I am reproducing (with his permission) an email from Nuno, a Portuguese student of Bahasa Malaysia, whose questions could be asked by other learners as well, so I am putting my reply here for the benefit of all:
1. I was reading the Malay phrasebook from Lonely Planet and on page 190 they write:
- yesterday: semalam (in your Lesson 7 it is kelmarin)
- the day before yesterday: kelmarin
2. What is most popular, bertutur bahasa Melayu or cakap bahasa Melayu?
Thank you for your questions, Nuno. Here are the answers:
1. Actually both semalam and kelmarin can be used for "yesterday". However, as I am no expert, I will quote from the authoritative Kamus Dewan dictionary published by the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, the authority on Bahasa Malaysia. It gives 3 possible meanings for the word kelmarin:
(i) sehari sebelum hari ini, semalam As an example it gives the sentence: Hari ini hari Khamis, semalam hari Rabu (Today is Thursday, yesterday was Wednesday.)
(ii) dua hari sebelum hari ini, sehari sebelum semalam As an example it gives the sentence: Hari ini hari Khamis, jadi kelmarin hari Selasa (Today is Thursday, so the day before yesterday was Tuesday.)
(iii) beberapa hari (minggu) yang lepas As an example it gives the sentence: Dia sedang dirawat di rumah sakit kerana dilanggar kereta kelmarin (He is being treated at the hospital because he was knocked down by a car a few days/weeks ago.)
The dictionary further adds that in Kedah and Penang, kelmarin dulu means dua hari sebelum hari ini. So if you really need the Malay equivalent of "the day before yesterday" you can either say kelmarin dulu or dulu semalam.
It is all very confusing, I know, more so for a learner and to avoid all ambiguity, I would suggest that you simply use the name of the day itself instead. Thus if the day before yesterday was Monday you could just say hari Isnin yang lalu (last Monday) and there would not be the slightest doubt or ambiguity about it!
2. As to your second question you can say Saya boleh bertutur Bahasa Melayu or Saya boleh bercakap Bahasa Melayu for "I can speak the Malay language". They both mean exactly the same thing though for a beginner it would be a bit presumptuous to use bertutur instead of bercakap.