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Why learn Indonesian? Here are 10 great reasons.

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If you’re planning to start learning a foreign language, Indonesian might seem like an odd choice… But it really isn’t! 

So, why learn Indonesian? Especially when there are so many other (more popular) languages to choose from?

Well, did you know that Indonesia is the fourth most populous region on the entire planet? This means that you’ll have about 23 million potential conversation partners, if we’re just talking about native speakers. If we count those who speak it as a second language, that number skyrockets to over 200 million!

An Indonesian Child Waving the Indonesian Flag and Cheering

This is only one of the many reasons you should start learning Indonesian now… Do you want to learn 10 more? Keep reading and you won’t be disappointed. 

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Indonesian Table of Contents
  1. Benefits of Learning a Foreign Language
  2. Personal and Professional Benefits
  3. Is it Easy?
  4. The Fastest Way to Learn Indonesian

1. Benefits of Learning a Foreign Language

It’s clear by now that being able to speak multiple languages is a great advantage for your social and professional life. Did you know, however, that the benefits of learning a second language can actually extend way beyond our practical everyday lives?

Studies have shown that being multilingual actually affects the brain and its functioning, as well as personality and development, in ways we never realized before. 

So, here are the first few reasons why you should learn Indonesian (or any other language, for that matter).

Reason 1: It will change the way you think.

Learning another language opens your mind. 

This is no news, of course, and language-lovers all over the world have reported genuinely changing and transforming over the course of their language learning journey.

Learning a foreign language helps you develop new skills, which in turn allow you to think about and see the world in a different way. Along with these new abilities, you’ll acquire new tastes and it’s likely that your attitudes will shift as well.

No worries though, these changes are always positive. They’ll simply allow you to add nuances and layers to your knowledge and character, making you a more affable, compelling, and open-minded individual. 

Reason 2: You can gain access to a whole new world.

Once you learn a new language, a whole new world of content opens up to you. Many people don’t even realize this when they set off to learn a foreign language, but there’s a whole Google in every single one of them. 

So, instead of typing what you’re looking for in English, type it in Indonesian and you’ll find…well, authentic Indonesian content. And not only that which has been translated or filtered for you!

This means more music, recipes, films, series, and much more. Go explore the Indonesian online world and practice your skills with local, original content.

Reason 3: Learning a second language improves one’s brain function.

It has been proven that studying foreign languages improves creativity, problem-solving abilities, and multitasking skills. And the benefits don’t even end there: Science has also shown that being multilingual can substantially delay the onset of illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

A Brain Surrounded by Sketches of Different Thoughts

Are you looking for a way to keep your brain healthy? It really is quite simple: Pick a language and start learning it! People who are able to speak more than one language can be more aware of their surroundings, and exhibit finer logical and perceptive competences.  

Research is proving that bilingual brains display—and are able to develop—a greater number of neural pathways, which results in the processing of information through a wider variety of channels.

What better reason to learn Indonesian? It will improve your health while making you smarter and more creative for the rest of your life!

2. Personal and Professional Benefits

Now that we’ve listed some of the advantages of knowing a foreign language in general, let’s jump back to those concrete, day-to-day life reasons to study Indonesian. 

After all, we all want to reap the benefits of knowing a new language as soon as possible, don’t we?

Reason 4: You’ll have more travel opportunities.

Yes, this is probably what you thought about first… Pristine beaches in Bali, great food on the streets of Jakarta, and boat rides across the Indonesian archipelago.

A View of Jakarta, Indonesia from a Balcony

If you speak even some basic Indonesian, traveling will be easier and safer. By being able to communicate with the locals, you’ll surely be able to experience a more authentic and unique side of the country as well.

Speaking of which, knowing Bahasa Indonesia will also come in handy in other countries of Southeast Asia, as it’s mutually intelligible with Malay, Brunei, and other local dialects of the region. Pretty amazing, don’t you think? 

Reason 5: Have we mentioned the Southeast Asian business benefits?

Even if English is widely spoken by young people, learning to communicate in Indonesian is essential if you’re planning to work in close contact with the Indonesian or Southeast Asian market. 

The Indonesian economy is growing rapidly, and investing in it seems like a good idea. It’s predicted to become one of the biggest economies in the world, and could reach levels like those of China and India in the next 10 years. 

If your goal is to do business in Southeast Asia, you definitely have a good reason to learn Bahasa Indonesia as soon as possible. You can certainly use your language skills to stand out in the business world.

Reason 6: You’ll get better deals.

Whether we’re talking about bargaining at a market in Bali to bring back some souvenirs, or discussing money with your Indonesian business clients, you’ll probably end up getting a better deal if you speak the seller’s (or buyer’s) native language.

Two Business People Shaking Hands

So make sure you know your numbers in Indonesian, and don’t be afraid to use your language skills. They’ll be surely appreciated and are likely to get you farther than you thought they would when striking a business agreement.

Reason 7: It’s a great way to really dive into the culture.

If you’re not the bargaining type, don’t worry. After all, as they say, language can be seen as a window into culture, and knowing Indonesian will really help you understand the life and habits of those who speak it. As we already mentioned, you’ll have access to so much more information than just that which is available in translation; this will allow you to deepen your connection to the history, customs, and beliefs of the Indonesian people.

For those of us interested in understanding and connecting with new places in the world, knowing the language really is an invaluable tool. Not to mention the fact that, if you want, you’ll have the opportunity to experience Indonesian life as a local. And that’s not something just anyone can do.

3. Is it Easy?

Now, you might be thinking: Okay, but isn’t Indonesian extremely hard to learn? 

Actually, you’d be surprised!

Also, it’s not only the complexity of the language that you should take into account, but also the resources available to study and practice it. The right tools can make learning a language much easier and much more fun. 

Reason 8: It’s easy! 

Even if it differs from English in almost all aspects of vocabulary and grammar, the Indonesian language is still relatively easy to pick up and use. It has a small vocabulary and simple spelling…and the grammar is very friendly compared to that of other non-Indo European languages.

Taking all this into account, Bahasa Indonesia might actually be one of the easier Austronesian languages for an English speaker to pick up. 

Reason 9: It’ll give you more opportunities to learn other languages.

Learning Indonesian provides a great introduction and foundation for those looking to study the Austronesian language family. 

This means that, once you have some basic knowledge of Bahasa Indonesia, learning languages like Malay, Brunei, and other local dialects will become so much easier!  

If you’re a language-lover, Indonesian can be a great choice, as it’s the gateway to a whole world of other languages.

Reason 10: The internet and technology make it even more convenient. 

Can you imagine living in the West and trying to learn Indonesian even just 50 years ago? Tough, right? You’d have to find and buy a coursebook in a specialized shop, then get a grammar manual and a couple of dictionaries at the very least.

A Woman Learning Indonesian on Her Tablet

Nowadays, you just turn on your laptop or phone and…boom! Endless language learning content, exercises, and courses. You can find books and films in Indonesian, recipes, podcasts, music, and more. 

The possibilities of the internet are endless. And this is true for language learning as well. So, take advantage of the amazing times we live in, and learn Indonesian now. It’s never been easier—or more fun and accessible!

4. The Fastest Way to Learn Indonesian

Speaking of technology, make sure you visit IndonesianPod101.com for incredibly useful language learning content. 

On the site, you’ll find lessons for all kinds of learners, topic-specific phrasebooks, podcasts on how to improve your skills, and cultural information to make your travels even more fulfilling. 

If you’re planning to travel or move to Indonesia, take a look at our travel Survival Course and all of the video and audio lessons available to prepare yourself for this big adventure. 

We hope these 10 reasons to learn Indonesian inspired you and motivated you to give your all for this language learning journey. 

So, hurry up—the 17,000+ islands of the Indonesian archipelago are waiting for you!

Before you go, we’d love to hear from you. How close are you to making a decision about Indonesian? Do you still have any questions or concerns? We’ll be glad to help you out!

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Does Indonesian Have Tenses?

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Like nouns, verbs are an essential part of all sentences. They are the words we use to describe an action (menyanyikan – to sing), a state of being (hidup – to exist), or an occurrence (mengembangkan – to develop), and they usually have to agree with a subject, which is who or what performs the action described. 

Generally, no sentence is complete without a verb. This makes it crucial to pay special attention to verbs when learning a foreign language.

Luckily for you, there are no real tenses in Indonesian to worry about. In this article, you’ll learn more about what this means and how to form the main English tenses in Indonesian. By the end of it, you’ll have taken a great leap toward using Indonesian verbs with ease.

We’ve tried to write this article in a way that’s not complicated or grammar-heavy at all. We’ll break down every rule thoroughly for you, so that you understand each one and can put it to good use throughout your Indonesian language-learning journey.

Without further ado, let’s get started.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Indonesian Table of Contents
  1. Personal Pronouns in Indonesian
  2. How to Use English Tenses in Indonesian
  3. Expressing the English Present Tense in Indonesian (Masa Sekarang)
  4. Expressing the English Past Tense in Indonesian (Masa Lalu)
  5. Expressing the English Future Tense in Indonesian (Masa Depan)
  6. Tenses in Indonesian: A Summary

1. Personal Pronouns in Indonesian

First of all, let’s look at the personal pronouns, which can sometimes cause confusion.

  • I = Saya / Aku (formal / informal)
  • You = Anda / Kamu (formal / informal)
  • He = Dia
  • She = Dia 
  • We (including the person you’re talking to) = Kita
  • We (excluding the person you’re talking to) = Kami
  • They = Mereka

The beautiful thing about Indonesian is that once you know the personal pronouns, you can start learning some verbs and begin practicing straight away.

2. How to Use English Tenses in Indonesian

Verb tenses are used to express when an action takes place. In our everyday lives, we mainly have to express three concepts: the present, the past, and the future. 

Forming tenses is actually quite simple in Indonesian, since you don’t need to conjugate the verbs at all to do it.

Yes, you heard that right—there are no changing endings involved, nor any need to change the verb at all! All you need to do is add some extra words. Let’s find out which ones.

A Timer against a White Background

3. Expressing the English Present Tense in Indonesian (Masa Sekarang)

The present tense in English can be used in Indonesian to express:

  1. an action happening in the present or a state of being;
  2. an occurrence that will take place in the (very) near future;
  3. an action that occurred in the past and continues up to the present;
  4. a recurring action.

For the simple present tense, we use the basic form of the verb, unchanged. Note that the verb does not change at all (belajar – to study/learn). The only thing that changes in this case is the subject (Saya – I, Mereka – They, Dia – He/She).

  • Saya belajar setiap malam.
    I study every night.
  • Mereka belajar setiap malam.
    They study every night.
  • Dia belajar setiap malam.
    He/She studies every night.

With the English present tense expressed in Indonesian, we can use a variety of time adverbs to be more precise. The most used ones in Indonesian are: 

  • selalu = always
    Ani selalu bahagia. (Ani is always happy.)
  • sering = often/frequently
    Saya sering bepergian ke kota lain. (I often travel to other towns.)
  • kadang-kadang = sometimes
    Kadang-kadang saya bosan dengan hidup saya. (Sometimes I feel bored with my life.)
  • tidak pernah = never
    Tono tidak pernah bisa berkata tidak. (Tono never says no to anyone.)

Expressing the English Present Continuous Tense in Indonesian

To form the English present continuous (for example: “I am studying”) in Indonesian, which describes an action that is taking place right now, we simply need to add the word sedang before the main verb. The actual verb remains unchanged: 

  • Saya sedang belajar.
    I am studying.
  • Mereka sedang belajar.
    They are studying.
  • Dia sedang belajar.
    He/She is studying.

This form is used when you want to specify that something is happening at the specific moment. But keep in mind that even if you don’t use the word sedang, the meaning could still be translated as the English present continuous.

An Indonesian College Student

4. Expressing the English Past Tense in Indonesian (Masa Lalu)

The past tense in Indonesian is used to express:

  1. an action, occurrence, or state of being in the past;
  2. an action, occurrence, or state of being prior to some other event, whether that is past, present, or future. 

To form the past tense, you do not need to change the verb at all. You just need to add some extra words. As we already explained, Indonesian verbs do not have conjugations; to form the past, we simply need to add the words sudah or telah before the verb (makan – to eat).

  • Saya telah makan nasi.
    I ate / have eaten rice.
  • Saya sudah makan nasi.
    I ate / have eaten rice.

Another way of describing an action that happened in the past is to add “time words.” In this case, you don’t necessarily need to use sudah / telah (but you can, if you want), as it’s already clear from the context that the action occurred in the past. 

Some of these “time words” are: 

  • kemarin = yesterday
    Dia tidur kemarin. (He/She slept yesterday.)
  • tadi pagi = this morning
    Saya minum teh tadi pagi. (I drank tea this morning.)
  • minggu lalu = last week
    Kamu pergi ke mana minggu lalu? (Where did you go last week?)

This means that, to talk about the past in Indonesian, you simply need to learn words that specify times in the past. Pretty convenient, right?

Here are some more words that you’ll find useful when talking about past events: 

  • This afternoon = Siang ini / Tadi siang
  • This evening / Tonight = Malam ini / Tadi malam
  • Yesterday morning = Kemarin pagi
  • Yesterday afternoon = Kemarin siang
  • Yesterday evening  = Kemarin malam

  • Last week = Minggu lalu
  • Last month = Bulan lalu
  • Last year = Tahun lalu

  • … minutes ago = … menit yang lalu
  • … hours ago = … jam yang lalu
  • … days ago = … hari yang lalu
  • … weeks ago = … minggu yang lalu
  • … months ago = … bulan yang lalu
  • … years ago = … tahun yang lalu

An Indonesian Child Waving a Small Indonesian Flag

5. Expressing the English Future Tense in Indonesian (Masa Depan)

In Indonesian, we use the future tense to express:

  1. an event expected to happen in the future;
  2. an event expected to happen after another event, whether that is the past, present, or future (in a relative tense term).

To form the future, as with all the other tenses, we only need to add a word: akan. By adding this word before the verb in Indonesian, we specify to the listener that we’re talking about the future. Have a look at the examples below:

  • Saya akan tidur.
    I will sleep.
  • Die akan minum teh.
    He / she will drink the tea.
  • Kamu akan makan nasi.
    You will eat rice.

Exactly as we use “time words” to give more context when we want to express an event that happened in the past, we can use different “time words” to give more details about what we’re talking about in the future. However, you’ll generally need to include the word akan (while, as we mentioned, in the past sudah and telah can be dropped when we use time words.) 

Here are some words that you’ll find very useful when talking about future events with native Indonesian speakers:

  • Tomorrow = Besok
  • The day after tomorrow = Lusa

  • Later this morning = Nanti pagi ini
  • Later this afternoon = Nanti siang ini
  • Later this evening / Later tonight = Nanti malam ini
  • After = Setelah

  • Tomorrow morning = Besok pagi
  • Tomorrow afternoon = Besok siang
  • Tomorrow evening / Tomorrow night = Besok malam

  • Next week = Minggu depan
  • Next month = Bulan depan
  • Next year = Tahun depan

  • … minutes later = … menit ke depan
  • … hours later = … jam ke depan
  • … days later = … hari ke depan
  • … nights later = … malam ke depan
  • … weeks later = … minggu ke depan
  • … months later = … bulan ke depan
  • … years later = … tahun ke depan

  • … days from now = … hari lagi
  • … weeks from now = …minggu lagi

A Spiraling Clock

6. Tenses in Indonesian: A Summary

We hope that with this short article you were able to gain some insight into forming the English tenses in Indonesian and how to use them to talk about the past, present, and future!

As you’ve seen, learning how to use verbs and verb tenses in Indonesian is actually quite simple. 

Just remember the right words to insert in the sentence (sedang for the present continuous, telah / sudah for the past, and akan for the future) or add some “time words” that provide context and it’s all done! 

No complicated conjugations, strange endings, or irregular verbs to remember… It sounds ideal as long as language learning goes

If you want to learn more about grammar and have access to much more Indonesian learning material and info, visit IndonesianPod101.com. Here, you’ll find lessons for all levels, podcasts, word lists, a dictionary, and  grammar material. 

So what are you waiting for? Start learning and practicing Indonesian with us every day, and you’ll be able to master the use of Indonesian verbs and tenses in no time at all! 

Before you go, let us know in the comments how you feel about this topic so far. Do you feel more confident, or still have some questions? We look forward to hearing from you.

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How Long Does it Take to Learn Indonesian?

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Those who have tried know: Learning a foreign language may not be easy, but it’s an amazing and fulfilling process. By learning to understand, speak, and think in a foreign language, we add a new skill to our repertoire—but that’s not all! We can also change the very way we see the world.

But in today’s civilization, time is money and many of us feel too trapped by responsibilities to try mastering a language ourselves. So if you’re planning to study Indonesian, an important question to ask yourself is: How long does it take to learn Indonesian? And perhaps more importantly: Is it worth the investment? 

Did you know that Indonesian has a lot of words that can’t be translated into English? One of my favorites is faedah, which describes something that has a value and a benefit that goes beyond the commercial (and even the material) aspect. It’s a real, intrinsic value… Just like that of learning a new language! 

Everyone wants to reap the benefits of hard work as soon as possible, and this is why we all instinctively look for a fast and easy way to learn foreign languages. We want to start practicing right away and use our new skills to find a better job, to travel, or to better communicate with a loved one.

We would certainly like to know exactly how long it takes to learn a new language, so that we can make plans… But, unfortunately (or not), language learning does not work like that. There’s no one best or fastest way to learn Indonesian, and above all, there is definitely no set timetable for it! 

Everyone learns differently, and lots of different factors will influence how quickly you learn.

Let’s have a look at what these are, and maybe try to find the best way to take advantage of them to learn Indonesian fast!

An Hourglass Against a Dark Background
Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Indonesian Table of Contents
  1. Experience
  2. Learning Style
  3. Approach
  4. How Long Does it Take to Achieve Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced Level?
  5. How Our Website Can Help

Experience

One of the essential factors to take into account when trying to determine how quickly you can learn a language is your actual experience with languages. 

The Language(s) You Speak

What is your first language? And what other foreign languages do you speak? 

Yes, this may actually make a difference in how quickly you’ll be able to learn Indonesian. If you know a language very closely related to Indonesian, such as Malay, it will be way easier for you to pick it up. 

If you’re a native speaker of English, the FSI (Foreign Service Institute) classifies Indonesian as a Category II language. This is halfway between the easiest and the hardest languages to learn for English speakers!

Your Previous Language Learning Experience

Have you learned a language before?

If you’re already fluent in two or more languages (for example, if you were raised bilingual), it will be easier for you to learn Indonesian. Several studies show that bilinguals find it easier to learn a third language, because they’re more accustomed to being exposed to a new language.

Even if you’re not bilingual or fluent in a foreign language, just having studied and learned one at some point in your life will be useful. When your mind has had to get used to memorizing words and rules, and looking at different letters and symbols, it will not forget it—even after many years.

Basically, the skills you developed studying one language will actually help you learn another, even if the two languages are unrelated!  

Your Previous Grammar Knowledge

One of the first things you’ll do when learning a foreign language is to study how it’s built and how it works. This is usually done by studying its structure and grammar.

A Woman Lying on the Grass Studying

If you already have some experience studying syntax and grammar, even if just for your own language, it will make it much simpler for you to learn the grammar and syntax of a foreign language.

So, if your plan is to start learning Indonesian (or any other language), it’s definitely a good idea to get some grammar foundations to build on! 

Learning Style

The way you learn is another incredibly important aspect of how long it will take you to become fluent in Indonesian. 

Your Methods

If you limit your learning to a classroom setting, even on an intensive course, it will take you longer to learn and feel confident with your language skills outside the classroom. Try exposing yourself to Indonesian in your everyday life and I assure you that you’ll cut down the time you need to learn it! 

Make a habit of reading in Indonesian, watching Indonesian films and series, and listening to Indonesian podcasts while you drive or cook. This will help, but if you want to practice your conversation and speaking skills as well, the best thing you can do is find a language partner.

Your Time

Of course, even if we haven’t mentioned it yet, the time you dedicate to learning a language is paramount! 

If you want to learn quickly, try to dedicate as much time as you can to studying, practicing, and exposing yourself to the language. 

Practicing daily is a must: Research has actually shown that students who dedicate an hour a day to language learning—whether revising grammar, memorizing vocabulary, watching a film, or reading a book—learn significantly faster than those who just stick to weekly multi-hour classes.

And of course, if you have the opportunity, full immersion is best. If you can travel to Indonesia and live there for a while, that will make a huge difference!

A Balinese Temple

Approach

Your approach and attitude while learning a foreign language are extremely important, and might make all the difference!

Your Motivation

It’s no secret: Staying motivated and interested is essential for learning a foreign language. Why are you learning Indonesian?

Have this clear in your mind and use the reasons you find to set weekly (or even daily) goals for maximum efficiency. This strategy will not only help you stay motivated and interested in learning, but it will also make you want to put more effort into it.

Your Attitude

Keeping your motivation up will help you learn more easily and quickly, and it will go hand in hand with maintaining a positive attitude. This is a winning strategy you should adopt during your language learning journey! 

Try to see learning as a fun and interesting activity; something that you’re choosing to do, rather than being forced to do.

A Woman Holding Flowers in Front of Her Eyes

Remember: Learning a foreign language will open your horizons and mind, both on a personal and a professional level, to say the least.

When you think of it like this, you’ll always feel like learning something new every day, which will make the process more fun and much faster! 

How Long Does it Take to Achieve Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced Level?

So, even if these are all just estimates, we’ve tried to put together a timeframe encompassing how long it will take you to reach a beginner, intermediate, and advanced level of Indonesian. 

Beginner

As a beginner speaker of the language, you’ll be able to introduce yourself, understand slow and clear spoken language, and ask basic questions (probably making some small mistakes). 

If your objective is to be able to greet people, have very basic conversations, and order a meal at the restaurant, this level is probably enough. 

According to the FSI, you’ll need to dedicate a minimum of 250 hours to reach this level. If you study 15 hours a week, you’ll be having basic conversations in just 4 months! That’s pretty fast, isn’t it? 

Intermediate

Do you want to learn the Indonesian language to a more advanced level?

At the intermediate level, you’ll be able to understand clearly spoken everyday conversation, maybe asking some questions to keep up. This level will also allow you to understand the main points while watching videos and reading the news. If you’re traveling, you’ll be able to ask for information, follow directions, and have basic interactions with locals about familiar subjects.

An Indonesian Woman Wearing a Kebaya

To achieve an intermediate level, you’ll need double the time as you did for the beginner level. This means about 500 hours, which, with the same intensity of study as mentioned above, will take you around 8 months. 

Advanced

If you want to be fluent in Indonesian, you’ll need to achieve advanced language skills. At this level, you’ll have no problem navigating all kinds of situations in your daily life abroad or while traveling, and you’ll be able to have full conversations with native speakers. You’ll also be able to watch Indonesian movies and read books… Basically, you will be fluent. (Even if there will always be something more to learn about this beautiful language.)

As we mentioned above, according to the FSI, Indonesian is a Level II language and thus requires 900-950 hours of study time if you want to reach total proficiency. This means that if you dedicate 15 hours a week to studying, you’ll be fluent in just over a year! Not bad if you consider that some other, more complex, languages require twice or even three times as long!

How Our Website Can Help

What are you waiting for? Now is the perfect time to start learning a new language

And, as we just saw, the sooner you start learning, the faster you’ll achieve your language objectives and start practicing real-life Indonesian. 

Looking for a great online Indonesian resource to get you started? On IndonesianPod101.com, we offer all kinds of language learning content designed to help you stay motivated and interested. Here you’ll find blog posts, Indonesian lessons for all levels, a dictionary, and vocabulary lists. 

How long it takes you to learn Indonesian just depends on you. How much time are you willing to invest in it? Our courses and resources are specifically created to give you all the right tools to learn Indonesian as quickly and easily as possible, so that you can make the most of your precious time!

Whether you’re a complete beginner who wants a full-immersion experience or an intermediate speaker who just needs to widen your vocabulary, you’ll find what you’re looking for here.

Before you go, let us know in the comments if this article helped you make a decision about Indonesian—or if you still have questions for us! We’d be glad to help.

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Speak Like a Native With These 30 Indonesian Proverbs

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Proverbs are popular sayings that provide a little dose of wisdom, a truth that is sometimes so obvious we overlook it. 

Can you think of a proverb in your native language that touched you at an important moment of your life?

Indonesians are actually famous for using a lot of slang words and proverbs in their daily lives. If you want to sound like a local, you’d better learn some Indonesian proverbs yourself! Doing so is a great way to let your language skills shine and familiarize yourself with Indonesian culture.

Balinese Rice Fields

As they say, “There is no time like the present.” Learn the thirty most popular Indonesian proverbs and you’ll be sure to leave a good impression!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Indonesian Table of Contents
  1. The Top 30 Indonesian Proverbs
  2. Conclusion

1. The Top 30 Indonesian Proverbs

1. Nasi sudah menjadi bubur.

Literal translation: The rice has become porridge.

Meaning: This is basically like Lady Macbeth’s, “What’s done, is done.” And no, it cannot be undone!

2. Ada udang di balik batu.

Literal translation: There is a prawn hiding behind the rock.

Meaning: This saying is often used to express the idea that there’s a hidden agenda or intention (usually negative) behind someone’s actions. 

3. Rumput tetangga selalu lebih hijau.

Literal translation: The neighbor’s grass is always greener than ours.

English equivalent: The grass is always greener on the other side.

Meaning: This proverb is a classic, and it exists in many different languages and cultures. Apparently, it’s an intrinsically human behavior to think that others are always in a better position than oneself.

4. Sambil menyelam minum air.

Literal translation: Drinking water while diving.

Meaning: So, in Indonesia, it’s not just about drinking (water, of course!) while diving. This expression refers to multitasking in general, managing to accomplish more than one thing at a time.

A Man Multi-tasking

5. Bertepuk sebelah tangan.

Literal translation: To clap with only one hand.

Meaning: This means that there is no reciprocity in a given situation. Imagine if one hand wanted to clap, but the other was not interested! It’s most often used when referring to romantic situations where the love is one-sided, or in business when only one party is interested in striking a deal.

6. Seperti/bagai telur di ujung tanduk.

Literal translation: Like an egg on the tip of a horn

Meaning: I mean, imagine an egg on the tip of a horn…doesn’t sound ideal, does it? And this is exactly what this saying describes: a dangerous, tense, critical situation.

7. Otak di dengkul.

Literal translation: Brain on the knees

English equivalent: Not the sharpest tool in the shed

Meaning: Though this one means the same thing as the English equivalent, Indonesians prefer to be a bit more straightforward. If you’re not the smartest, they’ll say you have your brain on your knees. Not much use for it there…

8. Tong kosong nyaring bunyinya.

Literal translation: The empty can sounds the loudest.

Meaning: This refers to people who don’t have much knowledge (or wit!). Their head is like an empty can. And it’s usually these people who speak the loudest (both literally and metaphorically!). 

9. Anjing menggonggong, kafilah berlalu.

Literal translation: The dog barks but the caravan goes on.

Meaning: Life goes on even if some people try to stop progress.

10. Sepandai-pandai tupai melompat, akhirnya jatuh juga.

Literal translation: No matter how high a squirrel jumps, it will eventually fall.

Meaning: The poor squirrels actually have nothing to worry about here. This proverb is most often used to describe criminals (or at least very sneaky people) who, eventually, will always be caught!

A Squirrel in the Grass

11. Sudah jatuh tertimpa tangga.

Literal translation: To fall and be struck by a ladder

English equivalent: When it rains, it pours. 

Meaning: Not only did you fall down the ladder, but then the ladder fell on you—and who knows what else might happen next! This idiom describes those situations where various misfortunes all arrive at the same time, or directly follow each other. 

12. Besar pasak daripada tiang.

Literal translation: The peg is bigger than the pole.

Meaning: This saying is often used to describe a person who is spending more than he/she earns. If the peg is bigger than the pole, you won’t be able to build a very good shelter, will you? This saying reflects the culture, as many Indonesians would rather live humbly than borrow money.

13. Ada asap ada api.

Literal translation: If there is smoke, there must be fire.

English equivalent: Every why has its wherefore.

Meaning: Well, this can mean two things. Pretty obviously, there cannot be an effect without some cause. The second meaning is: If there is a rumor, it must have some foundation in truth!

14. Tak ada gading yang tak retak.

Literal translation: Every ivory has its cracks.

Meaning: Nothing’s perfect, as even the finest ivory has cracks!

15. Dikasih/diberi hati, minta jantung.

Literal translation: You give them the liver, but they still ask for the heart.

English equivalent: You give him an inch and he will take a yard.

Meaning: This refers to a situation in which someone is taking advantage of someone else’s generosity. 

16. Air tenang menghanyutkan.

Literal translation: Don’t think there are no crocodiles because the water runs calm. 

English equivalent: Still waters run deep.

Meaning: Like its English equivalent, this proverb means that a calm exterior probably hides a passionate nature, and that silent people can actually possess a lot of knowledge and be very intelligent.

A Crocodile against a White Background

17. Seperti kacang lupa kulitnya.

Literal translation: Just like the peanut forgets its shell

English equivalent: To bite the hand that feeds you

Meaning: The Indonesian version is not quite as aggressive as the English one, but both refer to someone who is being ungrateful. It can be used when someone who’s become successful forgets about his origins, his family, and his friends.

18. Berakit-rakit ke hulu, berenang-renang ke tepian.
Bersakit-sakit dahulu, bersenang-senang kemudian.

Literal translation: Rafting to the headwaters, swimming to the riversides. It is painful at first, but victorious in the end. 

English equivalent: No pain, no gain.

Meaning: We all know what this means… In order to achieve something, suffering is necessary!

19. Buah jatuh tidak jauh dari pohonnya.

Literal translation: The fruit falls near the tree.

English equivalent: Like father, like son. 

Meaning: This saying is used when a son’s or daughter’s behavior or nature resembles that of their parents.

20. Pikir dahulu pendapatan, sesal kemudian tiada berguna.

Literal translation: Think first your idea, for later regrets are useless.

English equivalent: Look before you leap.

Meaning: Don’t act until after you’ve thought about the possible consequences and dangers of your actions. 

21. Lebih baik satu burung di tangan daripada sepuluh burung di pohon.

Literal translation: Better one bird on hand than ten birds on a tree.

English equivalent: One bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Meaning: It’s better to hold on to something you’ve already secured, rather than taking the risk to get something better that is not guaranteed.

22. Sekali merengkuh dayung, dua tiga pulau terlampaui.

Literal translation: One stroke at the paddle, two and three islands have passed.

English equivalent: Killing two birds with one stone

Meaning: This saying is used when you’re able to accomplish two different things at the same time, or solve two problems with a single effort.

Someone Rowing in Still Waters in Indonesia

23. Tak ada rotan akar pun jadi.

Literal translation: If there is no cane, use the root instead.

English equivalent: Better than a stick in the eye

Meaning: You don’t have exactly what you need? Well, just use what you’ve got. It’ll be better than nothing.

24. Harimau mati karena belangnya.

Literal translation: Tigers die because of their stripes.

Meaning: Those who tend to show off their wealth or superiority will attract not only attention, but also adversity—just as tigers attract attention and are killed because of their stripes. 

A Tiger Sunbathing on a Big Rock

25. Mulutmu harimaumu.

Literal translation: Your mouth is your tiger.

Meaning: Speak carefully, because words are a reflection of yourself.

26. Di mana ada kemauan, di situ ada jalan.

Literal translation: Where there is a will, there is a path.

English equivalent: Where there is a will, there is a way. 

Meaning: Determination will overcome obstacles. If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way!

27. Bagai air di daun talas.

Literal translation: As the water is on the taro leaf

Meaning: Water on a taro leaf slips away in a moment. This saying describes a volatile, flaky person who can’t be trusted.

28. Bagai pinang dibelah dua.

Literal translation: Like a betel nut split in half

English equivalent: Like two peas in a pod

Meaning: Identical; very similar.

29. Bagai pungguk merindukan bulan.

Literal translation: Like an owl yearning for the moon.

Meaning: To wish for something impossible or unreachable. 

30. Karena nila setitik, rusak susu sebelanga.

Literal translation: With only a drop of indigo, the whole pot of milk is ruined.

Meaning: Be careful, because even a small mistake can ruin an otherwise perfect work.

2. Conclusion

“All good things must come to an end…”

But it’s not really the end, is it? There’s so much more to learn about the Indonesian language! 

As they say, “Practice makes perfect!” So continue practicing your Indonesian skills on IndonesianPod101.com. With all the features we offer (audio podcasts, videos with transcriptions, word lists, a dictionary, and more), you’ll pick up this beautiful and interesting language in no time. 

And remember: Your mouth is your tiger, so learning to speak like a local is going to pay off big time!

Which of the Indonesian-language proverbs from this list is your favorite, and why? Let us know in the comments! 

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Not Just a Gateway City: Top 10 Places to Visit in Jakarta

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You may have heard that Jakarta has a little bit of a traffic problem (there are actually more cars than people in the city!). But I can assure you it offers so much more, if you’re willing to dedicate some time to discover it!

Many tourists treat the city as merely an entry and exit point to Indonesia. They pass through without a second look, excited to get to their final destination. This is why, if you have some spare time on your hands, we recommend you travel in Jakarta a little before heading out to discover the rest of Indonesia. 

And believe us: There are plenty of reasons to visit Jakarta!

A View of Jakarta

Home to over ten million people from all corners of Indonesia and the world, Jakarta is often referred to as “the Big Durian,” the popular Asian fruit, and is a true melting pot. This city is home to people of various cultures, language backgrounds, and religions. Spend enough time here, and you’ll find influences from Java, Malay, China, the Middle East, India, and Europe. 

There are plenty of attractions in Jakarta for you to enjoy, from interesting museums to a variety of national monuments. It’s also a great place to learn more about Indonesia’s complicated history. 

Apart from museums and monuments, here you’ll find a wide range of culturally significant locations. These include the old town and the port, both of which can give you an idea of how the city looked in the past. 

In this Jakarta travel guide, we’ll look at the city’s top ten places to visit, and how they’ll make your Indonesian adventure even more compelling. 

The capital of Indonesia may be crowded, loud, and busy, but it certainly isn’t boring.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Indonesian Table of Contents
  1. Before You Go
  2. Must-See Places for a 1-3 Day Trip
  3. Highly Recommended Places for a 4-7 Day Trip (or Longer)
  4. Indonesian Survival Phrases for Travelers
  5. Conclusion

Before You Go

Here are a few tips to make your time in Jakarta much smoother and more rewarding. 

When

The best time to visit Jakarta is definitely during the dry season, between June and September. During these months, you’ll experience perfect tropical temperatures and eleven to twelve hours of light each day. 

Be careful if you decide to go between October and January. The city has a typical elevation of eight meters (about twenty-six feet) above sea level and features dense urban development, making it prone to flooding

Visa

You should also find out if you’ll need a visa before you travel to Indonesia. People of most nationalities will either not need a visa, or will have to apply for one on arrival. If you need to apply for this type of visa, keep in mind that the maximum stay is thirty days. 

For more info, check this website

Getting around in Jakarta

Getting around is easier than you probably think. You can choose between traditional taxis, moto taxis (locally called ojek), app-based moto taxis (go-jek), and even a new bus service operated by TransJakarta (which locals refer to as simply ‘busway’).

In 2019, a rapid transit system called the Jakarta MRT was officially opened, which will hopefully help reduce traffic in the city.

Must-See Places for a 1-3 Day Trip

Chances are, your stay will be short. After all, there are so many other places to explore in Indonesia! 

We’ve put together a list of the best places to visit in Jakarta when you only have a few days available. The locations on our list will fit all travelers, from backpackers to resort tourists. 

1 – Museum Nasional

The National Museum is one of the best museums in Jakarta and certainly the best of its kind in Indonesia. This is an essential location to visit if you’re in the capital. 

The ethnology section is fantastic, and there are four spacious floors with sections dedicated to the origin of humankind in Indonesia. The Indonesian Heritage Society organizes free English tours of the museum; if you’re interested, check their website for more info.

2 – Monas Tower

Monas, a contraction of the Indonesian Monumen Nasional (National Monument), is a memorial to the Indonesian independence movement built by the first president of Indonesia, Sukarno. 

The entrance fee is IDR 15,000 (less than two dollars). This will give you access to all areas, where you can learn about the history of the country and its struggle for independence, which was obtained on August 17, 1945.

3 – Kota Tua

The Jakarta History Museum

Jakarta’s Old Town is the original central area of the city. Also known as Old Batavia, the first settlement of the Dutch in Jakarta, it’s home to several important historical sites and buildings. These include the History Museum, the Batavia Café, and the old City Hall.

4 – Sunda Kelapa Port

The Sunda Kelapa Port in Jakarta, Indonesia

This is one of the oldest parts of Jakarta, and even today, you can get an idea of how the harbor used to look in times past and get a real feel of the city. The smells here are not the best, but it’s all part of the experience! Once you get over that small detail, you’ll be able to enjoy the sight of stunning wooden schooners and sailing vessels coming from all over Indonesia.

The easiest way to get here is by taxi.

Highly Recommended Places for a 4-7 Day Trip (or Longer)

Once you feel the charm of the Big Durian, you might decide to stay a little longer. Here are some more places you can visit in and around Jakarta. 

5 – Istiqlal Mosque

Located near the Monas, the Masjid Istiqlal is the fourth-biggest mosque on the planet. Its five floors can welcome up to 250,000 worshipers. On most days, the mosque is nearly empty, but it reaches full capacity at the end of the month of Ramadan

When visiting this Islamic symbol, remember to wear modest clothing and to maintain appropriate behavior at all times. 

6 – Jalan Surabaya Market

If you love antiques, this is the perfect place to spend a few hours. The Jalan Surabaya antique market is located in the Menteng district, and it can be a peaceful respite from the clogged-up city streets.

Antiques at the Jalan Surabaya Market

Here, you’ll find all sorts of antiques, from vinyls to Dutch porcelain, wayang golek (Javanese puppets), cameras, and accessories salvaged from old ships.

7 – Day-Trip to Thousand Islands

If you want to get out of the bustle of Jakarta for a day, there’s a cheap, accessible island escape right within the Jakarta district: Pulau Seribu, or Thousand Islands! This is a great option for a day trip: it’s not very touristy, but still cheap and easy to get to.

Thousand Islands

First of all, you’ll need to get to the harbor, where you’ll find lots of boats going to different islands. Choose the one you want and hop on! 

Once there, relax on the beach, hike into nature, or check out the local village.

8 – Galeri Nasional Indonesia

The National Gallery of Indonesia is one of the best art exhibits in the city, and it’s free! Here, you’ll find over 1700 pieces of art, from both Indonesian and international artists, on display.

There are a lot of installations and bizarre contemporary art pieces…so don’t forget your camera!

9 – Jin De Yuan

This is Jakarta’s oldest Chinese temple, also known as Vihara Dharma Bhakti, and it’s located at the heart of the city’s Chinatown. It was first built in 1650 in honor of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, Kwan-Im.

10 – Museum Wayang

If you’re interested in wayang (a traditional Indonesian form of puppet play), or in theatre in general, you must visit this museum. It’s located in Kota Tua and exhibits a collection of various forms of wayang. In addition, the museum periodically organizes a wayang theater and a wayang-making workshop.

Indonesian Survival Phrases for Travelers

An Indonesian Woman Wearing a Traditional Kebaya

While you’ll probably find English spoken in touristy areas, you’ll have a much better trip if you learn some Indonesian

Here, we’ve put together a list of some easy-to-learn words and sentences that will help you make the best of your time in Jakarta.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes while there; Indonesian people are super-friendly and they love it when a bule (foreign tourist) makes an effort to speak with them in their native language!

Permisi.
Excuse me. (Also used when you want to get someone’s attention)

Mari.
Bye.

Tolong.
Please. (request)

Silakan.
Please. (formal)

Terima kasih.
Thank you.

Makasih. / Trims. (Contraction of Terima kasih)
Thanks.

Sama-sama. / Kembali.
You’re welcome.

Ya.
Yes.

Tidak.
No.

Mungkin.
Maybe.

Maaf.
Sorry. / Pardon.

Tidak apa-apa.
No problem.

Bisa bicara bahasa Inggris?
Can you speak English?

Saya bisa bicara bahasa Indonesia sedikit-sedikit.
I can speak a little Indonesian.

Saya tidak mengerti.
I don’t understand.

Bisa bicara pelan-pelan?
Can you speak more slowly?

Ini apa?
What’s this?

Berapa harganya?
How much is it? (a single item)

Berapa semuanya?
How much is it? (total/in a restaurant)

Berapa ongkosnya?
How much is it? (service, i.e. a taxi)

Saya tersesat.
I’m lost.

Bisa tolong saya?
Can you help me, please?

Di mana kamar mandi?
Where is the bathroom?

Conclusion

See? Jakarta is so much more than just a gateway city. And if you’re willing to explore its many attractions, what could be better than being able to communicate with the locals? Start learning Indonesian now on IndonesianPod101.com

Here, with the help of our highly qualified teachers, audio podcasts, word lists, and more, you’ll be able to start adding another language to your repertoire. And not just any language, but one that will make your experience in Indonesia even more unforgettable. 

Learning a language changes the way you think. It opens your mind, and it’s certainly the best starting point to understanding a culture and its people.

Start now, and you’ll realize that picking up Indonesian is easier than you think!

Which location on this list do you most want to visit, and why? Let us know in the comments!

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English Words Used in Indonesian

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It’s easy to recognize English loanwords in Indonesian, and they pop up at all levels of language use. If you were to open up Wikipedia, a Jakarta newspaper, or even a YouTube comment section in Indonesian right now, chances are a couple of words would jump out at you. 

In this article, we’ll introduce you to some key characteristics of English words in Indonesian, and before long, you’ll be using them perfectly yourself!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Indonesian Table of Contents
  1. Introduction to Indonesian English
  2. Examples of English Used in Indonesian
  3. Loanwords vs. Indonesian English
  4. What an Indonesian Accent Sounds Like in English
  5. English Words Derived from Indonesian
  6. Conclusion

Introduction to Indonesian English

A View of Skyscrapers in Jakarta, Indonesia

The thing about Indonesian is that it’s a newer language. If you speak Indonesian totally natively (because your parents spoke it at home), you’re actually in the minority. You’re probably young if so, and your grandparents definitely didn’t speak this language.

Indonesian was created as a standardized version of the Malay language, and since the cultural and economic centers of Indonesia are on the island of Java, there’s a great deal of Javanese vocabulary in Indonesian.

Lots of words in Malay actually come from Arabic, and Indonesian has absorbed these words and others. Plus, thanks to a large Chinese population in Southeast Asia and certain Indonesian cities, Chinese words have also influenced the Indonesian language.

All that to say that Indonesian is definitely not shy about adopting words from other languages—and English is no exception.

Besides the influence from Indonesia’s close proximity to Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore (countries with English as an official language), Indonesians also see English as a worldly language valuable for travel in and out of Southeast Asia.

Plus, internet access in Indonesia is and has been fast and cheap. People spend their time watching Indonesian vloggers on YouTube, and when they’re all out of those, they switch to English-speaking ones instead.

This applies to pop music, too. Music of all genres exists in Indonesian as well, but walk into any mall or upscale store, and the likelihood that you’ll hear Indonesian beats instead of American pop is virtually nothing.

Therefore, English is just considered “cool” in Indonesia. It’s seen as the ticket to economic success as well as a marker of one’s own status and intelligence.

Examples of English Used in Indonesian

the Indonesian city of Makassar at night

Sometimes a language will borrow words just because of how trendy it is to do so, and then the words end up taking on lives of their own. This is relatively rare in Indonesian, but there are still a couple of decent examples.

The word senior in Indonesian (sometimes respelled sinyor according to Indonesian custom) doesn’t refer to an old person or a student in their last year of high school. Instead, it has a very specific meaning that’s closer to a “superior” in school or work environments.

  • Dia dulu seniorku waktu di S1. / “She was my senior in the undergraduate program.”

Quite recently, another fashionable word has entered the scene: guys. This one never gets respelled. Although this word is shifting to gender-neutral in some English dialects, it usually still means “a group of men or boys.” But turn on any vlogging channel on YouTube and what’s the first thing you hear? “Hey guys!”

That’s why in today’s Indonesian, the word guys (or the phrase hey guys) is used without exception even in Indonesian-language vlogs. In the same vein, this word is also used to address groups of people regardless of gender.

By the way, as you study Indonesian, you might get used to the idea that you can guess at a loanword’s meaning. But that’s not always the case, because in some instances, the word might not be a loan at all!

If you need a card for your phone to get data and call service, you would purchase a “SIM card,” right? In Indonesian, however, a SIM is a surat izin mengajarkan, or license to drive a motor vehicle. Be careful what you ask for at the phone store, because what you really need is a kartu ponsel or “mobile phone card.”

The “word” uh-uh always means “no” in English, but in Indonesian it’s actually an affirmative (spelled as he-he). You might think this is something you can easily commit to memory, but when you ask an immigration officer about your visa paperwork and he replies “uh-uh,” you might have a bit of a panic attack before he slides it over to you and you remember what it actually means.

Loanwords vs. Indonesian English

An Apartment Room with Furniture

In contrast to those words mentioned above, which have been borrowed into Indonesian with a bit of semantic change, there are dozens—or perhaps even hundreds—of words which have preserved their English meanings entirely.

These appear very frequently in the realms of abstract concepts, computers, and business. For this reason, you might remain unaware of just how rich this vocabulary is if you spend your time watching Indonesian talk shows and movies or reading comic books.

A few English loanwords in Indonesian include: 

  • regulasi / “regulation” 
  • prediksi / “prediction” 
  • protokol / “protocol” 
  • manajemen / “management” 
  • kapitalisme / “capitalism” 

And even that is not an entirely accurate representation of the way English words are commonly used in Indonesian, because many people use them to talk about everyday matters as well.

There are native Indonesian equivalents for apartemen (“apartment”), stiker (“sticker”), cek (“check”), furnitur (“furniture”), and hundreds of similar words. But out of convenience and habit, even newspapers use these as regular parts of the Indonesian language. In fact, every example in this section was taken from a news article.

You’ll notice that these words are often respelled according to the Indonesian spelling rules and to reflect an Indonesian pronunciation of the English syllables.

Perhaps you’ve already picked up one of the main rules: spell anything ending in -sion or -tion with a si and you’re a good portion of the way through to coming up with a new Indonesian word!

There are even a couple of loan verbs that have been totally assimilated into the Indonesian conjugation and inflection system.

One such example is the verb “sort,” which has entered Indonesian and been totally absorbed as menyortir, disortir, and so on.

Tolong menyortir kertas sesuai ukuran. / “Please sort the paper according to size.”

What an Indonesian Accent Sounds Like in English

A Man with Luggage at the Airport

Although many Indonesians speak excellent English, there are still some Indonesian-isms that creep through.

Naturally, the sound system of English is quite different from that of Indonesian, and this causes the majority of the problems. Indonesians often have trouble saying th sounds, preferring to just say t or sometimes s.

Indonesian doesn’t have any voiced sounds (like V, B, D, G) at the end of its words, so English loanwords in Indonesian that end in a V sound (like “love”) tend to sound as if they ended in F when spoken by an Indonesian.

And although Indonesian grammar is similar to English grammar in many aspects of sentence structure, there are a couple of things that elude even advanced learners.

One of those things is the use of the word “ever” instead of “before” in the sense of “I’ve never…” You see, in English and in Indonesian, these sentences are made very similarly, but in English we make the distinction between these two words.

  • Aku belum pernah ke Jepang. / “I’ve never been to Japan.”

Here, we’re using belum pernah to mean “never before,” but look at what happens when we change it around:

  • Aku sudah pernah ke Jepang. / “I have been to Japan before.”

When speaking English, many Indonesians will mistakenly say “I have ever been to Japan,” because of the interference from their own language. If you see this kind of subtle error in a piece of writing, there’s a decent chance an Indonesian wrote it!

English Words Derived from Indonesian

An Orangutan Sitting on Top of a High Pole

Although Malay and Indonesian are widely spoken languages in their own corner of the world, they haven’t historically been popular enough to leave major traces on other languages. Nevertheless, it is possible to find Indonesian words in English if you look hard enough.

The most famous is probably durian, the spiny and pungent fruit found for sale all over Southeast Asia. The word comes from the root duri (“spine”) plus the suffix –an, but what’s interesting is that this was borrowed by English a couple of hundred years ago. The same word has shifted to duren in modern-day Indonesian, obscuring the root.

Next up is the word orangutan, a species of primate found in the Malay and Indonesian archipelago. It’s unknown whether the original Englishmen who learned this word realized that it’s a simple compound of orang (“person”) and hutan (“forest”). Most young kids who learn this word have no idea it’s not English in the first place!

The last couple of basic Indonesian words in English are used to describe specific things that you can’t find elsewhere: sate/satay (a small barbecue skewer) and rattan (a type of material used to make furniture and baskets).

Conclusion

As you can see, it’s pretty easy to pick up English words used in Indonesian, but it can be a little bit tricky knowing how to use some of them correctly. Smartphone, for instance, is a valid loanword but never underwent any respelling to “smartfon.” 

That’s why you need a solid knowledge base as you study the Indonesian language, something that can be brought to you quickly and easily by IndonesianPod101. As you progress through the lessons from beginner to advanced, you’ll slowly pick up the correct usage and definitions of loanwords in Indonesian, from English to Arabic, Dutch, Chinese, and beyond. Start today and see what heights your Indonesian can reach!

Before you go, how many of these English words in Indonesian surprised you? Did we forget to include any that you know? We look forward to hearing from you.

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Your Entryway To Indonesian Culture

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Anybody who’s visited Indonesia knows that the country is big on culture.

From traditional handicrafts and performances to pariwisata budaya (“cultural tourism”), Indonesians enjoy sharing their culture with a world that’s usually all too eager to overlook its multicolored facets.

How well do you know Indonesian culture? If your answer is “not at all,” this lesson is for you.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Indonesian Table of Contents
  1. Values and Beliefs
  2. Philosophies and Religions
  3. The Indonesian Family
  4. Indonesian Art
  5. Indonesian Food
  6. Traditional Holidays
  7. Conclusion

1. Values and Beliefs

Two Indonesian Children Waving Indonesian Flags for Independence Day

“Unity in Diversity.”

That’s the English translation of the old Javanese phrase Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, the official motto of the Republic of Indonesia.

Literally translated, that phrase means “[From] many, remains one.”

Indonesia is a young country, having just achieved its independence from Japan (and later the Netherlands) in the mid-twentieth century. The popular historical narrative is that Sukarno (like many Indonesians, he has only one name) and his government unified the country and stoked the fires of nationalism for the benefit of everyone.

How, though, does one unify a country with hundreds of millions of people across tens of thousands of islands?

Sukarno was working with roughly the same borders that were established in colonial times, when British-held Malaysia was separated from Dutch-held Indonesia. These borders stretched from the island of Aceh in the east all the way across Java, Sumatra, Bali, Kalimantan, and Sulawesi, reaching Papua.

Throughout Indonesia, cultural diversity is fairly prominent and lends the country much of its richness. Today, different islands do have different dominant cultures, but the country is still remarkably unified despite the occasional separatist movement. 

This is possible through a culture of tolerance and santai (“relaxation”), where most Indonesians believe it’s not their prerogative to look too closely into the affairs of others. Although there are differences in ideologies that spring up, Indonesians tend to allow people to believe and practice as they wish.

To that end, and also because Indonesia is still a developing country, there is a lot of individual freedom and an assumption that people will generally follow the rules. Although there exists policing and bureaucracy, the streets are hardly patrolled and informal arrangements (distinct from bribes!) keep people happy when dealing with each other.


2. Philosophies and Religions

An Indonesian Mosque

A huge chunk of understanding Indonesian culture rests in learning about the country’s approach to religion. 

It’s impossible to discuss religion in Indonesia without mentioning more history. Traders from Africa and the Middle East knew the Malay Archipelago as a land rich in spices and tropical crops, and they brought with them the religion of Islam.

Today, Islam is by far the dominant religion nationwide, with hundreds of millions of devout followers.

Most restaurants are halal by default, and it’s impossible to avoid the beautiful cry of the azan (“prayer call”) five times a day. Women tend to cover their hair with hijabs or jilbab, a garment typical of Indonesian Islam that reaches down to the midriff.

Although it may be surprising based on the population numbers, the government recognizes several religions as official. In Bali, for instance, Hinduism is much more prominant than Islam, and most people there worship at traditional temples. In addition to Islam and Hinduism, the other official religions are Christianity, Buddhism, and Confucianism.

Judaism is considered a foreign curiosity, and atheism is neither widespread nor particularly liked. Atheist travelers to Indonesia can avoid uncomfortable comments if they “adopt” one of the official religions if asked about it.

These religions really do co-exist in a very visible way. In Yogyakarta, a predominantly Muslim area in Central Java, there are Christian and Islamic universities literally across the street from one another, and tourists flock an hour or two away from the city to visit Hindu temples at Borobudur.

3. The Indonesian Family

You can’t discuss culture without touching on notions of family, no matter where you are in the world. This is an area where Indonesian culture and traditions really shine through—even into the language itself!

Indonesians tend to have relatively large families. For example, three or four children may be living with their parents and a few members of their extended family. They don’t tend to move that far from home, though the economic draw of big cities has made it quite tempting to do just that. Generally, though, in today’s Indonesia you meet people who live in the same general area that their grandparents did.

Indonesian people believe in a collective family concept. This means that your actions, whether good or bad, reflect on your family. A deadbeat dropout is going to bring shame to their brothers, sisters, and cousins, while a fresh graduate in a technical field is going to be the pride of all the family members.

The closeness of the family is even noticeable in the Indonesian language! It’s correct and good Indonesian to address strangers as Bu (“mother”), Pak (“father”), Mas (“brother”), Kak (“sister”), and more. Listen closely in stores and restaurants and you’ll hear Indonesians saying these family member terms constantly, even to learners like yourself!

4. Indonesian Art

Sarongs Designed with Indonesian Batik Patterns

Unfortunately, Indonesian art has not been recognized on the world stage nearly as much as it should be. Beyond tourists bringing back the occasional souvenir from Bali, most people would be hard-pressed to name a single Indonesian actor, singer, painter, or poet.

This is all the more shameful because Indonesians love their own art.

Traditional shows such as wayang (“shadow puppet”) operas can last for hours and bring huge crowds of spectators, and any Indonesian university student has had the chance to attend a traditional gamelan class where gongs and bells are played in a choir.

Handicrafts such as batik fabric are visible throughout the archipelago as well. Batik is a method of coloring cloth by painting elaborate designs with hot wax before dyeing the cloth in such a way that the wax protects the designs. Many shops specialize purely in batik designs, boasting two or three floors of batik shopping space! Indonesians even have a special holiday dedicated to displaying batik designs through fashion shows and parades. 

If you ever get the chance to hang out in a city with a large population of young adults, you’ll definitely see someone break out the guitar at some point. Indonesians love music, and even though they prefer to sing American pop hits nowadays, Indonesian artists of all types exist and thrive.

There’s even a special genre of pounding dance music called dangdut, similar to trance or Mexican banda music. This type of music is ubiquitous in smaller restaurants and shops.

5. Indonesian Food

Indonesian Satay Dish with Veggies and Dipping Sauce

Indonesian culture and food go hand in hand. We’re actually coming out with an article specifically about this topic, so we won’t reveal too much here.

Indonesian food can be characterized as manis, gurih, pedas, and goreng—sweet, savory, spicy, and fried.

Street food is everywhere, especially at night. You’ll find fried bananas (pisang goreng), barbecue skewers (sate), filled thick pancakes (martabak manis), and even a type of savory tapioca ball in spicy peanut sauce known as cilok.

Thanks to Indonesia’s embrace of internationalism, it’s easy to find good food from all around the world.

Chinese immigrants to Indonesia centuries ago laid the groundwork for a particular type of Chinese-Indonesian fusion food stemming from the southern provinces of Canton and Hokkien. It’s sweet, but without the thick sauces found in Chinese restaurants in the United States or Europe.

In the malls and shopping centers, you’ll easily find upscale restaurants serving Thai, Korean, and Japanese food, plus of course European and American food. Unfortunately for world cuisine lovers, outside of the biggest cities it’s nearly impossible to find foreign restaurants actually run by foreigners.

Food in restaurants is usually eaten with utensils, rarely with chopsticks or with the hands. Generally, each person orders their own plate for the meal instead of eating family-style.


6. Traditional Holidays

An Indonesian Child Holding an Indonesian Flag on Independence Day

The two biggest holidays each year are New Year’s Day on January 1 and Indonesian Independence Day on August 17, during which public businesses are closed and anybody with fireworks sets them off.

Independence Day, or Hari Kemerdekaan, is observed with a flag celebration in the morning and traditional games all day for children and adults alike. Indonesians tend to be fairly patriotic, and as August 17 approaches, the red-and-white flags come out in greater and greater numbers.

Of course, the holiday that can’t be ignored is Ramadan, the annual holy month of the Islamic calendar. Since it doesn’t follow the “standard” calendar exactly, Ramadan is on a slightly different date every year.

During this month, it is forbidden for Muslims to eat or drink at all during the hours from sunrise to sunset. In comparison to normal days, you hear significantly more prayer calls and see a lot more social activity in the evenings. The fasting is a little easier for Muslims in Indonesia since the country is located at the equator, meaning days only last about twelve hours no matter what time of year it is!

7. Conclusion

If this page got you even more interested in Indonesian culture, you’ve come to the right website.

Learning Indonesian with IndonesianPod101 is an excellent way to get exposed to Indonesian culture. We provide cultural notes in each podcast episode as well as special culture-related articles on our blog.

Culture, after all, is really just what any group of people have collectively agreed upon as “normal.” By slowly immersing yourself into real-life Indonesian, you’ll get more and more used to what Indonesians think, say, and feel over time.

Mastering the Indonesian language is one thing, but using it in a culturally correct way is a whole other step. As you learn Indonesian, make sure to do so using a holistic, well-rounded platform like IndonesianPod101.com.

How does the culture of Indonesia compare with your country’s culture? Let us know in the comments!

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Kartini Day: Celebrating an Indonesian Woman’s Dream

Around the globe, the 18th-20th centuries saw much initial progress toward women’s rights and gender equality. In the United States and Europe, names such as Sojourner Truth, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton often come to mind when discussing these topics. But in Indonesia, the most commended name in this regard is R.A. Kartini

In this article, you’ll learn more about this incredible woman and her namesake holiday, Kartini Day.

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1. What is Kartini Day?

A Sketch Drawing of Kartini

Kartini Day is an Indonesian holiday first officially celebrated in 1964, established by the first Indonesian president Sukarno. It takes place each year on April 21, the birthdate of Raden Adjeng Kartini (fondly referred to as Ibu Kartini or Mother Kartini). 

On this day, Indonesians commemorate the life of Kartini and celebrate the strides she made toward the emansipasi (emancipation) of women in the country. To give you some background…

Indonesian women during this period had very limited rights; only a few were able to get a good education, and all were expected to marry. Girls of reputable families were required to endure a period of isolation upon turning twelve years old, during which they were forbidden from leaving the home until they were wed. Polygamy was the norm during this time and most marriages were pre-arranged. 

Who is Kartini?

R.A. Kartini was born in 1879 to a wealthy and powerful family in Java. 

Due to the status of her family and the academic blood that ran through their veins, Kartini was fortunate in being able to attain a basic education. But once she reached the age of twelve, Kartini began her period of isolation. She bided her time in self-education, reading a variety of material and writing letters to her Dutch friends (as she had already learned the Dutch language). Her reading and letter conversations introduced her to concepts of feminism, female empowerment, and gender equality, which she took to heart and implemented into her later life. 

In 1903, Kartini was wed to a regency chief named Joyodiningrat, who had three wives already. Her husband allowed her to open a school for girls, which she ran herself until her early death in 1904 following the birth of her first child. She was only 25 years old, yet in her short life, she managed to not only make a name for herself but also to raise the social status of Indonesian women and highlight key issues regarding gender inequality. 

Even today, the biography of Kartini inspires Indonesian women and women around the world. 


2. Kartini Day Celebrations

An Indonesian Woman Wearing a Traditional Kebaya

Kartini Day is largely a time of celebrating and promoting women’s rights and female empowerment. Because this means different things to different people, there are many ways that Indonesians celebrate Kartini Day. 

One key component you should note is that women wear pakaian adat tradisional (traditional costumes) on this day. The two items most often worn include the selendang (a type of shawl) and the kebaya (an embroidered blouse-dress). Some men also choose to dress in traditional costume on this day, wearing batik (a special type of fabric design native to Indonesia). 

In addition, there are many Kartini Day activities taking place all over Indonesia, with competitions being particularly popular. For example, there’s the lomba memasak (cooking contest), during which mother-daughter teams work to cook the best meal. There are also fashion shows, makeup competitions, and drawing contests. 

On Kartini Day, Indonesian school teachers may encourage their male students to show appreciation toward their female classmates; in addition, they may give special lessons about Kartini. 


3. From Darkness Into Light

Kartini’s days of letter-writing played a significant role in her life and helped to shape her worldview. Her letter exchanges with friends and family are considered so inseparable from her story that they were actually compiled into a book. 

This book is called From Darkness Into Light, and it was published by Mr. J.H. Abendanon in 1911, just a few short years following Kartini’s death. An English translation was produced by Agnes L. Symmers later on. 

4. Essential Vocabulary to Know for Kartini Day

Several Pieces of Indonesian Batik Fabric

Want to impress your Indonesian friends with your relevant vocabulary knowledge on Kartini Day? Here are some of the words from this article, plus a few more:

  • Festival (Festival) – noun
  • Selendang (Selendang) – noun
  • Kebaya (Kebaya) – noun
  • Batik (Batik) – noun
  • Pakaian adat tradisional (Traditional costumes) – phrase
  • Emansipasi (Emancipation) – noun
  • Peragaan busana (Fashion show) – phrase
  • Kompetisi (Competition) – noun
  • Lomba memasak (Cooking contest) – phrase
  • Lomba merias (Makeup contest) – phrase
  • Lomba menggambar (Drawing competition) – phrase

Make sure to visit our Kartini Day vocabulary list to hear and practice along with the pronunciation of each word! 

Final Thoughts

Kartini, often labeled the first Indonesian feminist, is considered a national hero and it’s not hard to see why. She had the courage and determination to go against the grind, using her insight, intellect, and vision to help Java and Indonesia take positive first steps toward female empowerment and gender equality. 

We hope you enjoyed learning about Kartini Day with us, and that you walk away from this article with a better understanding of Indonesian culture. 

Who are the most prominent female figures in your nation’s history? Have any of them inspired you? How so? We always love hearing your thoughts! 

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more great content from IndonesianPod101, have a look at the following articles: 

Finally, make sure to create your free lifetime account today so you can access even more fun and practical Indonesian language learning content! 

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Fill Your Stomach (And Your Brain) With Indonesian Food

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When you travel to a foreign country for the first time, one of the main attractions is the restaurants. Even if you start with something familiar like a fast-food chain, foreign restaurants always have something intangibly different about them.

That makes them excellent places to practice your language skills.

Besides satisfying your cravings, ordering food in a foreign language is the perfect hurdle to clear on your way toward proficiency. It’s authentic language usage, but in a small and controlled environment where you can be forgiven for making mistakes.

In this article, you’ll learn about the many tasty Indonesian foods on offer, as well as some practical restaurant phrases to help you get by.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Let's Cook in Indonesian Table of Contents
  1. What is Indonesian Food Like?
  2. Must-Try Dishes in Indonesian Restaurants
  3. Unique Indonesian Food
  4. Food-Related Vocabulary
  5. Bonus: Simple Recipes to Make Authentic Indonesian Food at Home
  6. Conclusion

1. What is Indonesian Food Like?

Indonesian Nasi Campur Dish

Unless you’ve looked out for one, you’ve probably never seen an Indonesian restaurant. Although there are tens of thousands of Indonesians living outside Indonesia, they don’t tend to open up restaurants. Whatever the reasons may be for that, it just makes the experience all the better when you actually get to one.

Indonesian food is, of course, quite diverse, as the culture of each province can differ significantly throughout the archipelago. In this article, we’ll focus largely on the food found in the most populous cities of Java, the most populous of the islands.

Generally speaking, Indonesians like spicy food with rice and vegetables, often without any additional sauce and frequently fried.

In the largest cities, you can find a wide range of restaurants catering to any budget size. The smallest places are called warungs, and they tend to be quick counter-serve restaurants with similar menus and few house specialties (if any).

Moving one step up, you’ll find larger rumah makan, or restaurants serving their own specialties made with a bit more creativity than warungs offer. That’s not a mark against the tastiness of food from a warung, mind you!

Finally, the nicest restaurants are in the downtown areas or in the malls. These are often part of chains, and some offer food from around Asia. It’s easy to find excellent Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Thai food all in the same food court.

But let’s imagine you’re in a highly recommended rumah makan. What can you expect from authentic Indonesian cuisine? What’s on the menu?

2. Must-Try Dishes in Indonesian Restaurants

Indonesian Nasi Goreng Dish

If your chef comes from Central Java, they’ll probably be including gudeg on the menu. This is the classic dish of the city of Yogyakarta, and it’s made with slow-simmered jackfruit and coconut milk to create a rich and creamy stew. It definitely takes quite some time to cook, but they say it’s part of the Javanese outlook on life.

Another slow-cooked dish is rendang, a dry curry. First you take some tender beef and boil it in a coconut milk curry—and then you keep boiling it until the curry dries into a paste. Then it gets fried, and the outcome is a perfectly tender and spicy rendang.

Next is a spicy salad with peanut sauce known as gado-gado. Peanuts actually aren’t particularly common in Indonesian cooking (they’re much more associated with Thai cooking), and neither are salads. That doesn’t stop gado-gado from being a very filling, very spicy, and very nutritious meal!

Most people know about something called satay, which is pretty widely known in Southeast Asian cooking as a Malaysian dish. It can be spicy or sweet, and you can get it with beef (sate sapi) or goat (sate kambing). Also note that it’s spelled sate in Indonesian.

Finally, nasi goreng literally translates to “fried rice.” This Indonesian rice dish is different from traditional Chinese fried rice because of the spices used and how it usually doesn’t include as many vegetables. You can always tell a plate of nasi goreng from other fried rice because it’s patted into a sort of ball and sprinkled with fried shallots.

3. Unique Indonesian Food

Jus Alpukat, Indonesia’s Avocado Juice

The foods mentioned above are definitely staples of the Indonesian diet, but they can often be found in Singapore or Malaysia as well. As it happens, there are also plenty of beloved foods in Indonesia that can really only be had in-country.

First among these is an unassuming jus alpukat, literally “avocado juice.” Since avocados are naturally creamy, it ends up being more of a milkshake than a juice. The secret to an excellent jus alpukat is to add a bit of sugar, a bit of cream, and to drizzle the inside of the cup with chocolate syrup before adding the blended avocado.

Next up is martabak, a classic late-night food to be had while cruising the streets on your motorbike. Anybody who’s spent time in the Middle East might be familiar with this crepe-like folded pancake, but in Indonesia it takes on a new twist. Typical for Indonesia, this traditionally savory dish is turned into a sweet one. You can often tell a martabak stall from other snack stalls by the cans of condensed milk stacked up to the ceiling!

Indomie is a beloved instant noodle brand that, fortunately, can be found around the world, even where there are no Indonesian restaurants for miles. It’s a staple in small warungs, where the noodles are boiled for moments before being flash-fried into a savory and crunchy dish.

Last on the list is ayam geprek, a twist on fried chicken that’s popular among university students for its convenience. It’s a breaded chicken breast beaten to a pulp with peppers mixed in, easy to eat as finger food and easy to share with friends!

4. Food-Related Vocabulary

A Red Chili Pepper

Now that you’re all ready to eat, it’s time to learn exactly what to say throughout the course of your restaurant visit.

First off, you should be able to easily ask about whether the food you want is spicy or sweet. To call a waiter over, you’ll use the word permisi, so let’s start there.

  • Permisi, apakah ayamnya manis? / “Excuse me, is the chicken sweet?”

Indonesian food is often rather manis, but foreigners don’t usually mind. What they mind a lot more is pedas (“spicy”). Cooks and waiters may try to hit you with a fast and short phrase:

  • Mau pedas nggak? / “Do you want it spicy?”

Or they may simply say:

  • Berapa cabe? / “How many peppers?”

Indonesian spices are different from the more international Mexican or Chinese spices, so tread carefully!

Indonesia is a country with several different religions and cultures co-existing, especially between the mostly Muslim island of Java and the mostly Hindu island of Bali. Everyone is familiar with some kind of dietary restriction or another, so feel free to ask:

  • Apakah ini ada sapi/babi? / “Does this have beef/pork?”

Finally, after you’ve eaten your fill, feel free to compliment the chef.

  • Enak sekali, Bu/Pak! / “It was delicious, ma’am/sir!”

5. Bonus: Simple Recipes to Make Authentic Indonesian Food at Home

A Woman Chopping Vegetables

No plans to travel to Indonesia soon? You can still experience something quite close to real Indonesian cuisine at home with these fast recipes.

    → Don’t forget to see our vocabulary list on Cooking for some useful everyday words!

A- How to Make Indomie Sosis

You can order it online or find it in an Asian grocery store, but just make sure you get the mi goreng (“fried noodles”) flavor of Indomie. As a bonus, the packages all have instructions in Indonesian!

First, cook the noodles. Instant noodles cook fast (that’s the point) but you have to be careful not to let them soak up too much water. When they’re about half-cooked, take them out, let them dry a moment, and immediately put them into some hot oil for frying.

As they’re cooking, add the sauce packet from the Indomie packet so that the noodles get cooked in the oil and the kecap (sweet soy sauce).

Next, put the powdered flavoring at the bottom of an empty bowl and add the noodles on top. Layer on a fried egg (telur) or hot dog (sosis), and now you’ve got the perfect warung snack!

B- How to Make Ayam Geprek

This crispy chicken dish is both unique and extremely simple.

First, create an egg and flour batter for a chicken breast and deep-fry it to your own taste. Add a bit of salt and pepper to the batter for extra flavor, and make it a relatively thick breading, too.

Then put a couple of fresh or pickled chili peppers in a mortar and pestle, place the freshly fried chicken on top of them, and beat it to a pulp. The breading will break apart, and the chili juices will flavor both the breading and the white meat.

Be careful, though. If you’re using actual Indonesian peppers, this can be an extremely potent dish. Many foreigners start with just half a pepper and work their way up.    

6. Conclusion    

Of course, there’s a lot more to the Indonesian language than just food words.

With IndonesianPod101, you can start from scratch and build up a seriously impressive knowledge of the Indonesian language and culture in just one place.

You can start out with beginner articles and podcast lessons, and follow the track of study all the way up to lengthier texts and authentic conversation videos. It’s all here, and it’s all ready for you to learn with.

Start today and be totally prepared for your next visit to an Indonesian restaurant!

Which Indonesian food are you most excited to try, and why? Let us know in the comments!

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Explore the Inner Workings of Indonesian Language Grammar

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You might have heard that Indonesian is an easy, accessible language, but have you ever wondered why?

Since you’re considering learning Indonesian, you probably want to know what’s involved with the process. Are you going to have to memorize long declension tables, write out conjugations a zillion times, or cram adjective endings into your memory?

None of the above.

Indonesian grammar doesn’t require you to think in the ways that European grammar does. Instead, it’s a different challenge that people find refreshing and stimulating.

In this article, we’ll break down some of the major Indonesian grammar rules that make it particularly interesting to learn (and not particularly challenging!). You’ll soon see that understanding Indonesian grammar just takes a bit of time and dedication.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Indonesian Table of Contents
  1. General Rules
  2. Pronouns
  3. Levels of Formality
  4. Measure Words
  5. Active and Passive Affixes
  6. The Relative Pronoun Yang
  7. Particles
  8. Conclusion

1. General Rules

A Man in Business Attire Reading a Newspaper

Although Indonesian vocabulary is hard to remember sometimes, Indonesian grammar is generally easy to pick up.

In fact, you can often translate Indonesian sentences into English word-for-word.

That’s because Indonesian word order is nearly identical to English word order, at least in most cases. There’s also nothing like conjugation or declension to worry about—even plural forms of nouns go unmarked more often than not.

Indonesian verbs? You don’t have to worry for a moment about complex conjugations. Instead, there are creative, interesting prefixes and suffixes that let you explore new ways of thinking about sentences.

And even complex Indonesian sentences start to make sense after just a bit of dissection. As long as you know the vocabulary, you’re going to be able to read Indonesian newspaper articles and participate in text message conversations with equal ease.

So don’t be intimidated by the fact that Indonesian comes from the other side of the globe. Let’s jump in and see what Indonesian language grammar has to offer.

2. Pronouns

When you look at a language from a totally different branch than English, you can’t take anything for granted at first. For example, Indonesian has more pronouns than you probably expected!

First, Indonesian makes a distinction between inclusive and exclusive first person plural. In other words, there’s one word, kita (“we: you and me”) and kami (“we: me and somebody else, but not you”). Grammatically, they function identically, but if you’re not used to making this distinction, there’s a bit of a mental leap to overcome as you suddenly have to be more specific in your thoughts when speaking.

Next, there are different pronouns based on politeness. Plenty of languages have a “formal you,” but Indonesian has casual, formal, and respectful pronouns for several different grammatical persons.

Let’s look at the “I-You” pair. In super-casual Jakarta slang, that’s gue/lu. Casually with friends (outside Jakarta), you’d likely say aku/kamu. In formal speech and with strangers, you’d use saya/Anda (note that Anda is always capitalized).

Many Indonesians don’t even use these pronouns, though—they’ll use your name or your title, or Bu/Pak (“Ma’am”/”Sir”), in place of the pronoun.

These formality levels don’t stop at pronouns!

3. Levels of Formality

A Man and Woman Talking with a Shop Owner

Many languages spoken in Asia have quite complex levels of language, ranging from “street slang” to special dialects spoken only by royalty. Since the Indonesian language isn’t that old, there’s nothing like a “royalty dialect,” but that does exist in local languages such as Javanese and Balinese.

Indonesian people tend to be multilingual, and “proper” Indonesian is seen as more formal than their local language. Therefore, informal slang terms often have a flavor of the local language.

Take the word ingin (“want”) in Standard Indonesian. In Java, you’ll hear people say kepengin or pengin—a related Javanese word—from time to time. This is considered much less formal.

Unfortunately for you, there’s not really a great way to tell a word’s formality level from its sound or spelling. Another word for “want” is hendak, an older word from Malay that’s considered relatively formal.

Learning the differences between closely related synonyms is one of the most time-consuming tasks in learning Indonesian, but after enough study, you’ll start to get a feel for the differences. It’s also recommended that you expose yourself to more of the language through literature, newspapers, and TV.

4. Measure Words

Two Slices of Rye Bread Cut Off from a Loaf

Grammar in Indonesian, like that of every language around the world, has the concept of “countable” and “uncountable” nouns. In English, you can have “one book” but you can’t have “one rice.” The first is countable, and the second is uncountable. English requires that you use measure words, or counters, for uncountable nouns: “one grain of rice.”

Indonesian requires counters for all nouns instead. It’s much like Mandarin in this regard, though perhaps a bit less strict.

The default measure word for inanimate objects is buah, meaning “fruit.”

  • Di kamar ada tiga buah meja. / “There are three tables in the room.”

This can be used for pretty much all objects, though to speak perfectly correct Indonesian you’ll need to memorize the correct counters for different shapes of objects, like potong for pieces of things.

  • Aku punya dua potong roti. / “I have two pieces of bread.”

Other than that, you’ll need orang for people and ekor for animals.

  • Aku mau setengah ekor ayam. / “I want half a chicken.”
  • Dia seorang guru yang baik. / “She’s a good teacher.”

Confusing these measure words or using sebuah sounds strange or even insulting in some cases, so make these measure words your top priority.

5. Active and Passive Affixes

A Large Book in a Library

Adding affixes to verbs is a complicated part of Indonesian grammar, but we’ll just focus on two prefixes for now: the active prefix and the passive prefix.

In a nutshell, Indonesian verbs take prefixes and suffixes to show not who did the action, but in what way the action was performed. Therefore, there is a prefix to show a verb with an object, and that prefix takes the form of me- or men-.

  • Dia sedang menonton televisi. / “She’s watching TV.”
  • Kapan kamu akan menulis bukumu? / “When are you going to write your book?”

In the same way, adding di- to a root verb instead of me– flips things around and marks the passive voice.

  • Televisi sedang ditonton olehnya. / “The television is being watched by her.”
  • Buku saya akan ditulis tahun depan. / “My book will be written next year.”

These examples seem a bit off in English, and indeed, they’re not particularly common phrases in Indonesian. However, when you compare the active sentences to the passive sentences, it’s clear to see how the prefix changes the meaning of the verb.

That’s just scratching the surface of what’s possible with Indonesian verbs. To find out more, check out our Indonesian Verbs page!

6. The Relative Pronoun Yang

Whenever you learn a new language, there’s always something that marks a transition from being a “total beginner” to being a little bit more capable. In many languages, that’s the ability to make relative clauses, bringing your sentences to a new level of expression.

Fortunately, with Indonesian you can start to form relative clauses extremely quickly. All it takes is one connecting word: yang.

  • Ini buku yang dibeli Amron. / “This is the book that was bought by Amron.”

You can use this for animate and inanimate objects—no need to choose between “that” and “who,” as you would in English.

  • Dia guru yang mengajar bahasa Inggris di sekolah waktu saya kecil. / “She’s the teacher who taught English at school when I was a kid.”

7. Particles

A Motorcycle against a White Background

Instead of tenses, Indonesian takes after other Asian languages and uses particles to convey time aspects. Sudah marks completed actions, sedang marks in-progress actions, and akan marks future actions.

  • Apakah kamu sudah membersihkan kamarnya? / “Have you already cleaned the room?”

In many cases, though, these particles are used once or twice at the beginning of the topic and then dropped, and the context is enough to maintain the temporal consistency.

Lastly, several particles are extremely common in informal Indonesian, and they’re notoriously hard to translate.

  • Kok motor parkir di sana? / “Why is the motorbike parked (there) on the sidewalk?”
  • Jangan begitu dong! / “Don’t be like that, man!”

In these examples, you can see the particles kok, expressing surprise, and dong, expressing that what you’re saying is rather obvious. Kok can be considered the casual version of kenapa (“why”).

These particles only rarely appear in writing, and even then, only in casual online writing such as magazine articles or comment sections. Reading through comment sections under YouTube videos might be a bit mind-numbing, but it’s a great way to get a feel for super-informal Indonesian that you won’t find in textbooks.

8. Conclusion

As you can see, Indonesian really isn’t that far off from English in a lot of places. When you look at a list of Indonesian sentences with their English translations, you can really start connecting the dots all on your own.

But how much time do you want to spend connecting the dots, and how much time do you want to spend speaking Indonesian?

With IndonesianPod101, you can choose the perfect blend of resources for your learning style. You can follow along with entertaining podcasts from beginner to advanced level, and also take it slower and read through grammar and pronunciation guides aimed at learners of every level.

In no time, you’ll feel yourself picking up Indonesian words and phrases left and right, naturally assimilating the grammar in a totally effortless way. Soon you won’t have to even think about word order or verb prefixes—they’ll just come to you.

Sign up now for IndonesianPod101 and experience this effect for yourself!

Before you go: Which of these Indonesian grammar rules are new to you, and which ones seem the most difficult so far?

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