madagascar. The Official Language is a language that is from the Merina region But and this is important---> there is a resistance and wars to the Merina tribe who hold the power and try to enforce the ways of their tribe and Language that goes back for generations. Also there are many children ( about 50%) that only have 4 or 5 years of intermittent schooling, and many who have no schooling that only speak their dialect of their tribe or that of their tiny village. Side Bar here----- also important that Malagasy wives of vasaha live near their tribe.  I was here for the 2002 revolution where Merina people had to leave Nosy Be for fear of being killed , a mini civil war which can pop up again.
Then there is the idea of teaching French in the schools, also a poor solution as the teachers themselves cannot not speak French or very little. Again another example of one Power tribe, the French trying to force their culture on another. I think that it is important to speak and learn several Languages and not one over the other as all cultures are an example of who we are as a people--the human race.
Also, It can happen to the Vasaha that when they can speak some Malagasy that some Malagasy people will pretend that what you say is not clear and not understand you.  However what you did say is very clear and you may question your own language skills.

I would like to add to this the subject of body Language.

For example, here people will not always say yes or yaaaa or Mahajangaese---> yeahwa

but will express "yes" by raising their eyebrows once , it is so interesting to learn this way of saying yes--try it and see if it works for you.

Haha okay, good advice. I will try to use my eyebrows more from now on when communicating with Malagasy people!

For now I am learning Malagasy Merina as I am located in the highlands and it seems like this is where I will be staying for the next many years. But later I hope to be able to slowly expand my knowledge of the other dialects for sure.
One step at a time :)

Here is another body language---put your hand in the air and make a wiggle with your fingers to come here.
but here is another one and that is to put your hand in the air, and make a fist and shake it back and forth at the wrist and this means lets have sex

I think i am too late to answer you but it may still help the others planning to learn the language.
I am language facilitator, i can help you especially, french and english speakers.
I have my professional and my own andragogy methode that will ensure you.
please, feel free for further info.


The biggest probe, I had was with the sentence structure of the Malagasy language. It's “backwards” as compared to English, so just translating the words won't work.
ENGLISH structure is Subject + Verb + Object (SVO), as in “Lisa drives a car,” “Lisa” is the subject, “drives” is the verb, “a car” is the object.
MALAGASY structure is Verb + Object + Subject (VOS): as in “Mamily tomobily Lisa,” which translates into “Drives car Lisa.” Even though I had daily language instruction six days per week, this language structure became the bane of my existence. VOS, VOS, VOS.

Come to https://www.facebook.com/groups/469843093731622/ for Information about Madagascar lifestyle-  Join us   We also speak Malagasy come and learn

Even worse when it comes to the passive mode: "The car is being driven by Lisa." Honestly, I never got that far...

I can communicate in basic Malagasy, and often the bajaj drivers are amazed "tena mahay malagasy ianao!" But very difficult to get to a higher level...

I can explain solar systems and solar cookers quite well in Malagasy and when camera shooting make interviews with farmers myself on agricultural topics (with a Malagasy mediator translating my Malagasy to "real" understandable Malagasy sometimes...).

But I find it hard to understand some comments on FACEBOOK and articles in the newspapers.

Am just looking for a Malagasy teacher who would practice conversation with me.

It could be to your advantage to not speak Malagasy on a higher level, because our tribe has a tendency to be critical which we take as a means to improve our self thus enjoy the fruits of progress, the Malagasy take criticism as a form of losing face.  And depending on the degree of how much they lose face can determine if you and your home will be attacked, lose of personal items or lose of your life.    The French have a high mortality rate because of their attitude among the locals, ( as the Malagasy say the french treat and train  them like dogs) and though expressed mostly in French and to their wife and girlfriend the wife will help in the attack towards their Vasaha mate, which I think just happened again in Mahajanga a week ago.  Passivity in the use of the Malagasy language is a must to get along in Madagascar, to the point you say your sorry even if you are correct- a tough thing for the vasaha to adjust to.

The Malagasy have 18 different dialects and many more sub-dialects and they all get along even when they have a difficult time understanding each other  by being able to laugh  when things  go wrong or they do not understand something or each other.  This has keep them living in a sense of peace and harmony,  it is a harsh attitude that causes trouble as with the Merina tribe and coastal tribes with one group demanding the other speak their language.  ---->But this is another subject. but not the general rule.   

It is always best to learn some language of the country and is appreciated by the locals and they laugh to hear a vasaha speak Malagasy so do not find their laughter as making fun of you but more of a shock and amazement some one has taken the time to speak a few  Malagasy words, with the slight accent of our own tribe,  which is all you really need to get around and do local errands of the day.


Many appreciations to your interest in the Malagasy language !

As a local, I find it difficult to get in your place. For safety though, what TropicAlex said is very true if you're planning to live/living in the coastline since they have a tendency to be very aggressive and territorial towards people from different tribes (especially to us highlanders) and of course foreigners. I suggest you always stay lowkey and treat people with careful behaviors.

For tips to improve, I think experimenting is the easiest way since you only need basic Malagasy to communicate with the common folks (you can use French and sometimes even English in technical domains since qualified people speak those and especially for some reason we don't use proper Malagasy terms in technical fields). I'm not sure of the situations in the coastline though.

Hello,  can anyone recommend a Malagasy language tutor or a language school that  can do Skype calls?

@mocapino12 |hello and welcome !

Till members share some recommendations, feel free to contact the institutes registered in the Language institutions in Madagascar to enquire.

All the best