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You hear so many things about the Indonesian language, most of which aren’t true.

Don’t let the things people say about the different word order and sentence structure put you off! Indonesian is a fun, expressive language and there are thousands of reasons to learn it and really no reasons not to! The easier you make it for yourself, the sooner you will be speaking it.

It’s really about knowing what to learn. The Indonesian language is not considered to be one of the easiest languages to learn for English speakers but mostly because of the vast cultural differences.

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The Indonesian language seems to be about necessity and practicality! All of those crazy, daunting things about language learning like conjugated verbs and countless pronouns, you don’t have to worry about them! The rewards will be almost immediate. It’s just about getting started. There are certain parts of the language you can focus on that will have you speaking Indonesian right away. This will make learning new words and expressions smooth, and more importantly, uncomplicated!

Bahasa Indonesia: Asking and answering questions

The word ‘apakah’ is a question marker that replaces words like ‘is’ and ‘do/does’ at the beginning of yes/no questions. This word can be shortened to ‘apa’. For example, you can ask “Apa kamu suka minum kopi?” You are asking “Do you like drinking coffee?” You just added ‘apa’ to create a question. You can also ask questions by simply changing your tone to indicate that what you’re saying is actually a question.

Once you start using your Indonesian, you will realise the correct way to answer yes/no questions is by using the word heard in the question instead of actually saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’. For example, “Apa kamu mau makan?” You can answer “Mau.” This is asking “Do you want to eat?” By answering ‘want’ or ‘mau’, you are explaining “Yes, I want to eat…”

Let’s look at another example….

You can ask the question “Lagi apa?” which is the equivalent to asking “What are you doing?” in English. The word ‘lagi’ means ‘again’ and the word ‘apa’ means ‘what’, so literally this translates to “What again?” The correct way to answer this question is to use the word seen in the question. You can say “Lagi makan…” You are saying “I am eating…” This word ‘lagi’ can also be used to asked “Where are you?” You can say “Lagi di mana?” Again, the correct way to answer is by using the word ‘lagi’. For example, “Lagi di rumah…” Literally you are saying “Again at home…”

Practice these with any and all of the words you know in Indonesian or start by saying “Saya lagi di…” and including the name of a place at the end. For example, “Saya lagi di Seminyak…” or “Saya lagi di Nusa Dua…”

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Bahasa Indonesia: Particles

The particle ‘lah’ can be added to the end of a word or a sentence to soften what is being said. The great thing about particles is you can start using them right away, even when speaking English. It shows you have some understanding of the Indonesian language. It’s a start! A good example of when to use this particle is when you’re disagreeing with someone. It’s much nicer than simply saying ‘No!’ or ‘Tidak!’ when you don’t agree with what someone is saying. You can say “tidaklah”.

The particle ‘dong’ can be used in so many ways. For example, ‘dong’ can be used when you’re telling someone else what to do. It is a word that expresses you are pushing the person to do something or hurrying them up. For example, you can say “Ayo dong!” ‘Ayo’ can generally be translated to ‘let’s go’. So when you add ‘dong’, you are saying “Let’s go!!!!!” or “Let’s goooooo…”

And now, if you’re feeling real serious about learning Indonesian and you need to know more words but they’re not sticking in your brain yet, try using the Quizlet app. You can make your own flash cards and play card matching games with your own material. You can study whatever you like yet it won’t feel like study at all.

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And finally, let’s talk about those times you’ve heard Indonesian people speak faster than you ever thought humanly possible. Don’t let it deter you! There are some great examples out there to show that speaking slowly in Indonesian can be just as common. So for a little bit of motivation, try to catch Tukang Ojek Pangkalan or ‘TOP’ on RCTI. Getting some listening practice in will help you learn a lot about how to pronounce Indonesian words correctly! Plus Indonesian TV shows are really funny, you’ll probably follow what’s going on! But just in case, here is a little pronunciation guide to help you get started.

Bahasa Indonesia: Pronunciation Guide

  • The Indonesian /a/ sound – When you see the letter ‘a’, remember it doesn’t represent an /ah/ sound. It actually makes a /uh/ sound. Practice this with the word ‘apa’. It is pronounced like [uh-puh].
  • The Indonesian /t/ sound – The Indonesia ‘t’ is not like the English /t/ sound. The Indonesian ‘t’ is very soft. You tongue will touch the back of your teeth, rather than the top of your mouth.
  • The Indonesian /u/ sound – The /u/ sound is very strong in Indonesian. It is similar to the ‘oo’ in ‘good’ or the ‘ou’ in ‘should’.
  • The Indonesian /k/ sound – You will see this letter at the end of many words in Indonesian. Remember, this sound creates a glottal stop at the end of these words. The sound is almost silent. Practice this with ‘tidak’.

So of course taking classes and courses in Bali could be great for your Indonesian, but it isn’t the only way to get started. Take every opportunity you get to use new vocabulary and phrases with everyone you can, from friends to taxi drivers. Try your best with pronunciation and listen to the locals. Listen to the words they use and how they speak, and most importantly, enjoy using your Indonesian, even enjoy the mistakes you make because that is how you will learn.

You can also read this article on learning to speak Indonesian.

  • Jessica Tyler

    Awesome!!

  • Tessie Risnan

    Great read!!

    • Claudio Cuccu

      Thanks Tessie!!

  • Tessie Risnan

    This is really awesome!

  • Frida

    This is such a great article!!! I am learning Indonesian on my own and I have not had things explained to me this clearly. So many great tips here!!