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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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20 Indonesian Quotes to Make an Excellent Impression

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When you start learning Indonesian, being able to read popular books or watch famous speeches might seem a lifetime away. 

All those words you have to learn! All that new grammar to wrap your head around! 

Fortunately, there’s a shortcut. 

By studying interesting Indonesian quotes with English translations and equivalents, you’ll start to see the connections between the two languages. (Not to mention that you’ll also start to sound very well-read!)

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Indonesian Table of Contents
  1. Quotes About Success
  2. Quotes About Life
  3. Quotes About Time
  4. Quotes About Love
  5. Quotes About Family
  6. Quotes About Friendship
  7. Quotes About Food
  8. Quotes About Health
  9. Quotes About Language Learning
  10. Conclusion

1. Quotes About Success

Silhouette of Three People on the Top of a Mountain

Let’s begin with some Indonesian language quotes that touch on success and hint at how to achieve one’s goals.

  • Keberhasilan bukanlah milik orang yang pintar. Keberhasilan adalah kepunyaan mereka yang senantiasa berusaha. / “Success is not possessed by educated people. It belongs to those who try everlastingly.”

The third President of Indonesia, B.J. Habibie, was in office for less than two years. But in this short time, he had such a powerful effect and came to be so well-loved by his people that a number of well-known quotes in Indonesian come from him. Interestingly, Habibie was very well-educated, speaking fluent German and English as well as Indonesian.

  • Berhenti berharap, mulailah bertindak. / “Stop wishing, start doing.”

This quote provides a great example of the suffix -lah, used to encourage people to do something. You don’t see it on berhenti (“stop”), but you do see it attached to mulai (“start”). You can read more about Indonesian suffixes on this dedicated page from Northern Illinois University

  • Kelemahan terbesarmu adalah ketika kamu menyerah dan kehebatan terbesarmu adalah ketika kamu mencoba sekali lagi. / “Your biggest weakness is when you give up and your greatest power is when you try one more time.”

The use here of the two opposites lemah (“weak”) and hebat (“awesome” / “powerful”) is a beautiful example of the way Indonesian can create new words using prefixes and suffixes. By adding the noun affixes ke-an, these words become “weakness” and “power” respectively.


2. Quotes About Life

Are you feeling stuck or unsatisfied in life? Read these two Indonesian quotes about life and see if they don’t make you feel a little better!

  • Masa lalu saya adalah milik saya. Masa lalu kamu adalah milik kamu. Tapi, masa depan adalah milik kita. / “My past belongs to me. Your past belongs to you. But the future belongs to us.”

Here’s Habibie again with another excellent quote about life and love. The word milik (“to belong to”) tends to give learners trouble from time to time, because English speakers expect a preposition like in the English phrase “belongs to.” No preposition needed, folks—just follow milik with whoever owns the thing!

  • Cintai hidup yang Anda jalani. Jalani hidup yang Anda cintai. / “Love the life you live. Live the life you love.”

For a country not particularly inclined toward Rastafarianism, this Bob Marley quote appears on a surprising number of café decorations and T-shirts in Indonesia. Unfortunately, this is an example of alliteration in English that doesn’t carry over particularly well (if at all) into Indonesian. 

3. Quotes About Time

Jakarta History Museum

Time is always fleeting, isn’t it? Here are some Indonesian life quotes concerning time to inspire and motivate you!

  • Jas Merah – shortened from: Jangan sekali-kali melupakan sejarah. / “Never forget history.”

This quote features some wordplay that’s almost impossible to attain in any language but Indonesian. On the surface, jas merah simply means “red jacket.” However, look at the first letters of each word in the full quote, and the last letters of the final word: JAngan Sekali-kali MElupakan sejaRAH. It’s extremely clever, and that kind of singkatan (“shortening”) appears a lot in popular Indonesian culture.

  • Persiapkan hari ini sebaik-baiknya untuk menghadapi hari ésok yang baru. / “Get ready for today to be the best it can in order to expect a new tomorrow.”

Here we can see a great example of reduplication, where the word baik (“good”) is doubled to increase its strength. The additional affixes se-nya add another level of emphasis, so the full meaning expressed in English is “the best possible.” 

4. Quotes About Love

Are you madly in love with someone? Or maybe you’re a hopeless romantic? Either way, we think these Indonesian love quotes will warm your heart!

  • Aku ingin mencintaimu dengan sederhana. / “I want to love you simply.”

This quote by Sapardi Djoko Damono is from his work Aku ingin (“I Want”). It’s a famous poem that every Indonesian knows of, even if they can’t recite any more of it than this line. Indonesian doesn’t have a unique grammatical form for adverbs, so here, “simply” is translated more poetically as dengan sederhana (“with simplicity”).

  • Walaupun raga terpisah oleh karena kematian, namun cinta sejati tetap di relung hati. / “Even though our bodies are separated by death, our love is eternal in our deepest heart.”

Habibie one more time—that man could speak! The grammatical structure here is walaupun…namun (“even though…”). In Indonesian, like in Chinese and other Asian languages, the “even though” structure requires a “but” to set up the next clause. This isn’t required in English, but lots of English learners make this mistake by adding “but” in English anyway.  


5. Quotes About Family

A Mother Holding Her Baby for a Nap

Family is a major cornerstone of any society. The following quotes in the Indonesian language touch on the significance of family in everyday life.

  • Jangan pernah melupakan orang-orang yang sudah membantu saat kita sedang mengalami masalah yang besar. Mereka itu ialah keluarga. / “Never forget the people who have helped when we were solving big problems. Those are our family.”

By adding pernah (“ever”) to jangan (“don’t”), we get the set phrase jangan pernah (“never”). From this, we can deduce the correct English tenses even though the only markers of tense in Indonesian are: 1) the particle sudah, showing completion, and 2) the adverb saat (“when” / “while”). As you can see, time is quite flexible when speaking Indonesian!

  • Berterimakasihlah pada segala yang memberi kehidupan. / “Be grateful to those who gave (you) life.”

Indonesian isn’t really known for its long words, but berterimakasihlah has got to be up there as one of the longer words in regular usage. As you’ve probably noticed, the root is terima kasih (“thank you”), which is literally “bring thanks,” but smashed together as one semantic unit. The ber- prefix implies possession, and as we’ve discussed, the –lah suffix is a suggestion. Thus: Have thanks!


6. Quotes About Friendship

Two Women Walking in the Snow

Friends are one of life’s greatest joys and necessities. Read these Indonesian friendship quotes and see if you can relate!

  • Persahabatan adalah hadiah terbesar dalam hidup, dan saya telah mendapatkannya. / “The greatest gift of life is friendship, and I have received it.”

Indonesian doesn’t make the distinction between “big” and “great” as English does—they’re both besar. Adding the prefix ter- makes it the most extreme, the “biggest,” gift. One more thing to learn from this sentence is telah, a word roughly equivalent to sudah in that it also marks a completed action.

  • Teman baikku adalah seseorang yang menghasilkan yang terbaik dalam diri saya. / “My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.”

Here we have a different way of showing possession in Indonesian. Teman baikku (“my best friend”) has the –ku ending, meaning “belonging to me.” However, we could also say teman baik saya, which has exactly the same meaning. The subtle difference in feeling between the two is something practically impossible to explain—but the more Indonesian you study, the better you’ll be able to tell the difference!


7. Quotes About Food 

Who doesn’t enjoy sitting down for a nice meal now and then? Read these Indonesian food quotes to gain perspective on the role food plays in Indonesian culture. 

  • Tertawa itu paling riang di tempat makanan tersedia. / “Laughter is brightest in the place where the food is.”
  • Makanan untuk tubuh tidak cukup. Harus ada makanan untuk jiwa. / “Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul.”

If you take out the articles in the English example sentence, you pretty much have a word-for-word translation of the original Indonesian. This shows how easy the sentence structure can be, even if you have to learn a ton of new words.

8. Quotes About Health

A Stethoscope Hanging Around a Doctor’s Neck

One should always prioritize their health, because only in good health can one achieve other important goals. Here are some Indonesian quotes that touch on this topic.

  • Peliharalah kesehatan Anda, karena ia yang akan mewadahi umur panjang Anda. / “Take care of your health, because it will accompany you through your whole life.”

The relative pronoun yang (“which”) here is actually a little superfluous. More literally, this translation could mean: “It is the one which will accompany.” 

  • Waktu dan kesehatan adalah dua aset berharga yang tidak dikenali dan hargai sampai keduanya hilang. / “Time and health are two valuable assets that are ignored until they’re both gone.”

The word hilang (“disappear”) is one of those words you don’t realize your native language is missing until you learn it in another one. Although it can be translated to English and be understood, it has the more specific sense of vanishing completely and leaving people confused in its absence.

  • Karena nila setitik, rusak susu sebelanga. / “With a drop of indigo dye, a pot of milk is ruined.”

Nobody wants to drink milk with a hint of blue! Nila is the Indonesian word for “natural indigo dye,” which was commonly used to dye fabric blue. Therefore, “indigo” is a more evocative metaphor than the English equivalent, “One rotten apple will spoil the whole barrel.”

9. Quotes About Language Learning

A Man Studying on the Bus

To close, let’s look at a couple of Indonesian quotes that talk about learning. What better way to motivate you in your language studies? 

  • Lakukan yang terbaik di semua kesempatan yang kamu miliki. / “Do your best at every opportunity that you have.”

Here we see milik used again, not as a possessive marker but as a verb. You can tell this by the –i suffix, which can turn certain roots into active verbs

  • Orang bijak belajar ketika mereka bisa. Orang bodoh belajar ketika mereka terpaksa. / “Clever people study when they can. Stupid people study when they’re made to.”

Before, we saw the prefix ter– used as a superlative (“the most” / “the best”), but here it’s actually showing the passive. Indonesian distinguishes between two types of passive voice: one where the object expected or wanted the action to happen, and one where it didn’t. This example shows the second type. 


10. Conclusion

At this point, you’ve been exposed to a great deal of Indonesian culture, packed into twenty quotes. Would you like to delve even deeper?

The best step for you is to sign up with IndonesianPod101.com, where you can access a wealth of resources in audio, video, and podcast formats. Each lesson is produced by experts and designed to help you learn Indonesian as fast and as easily as possible. Take the first step and sign up with IndonesianPod101 to see how easy it can really be!

In the meantime, let us know in the comments which of these Indonesian quotes is your favorite, and why!

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Learn Indonesian: YouTube Channels You’ll Love

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These are beautiful times for language learners.

Even ten years ago, language learning materials on the Internet were nothing like they are today.

We’ve had YouTube for a decade and a half, and only in the last several years has it become possible—or even likely—that someone could learn a language mostly through YouTube.

If you’ve set out to learn Indonesian, YouTube may have you feeling left out at this point. Why should other language learners get all the fun?

Never fear, though. Today’s article is going to introduce you to the top ten YouTube channels for Indonesian learners! Later, we’ll show you why IndonesianPod101’s channel is the best source for learners at every level.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Indonesian Table of Contents
  1. Think Bahasa
  2. Titan Tyra
  3. Mastering Bahasa
  4. KOMPAS Tekno
  5. EpicVice
  6. Pijaru
  7. Minute to Win It Indonesia
  8. Net Media
  9. The IndonesianPod101 YouTube Channel
  10. How You Can Learn a Language with YouTube
  11. Conclusion

1. Think Bahasa

Category: Educational

Level: Beginner

Think Bahasa is one of the best Indonesian YouTube channels for people who have just started learning Indonesian, especially in terms of coming to grips with the spelling and pronunciation. There are quite a few videos that focus on listing vocabulary for certain situations, as well as videos with lists of phrases that beginners might want to know. 

Additionally, you’ll find videos with short stories, each a couple of minutes in length. Listen to a native speaker recite a story and see how well you can follow along! This is a great type of video to put on repeat in the background as you’re washing the dishes or doing the laundry. An extra three to five minutes of Indonesian listening every day can make a surprising amount of difference!

2. Titan Tyra

Category: Vlogger

Level: Advanced

Titan is a vlogger from Jakarta with several wide-ranging tastes. Here’s just one shopping video, where she tries out and explains a bunch of different things she bought during a trip to Korea. You’ll also find travel and dance videos, as well. 

What sets her apart from the large number of vloggers out there? Subtitles! On most of her recent videos, she’s got English and Indonesian subtitles to help you follow along. 

You’ll definitely need them, too, since she speaks very quickly and fluidly switches between English and informal Indonesian. This is excellent practice material for advanced learners wanting to get totally immersed in Indonesian as it’s really spoken.

3. Mastering Bahasa

Category: Language

Level: Beginner-Intermediate

If you’ve ever Googled any questions related to Indonesian, you’ve definitely seen results from Mastering Bahasa in addition to IndonesianPod101. It’s one of the most in-depth resources you can find online for articles explaining the Indonesian language—but did you know they have a YouTube channel, too?

Not only do they have the classic grammar explanation and phrase videos, but they also have some interesting out-of-the-box videos like this one about Indonesian-speaking celebrities!

4. KOMPAS Tekno

Category: News, Tech

Level: Intermediate-Advanced

On YouTube, Indonesian news site Kompas—one of the most popular websites in Indonesia for news and general lifestyle articles—has a thriving presence. This channel is their tech outlet, where they publish reviews and analyses of the latest gadgets. 

The great thing about review videos like these is that you can quickly get a feel for the style. After you’ve seen five or ten of them, you know exactly what to expect and they’re easier to follow. The hosts also speak clearly and slower than vloggers, and they use a casual style but don’t use much slang.

    → Check out this vocabulary list for Technology to learn some words in advance!

5. EpicVice

Category: News, Interest

Level: Intermediate

This one has the general feel of a light magazine you’d see at the grocery store. EpicVice’s videos cover human interest or general news stories from around the world, as well as Buzzfeed-esque topics like the “top 10 most powerful animals.”

Aside from the easily digestible content, we recommend you go through the videos and click on some of the ones made before 2018. Back then, they had subtitles in Indonesian! They’ve unfortunately stopped going forward, but that archive is definitely valuable.

6. Pijaru

Category: News, Media

Level: Advanced

Example video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbgaVbLklBU

Pijaru is a wonderful example of the kind of internet show possible nowadays with YouTube. They have vlogs, webseries, cartoons, and more, all in easily digestible clips of ten minutes or less. For some reason or another, podcasts haven’t really taken off in Indonesian culture – but that hasn’t stopped Pijaru from creating PisPod, a comedy podcast.

Only a handful of the webseries have subtitles, but fortunately they’re the soft kind as well, and they can be turned on or off. The webseries, by the way, are excellent because of the way they depict different points of view of Indonesian society, like those of housekeepers or marketing department employees.

7. Minute to Win It Indonesia

Category: Game Show

Level: Intermediate-Advanced

If you don’t have the luxury of living in Indonesia as you learn, you might be unwittingly creating gaps in your vocabulary due to only exposing yourself to certain parts of the language. Particularly, what some language learners call “tiny verbs” like “tie, stack, lift, twist,” and so on.

This is where watching Indonesian TV on YouTube can benefit you. 

Fortunately, the worldwide game show Minute to Win It has put all of their Indonesian episodes online, and they’re absolutely perfect for advanced learners to fill in these vocabulary gaps. If you’re not familiar with it, participants have to complete challenges with household objects in sixty seconds, like in this one where they have to throw ping-pong balls and knock other ping-pong balls out of a small hoop. No subtitles unfortunately, but each plot is simple to understand without them.

8. Net Media

Category: Talk Show

Level: Advanced

This one kind of goes hand-in-hand with Minute to Win It, since both are the kind of things that Indonesian people tend to watch in everyday life. If you go into any little warung (a small restaurant), you’ll probably see the TV showing either sepak bola (“football”) or talk shows like these. 

This one is challenging because there are no subtitles in either English or Indonesian. Therefore, it’s definitely best to wait until you’re at an advanced level before tackling this stuff. 

However, the repetitive format of the Indonesian talk show means that you’ll quickly get used to what you’re seeing. This channel also has general entertainment news like award shows, which is great because it also strengthens your general knowledge of Indonesian pop culture. 

9. The IndonesianPod101 YouTube Channel

Category: Educational

Level: All Levels

IndonesianPod101 probably puts out the most content on YouTube in the Indonesian learning space. With just a glance at this channel, you’ll understand how valuable it can be for your learning, especially when it comes to building your listening practice.

Our short listening comprehension videos are broken up from the Absolute Beginner level to Advanced, and they all have an excellent flow to them—dialogue with animation, comprehension questions, and dialogue again with English and Indonesian subtitles. That’s extremely valuable and not something available everywhere, making us the top Indonesian YouTube channel for learners.

10. How You Can Learn a Language with YouTube

It might be hard to believe, but you can actually make enormous strides in your language abilities using YouTube alone.

The easiest way is to watch, watch, and watch some more. As long as you keep looking up unknown Indonesian words as they come up, you’ll slowly get exposed to them more and more over time, and their meanings will stick in your brain.

After all, this is how a lot of young Indonesians have such good English—they find vloggers and TV shows in English on YouTube and watch them over and over until they don’t even realize they’re becoming fluent.

However, the best kind of videos just happen to be the ones that exist on the IndonesianPod101 page, where you can follow along with English and Indonesian subtitles at the same time in situations that slowly get more difficult as you improve. 


11. Conclusion

As you can see, the IndonesianPod101 YouTube channel is definitely one of the best. As it turns out, the website is too!

When you sign up with IndonesianPod101.com, you immediately get access to a treasure trove of lessons on hundreds of different topics. You’ll find vocabulary lists, articles about pronunciation, and of course the award-winning podcast that you can take with you and listen to at any time.

The best way forward for your Indonesian is a combination of a high-quality course like IndonesianPod101’s and real-life content for native speakers (like you can find on the video channels above).

As you learn new words and concepts with our podcast, you’ll run into them again and get those memories reinforced. Before you know it, you’ll be finding new Indonesian YouTube channels on your own and learning faster than ever before.

Before you go, let us know which of these Indonesian YouTube channels interests you the most and why. Are there any good ones we missed? If so, let us (and your fellow Indonesian learners) know in the comments.

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Is the Indonesian Language Easy to Learn?

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Many aspiring learners wonder whether the Indonesian language is easy to learn, and if so, why more people don’t speak it.

You see, Indonesian is not a very commonly learned language for most of the world. 

Sure, there are people in Southeast Asia that pick some of it up, it’s a growing subject in Chinese and Japanese universities, and it’s long been one of the most popular foreign languages for Australians—but you hardly see it on lists of languages people want to learn. 

That’s a shame, really, because learning the language opens you up to so many wonderful things. Visiting the country when you can speak the language is much, much more freeing than being limited to an interpreter or dealing with whoever can speak some English.

You might be interested in opening those doors, but maybe you’ve been put off by long words and a spooky reputation for being a difficult Asian language. Could there be truth in that?

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Learning Indonesian Table of Contents
  1. Is Indonesian Hard or Not?
  2. Difficulties in Learning Indonesian
  3. Indonesian is Pretty Easy
  4. Your First Indonesian Steps
  5. Advice to a New Learner
  6. The Advantages of IndonesianPod101
  7. Conclusion

1. Is Indonesian Hard or Not?

An Indonesian Speech Bubble

Indonesian, by and large, is not that hard of a language. From the perspective of someone who’s already learned it, that might not be too reassuring, but it’s the truth.

There are quite a few differences between European languages and East Asian languages. But the thing is, none of these differences are the type of thing that requires you to memorize long charts or pore over difficult grammar explanations.

For example, Indonesian has a number of suffixes and prefixes that can change a root word’s part of speech. That’s one place where learners might get confused, because sometimes, those can be pretty subtle. It takes a lot of immersion to develop the knack for knowing which one to use.

But on the other hand, there are so many shortcuts that you can take. Indonesian is the second language of millions of people across the country, spoken with great fluency but without extremely rigid rules for conversation.

Locals are also extremely welcoming to foreigners who can converse in Indonesian—even if they’re comfortable in English, they’ll happily speak Indonesian instead to let people practice! 

2. Difficulties in Learning Indonesian

Gulai Chicken

There are a couple of factors that can make Indonesian hard to learn for some people. 

Indonesian is a bit of an artificial standard, as mentioned above, so people add a lot of slang and regionalisms to it when speaking among themselves. That’s why you might find YouTube videos super-easy to understand, but the more informal speech of day-to-day conversation nearly opaque to your ear.

That kind of diglossia can be disheartening, because you’ll feel that you still have so far to go even if you can understand books and the news.

The best way to deal with this is to read more informal Indonesian, such as YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter comments. Internet comments have a bad rap for being mindless drivel, but unfortunately, it’s exactly that kind of language register that you have to learn to understand—because it’s the way people really speak! 

On the other side of things, the prefix and suffix system definitely has its sticky points. One of the hardest concepts for people to grasp is the me-kan prefix/suffix, which is often used to signify that something was done “for somebody.”

  • Saya membaca koran Kompas.
    “I read the Kompas newspaper.”
  • Saya membacakan ayah berita hari ini.
    “I read today’s news to my dad.”

The root is baca (“read”) in both sentences. But while membaca is an act of reading for oneself, using the circumfix me-kan causes the word to mean that the act of reading is done for someone else.

Not too bad, right? Unfortunately, that’s just one example for a circumfix with a ton of different meanings! You’re probably going to have to learn a ton of examples individually.

The last thing that trips up learners is the idea that it’s okay to be vague. A lot of people never get past the idea that they want to express exactly as much information in Indonesian as they’re used to expressing in their native language. 

3. Indonesian is Pretty Easy

An Old Woman Buying a Book

You might have picked up on this already, but that last section isn’t that big of a deal. Overall, Indonesian is easy to learn as a foreigner. 

For one thing, you can just learn these complicated prefix or suffix words as individual concepts that usually map to their own separate words in English. In the example above, there’s nothing wrong with learning membaca as “to read” and membacakan as “to read for.”

Another advantage that Indonesian-learners have is that the pronunciation is quite easy in general. While you do have to know how to roll your R and use pure vowels (for more help, check our pronunciation guide), spoken Indonesian words correspond exactly to their written counterparts.

Even when people speak informally using the more casual variants of Indonesian, they reflect that in their casual writing. In English, we all write “have to” even though we say “hafta,” but in Indonesian texting and online comments, there’s no worrying about proper writing conventions.

Lastly, learners of Indonesian have a huge advantage when it comes to the verbs. Each “tense” corresponds to a single particle that’s inserted before the verb—no conjugation required. 

For past events, use sudah; for present progressive, use sedang; and for future, use akan.

  • Saya sudah membeli buku.
    “I bought a book.”
  • Saya sedang membeli buku.
    “I am buying a book.”
  • Saya akan membeli buku.
    “I will buy a book.”

4. Your First Indonesian Steps

A Little Girl Taking Her First Steps

The very first thing you should do when learning Indonesian, or any new language, is to focus on the sounds.

Make sure that you can accurately make and understand each individual sound of the language now, because later on when you’re trying to understand flowing native speech, you’ll wish you had prepared beforehand.

It would be perfect if you could find a video series with clearly spoken Indonesian and Indonesian subtitles for you to understand how the letters you see on the screen reflect the sounds you’re hearing. Even though the Indonesian alphabet is simple, this is a skill that takes time to develop.

After that, your biggest hurdle is going to be the vocabulary. Although Indonesian has some loanwords from European languages (particularly when it comes to the sciences or pop culture), the vast majority of the words come from Arabic, Sanskrit, and local Austronesian languages.

Therefore, you’ll need to come up with a good flashcard or wordlist system in order to build a strong vocabulary base from the start. 


5. Advice to a New Learner

A Traditional Indonesian Ceremony

One of the biggest mistakes a new Indonesian learner can make is trying to speak too quickly. By that, we don’t mean the speed that the words are coming out of your mouth; we mean how soon you start speaking after you’ve started learning the language.

Just like pronunciation, you should build a good base in understanding Indonesian before you try to hold a conversation. That way, you won’t be distressed by not understanding what you hear.

Also, don’t worry if it takes you much longer to understand TV or movies than it does to read your textbook or listen to a course made for learners.

As mentioned before, rapid-fire spoken Indonesian uses a lot of local slang terms. Even the words for “you” and “I” are different in informal language! Generally, the words are Anda and saya respectively, but in informal Indonesian, they’re kamu and aku—and in Jakartan slang, they become lu and gue!

Essentially, even though you’ll find Indonesian easier to pick up than some other languages, don’t expect to be able to use and understand it instantly. Keep your expectations reasonable, and you won’t be discouraged. 


6. The Advantages of IndonesianPod101

Remember a bit ago when we recommended videos with Indonesian subtitles?

It turns out that you can get exactly that for free on our IndonesianPod101 YouTube channel.

Once you’ve watched a couple of those, why not check out our main website at IndonesianPod101.com?

Although there are good textbooks and online resources available if you know where to look, Indonesian isn’t commonly learned enough to have a ton of different language courses.

What IndonesianPod101 can bring you is a structured course starting from the very basics, guiding you all the way through an upper-intermediate or advanced level. At that point, you’ll be able to smoothly transition into reading and watching real Indonesian content made for native speakers! 

7. Conclusion

When it comes down to it, the only big obstacle to learning Indonesian, or any other language, is time.

Indonesian requires a little more time for you to remember the wide array of vocabulary, but practically no time at all to learn the grammar.

In fact, the United States government rates Indonesian a 3/5 in terms of difficulty for English-speakers. That means it’ll take a little more time than learning French or German, but significantly less time than learning Arabic or Korean.

As long as you have a good and consistent study schedule, you’ll be able to hold your own in simple Indonesian conversations in less than six months. After you learn the basic sentence patterns, all you need is a good dictionary to build your vocabulary and gain the ability to understand more and more real Indonesian.

The best time to start is today. Grab a textbook—or better yet, sign up with IndonesianPod101—and you’ll be amazed at the kind of progress you can make with Indonesian.

If you’ve already started learning Indonesian, which aspects of the language are most difficult for you? And which are the easiest? Let us, and aspiring Indonesian-learners, know in the comments!

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Watch Out for These Common Mistakes in Indonesian

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There’s a certain face that people make when they can’t understand what you’re saying.

For many people, it’s a screwed-up grimace of concentration. For Indonesians, it’s more of a quiet smile and a slow drift of attention.

Indonesians are polite folks, to be sure. They’re not going to tell you very much about your mistakes in Indonesian when you’re speaking with them.

That’s up to you.

If you want to hold up your end of the Indonesian conversation, you’ve got to make sure you’re speaking Indonesian that’s beyond just “comprehensible.” It must be pleasant to listen to, and with as few mistakes as possible.

But what types of mistakes tend to be the worst for Indonesian-learners, and how can you get around them?

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Indonesian Table of Contents
  1. Tricky Pronunciation
  2. Confusing Words
  3. Is Indonesian Grammar Really That Easy?
  4. The Shape of Words
  5. Watch Your Pronoun Attitude
  6. The Biggest Mistake
  7. Conclusion

1. Tricky Pronunciation

View of Skyscrapers in Jakarta

Indonesian, by and large, is an easy language to pronounce. You could show a phrasebook to someone who’d never even heard of Jakarta, and they could make themselves understood in a couple of minutes, tops.

But there are definitely a couple of things that totally give away foreigners speaking Indonesian.

Chief among these is probably the vowels. Indonesian has six “pure” vowels: 

  • /a/ as in “talk” 
  • /e/ sort of like in “day”
  • /i/ as in “see” 
  • /o/ kind of like “go”
  • /u/ as in “you”
  • /ǝ/, the unstressed vowel in “duh” 

It also has the short “i” and “o” sounds in “bit” and “lock,” but those only appear right at the end of words before a consonant.

The common mistake in Indonesian comes when English-speakers in particular start morphing those vowel sounds into diphthongs. They’re pure vowels, and Indonesian doesn’t actually have a lot of diphthongs!

Another mistake that tends to be made more by Europeans and Mandarin Chinese speakers has to do with the “p,” “t,” and “k” sounds at the end of words. You’re not supposed to fully pronounce them.

In fact, to make these sounds, one should cut off the airflow very briefly but never release—which, coincidentally, happens a lot in English, but not in most European languages. Mandarin speakers have the opposite problem, where they find it unnatural to end words with those sounds at all!

2. Confusing Words

Little Girl Trying to Decide Between Red and Green Apple

Indonesian vocabulary can be super-easy to pick up (browse through a list of nonfiction Indonesian titles and count all the English loan words), but there are times when it can be devilishly tricky.

This isn’t helped by the fact that there are a bunch of words that sound really close to one another, but are actually false friends! For example:

  • kelapa – “coconut”
    kepala – a person’s head
  • semangat – an exclamation like “Go!” or “Hooray!”
    semangka – “watermelon”
  • mangkuk – “bowl”
    mangga – “mango”
  • handuk – “towel”
    hantu – “ghost”

If you happen to know some Spanish, you might be tripped up by the fact that dia is an extremely common word in Indonesian. However, it means “he/she/it,” not “day”! That’s hari, but since they both have similar vowels, it may take some effort to get these two words separated in your mind.

Of course, not all of these words are going to pose problems for everybody. Order susu kelapa (“coconut milk”) enough times, and you won’t even think about how close the word is to kepala.

The best way to remember confusing words is to focus on just one at a time. Studying them close to one another is a great way to strengthen the links between them in your mind and make it harder and harder to untangle the two words!

3. Is Indonesian Grammar Really That Easy?

Man Taking a Nap in the Grass

Well, yes, more or less.

You can’t make any mistakes in Indonesian relating to word genders or adjective endings. However, people do tend to get confused at times with the word order.

After all, in a language without conjugation or declension, the word order is what ends up really carrying the meaning of each sentence. In Indonesian, you can often translate sentences word-for-word into English, which makes other, more variant sentence patterns more challenging to remember.

A typical sticking point for new learners is forming questions the right way. Let’s say you want to express “Whose car is this?” The only problem is that Indonesian doesn’t have a word for “whose”!

  • Mobil siapa ini?
    “Whose car is this?”

As you can see, we just put the word siapa (“who”) after the noun, and this word order is the key that communicates possession. 

Although Indonesian doesn’t have tenses in the form of verbs changing their appearance, there are particles that signify completed, in-progress, and future actions. These include sudah, sedang, and akan. These have got to go right in front of the verb—no exceptions.

  • Mika sedang mencuci mobil.
    “Mika is washing the car (right now).”

If you know Vietnamese, then this is easy. But if you know Mandarin, you’ll have to switch things around, since the “completed action” particle comes after the verb in Mandarin. 

4. The Shape of Words

A Couple Riding Their Bikes Down a Hill

One fascinating thing about Indonesian grammar is the ability to make subtle variations on verbs by adding prefixes, suffixes, and circumfixes.

If you’re new to the language, you might not have fully registered the rules for the most common prefix, meN-. Now, that capital letter isn’t really written that way. What’s going on?

The letter is here to stand for any nasal sound, such as “m,” “n,” “ny,” or “ng.” To know which one to use, look at the first sound of the root and where it’s pronounced in the mouth, then choose the ending closest to that.

So the root word baca can never be mengbaca because ng is pronounced all the way in the back of the mouth, and b is pronounced with the lips. Instead, it’s membaca!

Another pretty noticeable feature of Indonesian words is reduplication, where you simply repeat the word to mark the plural. And this leads to more common mistakes in Indonesian.

Something a lot of learners will do is reduplicate words every time they want to express the plural form, even though, in real Indonesian, the context is used more often than reduplication.

Remember: The reduplication is only really used for emphasis or when it’s not clear (but important to your sentence) that the thing you’re talking about is plural.

5. Watch Your Pronoun Attitude

A Beach in Bali During Summer

Up until this point, we haven’t touched on much that’s really specific to the Indonesian language. As much as we’d rather not, it’s easy to make word order and pronunciation mistakes in any language!

One thing that’s rather interesting about Indonesian is that there are a lot of different pronouns used for different situations. Other languages spoken in Southeast Asia kind of have this as well, but it’s not something European language-speakers tend to be familiar with.

For instance, if you’re a middle-aged man, most people are going to address you as pak or Bapak instead of using the second person pronoun kamu (“you”). Middle-aged women get bu or Ibu.

Younger people often get mas or mbak, though these are actually Javanese and not used quite as much in Sumatra, Bali, or other parts of the country.

The mistake here would be assuming that you can use the same pronouns with the same people all over Indonesia. In Yogyakarta, for instance, the informal pronouns are aku and kamu for first and second person, respectively.

In Jakarta, though, people tend to use gue and lu for the same meaning, whereas aku and kamu are reserved for lovers!

To stay on the safe side, you should stick with neutral and polite pronouns, even if others address you in a more familiar way (that is, saya and Anda for first and second person, respectively). This is something that confuses native speakers too when they move to other cities, so don’t be afraid to ask for help!

6. The Biggest Mistake

Imagine you’re enjoying a tasty bowl of mi goreng at a tiny restaurant, and the owner asks you a question you don’t quite understand.

Do you say: Maaf, sekali lagi? (“Sorry, one more time?”)

Or do you nervously bolt down the rest of your noodles and leave, embarrassed and silent?

That’s the mistake too many language-learners make around the world—getting too wrapped up in their own mistakes.

And yes, lots of Indonesians can speak English very well. Some of them may become frustrated and switch to English on you at times. But there are tons more who either aren’t that comfortable with English or would love the opportunity to chat with you, no matter how many Rs you forget to roll.

7. Conclusion

There’s no way for you to be a perfect Indonesian-speaker without first being an imperfect one.

However, if you push yourself to speak a lot before you feel very comfortable, you do risk ingraining some of your mistakes and making them harder to fix later on. 

And as you reach a more advanced level and try to express more complicated ideas, you might find that smaller mistakes tend to build up on themselves and make it progressively harder to get your message across.

That’s why it’s important to always listen to and read Indonesian as much as possible. This way, you can always have good examples of real Indonesian for your subconscious to internalize. That’s what you get right here with IndonesianPod101!

What Indonesian mistakes do you make the most often? If you’ve managed to overcome a mistake, do you have any advice for your fellow Indonesian-learners? We look forward to hearing from you in the comments!

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Your Playbook of Perfect Indonesian Questions and Answers

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Would you describe yourself as a curious person?

If you’re learning Indonesian, we imagine that you probably do! 

You can make that curiosity work for your Indonesian skills, too! When you talk to people, they’ll be interested in who you are and what’s driven you to learn their language. And the bread and butter of that is questions.

Statistically, questions make up a big part of conversation in any language. By preparing yourself with the most common Indonesian questions and answers, you’ll become familiar and comfortable with these conversational keystones and come off as a skilled conversationalist.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Indonesian Table of Contents
  1. Your Name
  2. Your Origin Story
  3. Language Matters
  4. Traveling Around
  5. A Personal Question
  6. A Taste of Indonesia
  7. Work-day Life
  8. What’s up?
  9. The Price is Right
  10. Conclusion

1. Your Name

First Encounter

In Indonesian, you’re going to be confused at first with the pronouns. There are a lot of different ways that people can address you, so in this article, we’ll stick to the tried-and-true saya/kamu mix.

But let’s break that rule right away, because if someone’s asking your name, they’re going to be polite with you. Don’t worry: only the pronoun changes in this Indonesian question.

  • Siapa nama Anda?
    “What’s your name?”

The word nama is a cognate of the English word “name,” but it actually comes from Sanskrit instead of a more modern European language as you might assume. 

To answer the question, switch the words around and say:

  • Nama saya Denis.
    “My name is Denis.”

2. Your Origin Story

People you tend to meet and chat with in Indonesia are even more likely to ask this question than the last. It can be so quick and to the point that you might miss it if you don’t pay attention!

As you can see, it’s not that necessary to include the pronouns. At a restaurant or cafe, you might hear Dari mana, kak? where kak is the basic form of address for young people who are older than you.

To answer, you’ll be using the dari, or “from,” preposition again.

  • Saya dari Melbourne.
    “I’m from Melbourne.”

Something you’ll pick up pretty quickly when it comes to the pragmatics, or conversation rules, of Indonesian is the way people repeat back new information. So in this short scenario above, person A would ask, person B would respond, then person A would repeat dari Melbourne back in a knowing tone of voice.

They’re not correcting your pronunciation—they’re just holding up their end of the conversation!

3. Language Matters

Introducing Yourself

The Indonesian questions here are those you’re very likely to hear while in the country, and they’re about the language itself.

  • Apakah kamu bisa berbahasa Indonesia?
    “Do you speak Indonesian?”

You certainly do! Also, as Indonesia’s influence in Southeast Asia grows, more and more people are picking up the language all around the region. You shouldn’t shy away from trying out this phrase in other countries!

The answer is probably not tidak, or “no,” for obvious reasons. Instead, if you’re not comfortable speaking Indonesian just yet, you can say:

  • Maaf, tidak begitu lancar.
    “Sorry, not very fluently.”

If you manage to answer like that, you’ll get a great reaction, something like Sudah bagus! meaning “It’s already great!” And perhaps this follow-up:

  • Sudah berapa lama belajar bahasa Indonesia?
    “How long have you been studying Indonesian?”

To answer, we’ll use the word sudah again to note that it’s already been a certain amount of time, then simply add the relevant unit and amount of time.

  • Sudah enam bulan.
    “Six months already.”

4. Traveling Around

If you happen to meet an Indonesian abroad and speak Indonesian with them, you’ll invariably get this question:

That translation is pretty broad, because what’s literally happening here is: “Already to Indonesia?” To answer, you don’t even have to change the word order.

  • Iya, sudah ke Jakarta (dua kali).
    “Yeah, I’ve already been to Jakarta (twice).”

Don’t get thrown off by this separate but similar question: Sudah lama di Indonesia? or “Have you been living in Indonesia for a long time?” In that case, you could reply with the same time-related words as before. 

5. A Personal Question

In Indonesian culture, questions can get pretty personal. It’s common for people to get married in their twenties, so someone aged twenty to thirty-five or so is liable to get some variation of these questions:

  • Sudah menikah belum?
    “Are you married yet?”
  • Sudah beristri?
    “Do you have a wife?”
  • Sudah bersuami?
    “Do you have a husband?”

Culturally, you don’t answer “no” to this question. In Indonesian, it’s much better to say belum, meaning “not yet.” And if the answer is yes, it’s still a one-word deal: Sudah! (You’ve got to say it enthusiastically, especially if your spouse is there with you.)

6. A Taste of Indonesia

Mutton Gulai Curry Indonesian Dish

You can find just about any type of food you want in Indonesian cities, particularly if your tastes skew East Asian. Home-grown Indonesian food can’t be beat, however, and you’re sure to have people asking about your opinions.

  • Apakah kamu suka makanan Indonesia?
    “Do you like Indonesian food?”

The apakah bit is kind of optional. Since the question is being asked to you, it doesn’t need that explicit marker.

In your answer, the best way to keep the conversation going is to name a specific type of Indonesian food that keeps you coming back.

  • Iya, suka! Makanan kesukaanku adalah nasi goreng.
    “Yes, I love it! My favorite food is nasi goreng.”

Let’s briefly examine the word kesukaanku, which means “my favorite.” It’s made up of four individual parts.

First, the root is suka, meaning “to like,” which we just saw in the question. Adding the prefix ke– and the suffix -an turns it into a noun: “favorite.” 

Finally, the suffix -ku is a possessive meaning “mine.” So you could have:

  • mi kesukaanku – “my favorite noodles”
  • ayam goreng kesukaanku – “my favorite fried chicken”
  • minuman kesukaanku – “my favorite drink”

7. Work-day Life

A Nurse and Doctor Looking at Papers on a Clipboard

Many people in Indonesia will assume that you’re traveling there, like most foreigners. However, sometimes something in your body language will indicate to them that you’ve been there a while. They may ask:

  • Kamu bekerja apa?
    “What do you do?”
  • Apa pekerjaanmu?
    “What’s your work?”

These questions are interchangeable, but they illustrate two ways to use the root word kerja, or “work,” in a sentence. 

First, there’s pekerjaan, with the pe-an circumfix making it a concrete noun: “employment.” Then there’s bekerja, a verb meaning “to have a job.” 

To answer, you could either replace the -mu, or “your,” possessive suffix with the -ku, or “my,” one we saw earlier: 

  • Pekerjaanku doktor.
    “I am a doctor.”

Or you could avoid dealing with extra suffixes and simply say: 

  • Saya bekerja sebagai doktor.
    “I work as a doctor.”

The word sebagai is optional here, but you’ll find it used more often than not.

8. What’s up?

Not every conversation happens with the same opening and closing lines. However, in Indonesian, you could be forgiven for thinking they do!

This phrase is a standard friendly greeting for Indonesians all over the place. You can kind of think of it as mapping to an idiomatic English equivalent.

  • Apa kabar?
    “What’s up?”

Literally, though, you’re saying “What news?” Now this is unusual, because the answer is always baik, meaning “good.”

In some textbooks, you’ll probably see the phrase bagaimana kabarmu as a more formal equivalent, but nobody really talks like that.

In a formal situation with one person speaking to a group of people, they’ll often say this standard greeting:

  • Assalamualaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh.
    “May peace be upon us all.”

You can also say:

  • Assalamualaikum.
    “Peace upon us.”

This one does have a set response: 

  • Waalaikum salam.
    “And upon you.”

As this is a loanword (or loan phrase) from Classical Arabic, it shows up written and pronounced in slightly different ways from person to person. If you, as a foreigner, manage to pull it off in the correct context, people will immediately perk up and pay attention.

9. The Price is Right

An Indonesian Rupiah

Rounding off here, this is one of the questions you’ll probably end up using the most day-to-day in Indonesia.

  • Berapa harganya?
    “How much is it?”

The root word harga means “price,” and the -nya makes it refer to a specific price. Namely, the price of the thing you’re pointing at in the restaurant or in the shop.

Mostly, people will just reply with the number:

  • Tiga puluh ribu.
    “Thirty thousand.”

As you can see, it’s not necessary here—or in many other phrases—to reply with a complete sentence! The context takes care of filling in any grammatical gaps.

10. Conclusion

To be honest, as long as you master the questions about your name, where you’re from, and how much things cost, you’ll be miles ahead of other learners. And all of that can be picked up in a couple of hours!

The next step is adding detail.

Where are you going in Indonesia? How much does two of these things cost?

You can come up with follow-up questions in English and then look for them in Indonesian while listening to and reading Indonesian content.

Speaking of which, IndonesianPod101.com is the logical next step to take when you’re expanding your conversation horizons. With our guided lessons, flashcards, and reading material, you’ll never be lost for words.

Have a look right now at some of the podcast dialogues, and see for yourself what kind of questions can be asked and answered!

Before you go, why not practice some of these Indonesian questions and answers straight away? Try answering one or more of the questions from this article in Indonesian, and leave your answers in the comments section. We look forward to hearing from you!

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The UKBI: Ace That Indonesian Language Proficiency Test!

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Indonesians, by and large, are nice people.

They treat foreigners very well, to be sure. Indonesia isn’t one of the hottest Asian travel destinations for nothing!

But there is one area where they could treat foreigners a little nicer: the Indonesian language itself.

They’re glad if you can speak it and will treat you well because of that, absolutely.

They just don’t think you can get good. They’ll tend to always simplify their speech and never tell you about the many mistakes you’re making. To avoid this misfortune, you’ll need to prove yourself with an Indonesian language proficiency test.

Even then, it’s no guarantee that Indonesians will take your skills that seriously. After all, there are thousands of foreigners in Bali and Jakarta who never learn more than how to order off a menu and introduce themselves in a heavy accent, if that.

If you want to live in Indonesia or find a job related to the Indonesian language, you’re going to need a certificate from a language exam that proves, without a doubt, that you know your way around the Indonesian language at a masterful level.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Study Strategies in Indonesian Table of Contents
  1. The One Test Indonesian Will Throw at You
  2. The Listening Section
  3. The Grammar Section
  4. The Reading Section
  5. The Writing Section
  6. The Speaking Section
  7. UKBI Preparation: Your Overall Study Strategy
  8. Conclusion

1. The One Test Indonesian Will Throw at You

A Volcano Spewing Lava

In contrast to English, where there are zillions of big and small proficiency tests clamoring for the top spot, Indonesia has just one.

It’s called the UKBI or Uji Kemahiran Berbahasa Indonesia. In English, that’s “Indonesian Language Proficiency Test”—but you knew that already, right?

It has five different sections, which we’ll go over in detail soon, and you’re awarded a score out of 900 at the end.

Your point value then translates into one of seven different levels, or predikat. They are:

  • Istimewa (“Exceptional”)
  • Sangat Unggul (“Very Good”)
  • Unggul (“Good”)
  • Madya (“Intermediate”)
  • Semenjana (“Average”)
  • Marginal (“Poor”)
  • Terbatas (“Limited”)

The information about this test is generally published only in Indonesian. Our translation of the Madya  description is as follows:

Predikat ini menunjukkan bahwa peserta uji memiliki kemahiran yang memadai dalam berkomunikasi dengan menggunakan bahasa Indonesia.

This level demonstrates that the test participant has good communication skills in Indonesian.

Dengan kemahiran ini yang bersangkutan mampu berkomunikasi untuk keperluan sintas dan kemasyarakatan dengan baik, tetapi masih mengalami kendala dalam hal keprofesian yang kompleks.

When it comes to complex professional communication, there are still notable problems, especially in the realm of academic purposes.

According to data published in 2014, more than half of people attempting the test scored Madya, or from 482-577 points. That shows that you’re not dealing with an easy exam here!

In fact, let’s take a more-detailed look at each of the five sections and what you can expect to encounter. 

2. The Listening Section

People Listening in a Classroom

For this part of the Indonesian language exam, you’ll start out with 30 minutes of listening, during which you’ll answer 40 questions. These are broken up into eight short monologues and dialogues with five multiple-choice questions each.

That’s a good number, because you’ll be able to quickly glance over the various questions and get a feel for what you’ll need to listen for in each section. 

Some of it can get quite tricky, too. One question on the practice test asks about a car’s license plate, and the choices include: “B1337AC” / “B1371AC” / “B3317CA.” 

The topics for the monologues are generally about aspects of Indonesian culture and geography, as well as some explanations of scientific processes. It would definitely be a good idea to read the science sections of Kompas (an Indonesian media website) and BBC Indonesian News to stay on track. 


3. The Grammar Section

Language Skills

Indonesian grammar is an interesting beast. On the one hand, it’s really easy to make simple sentences, and even to get your point across with more-complex phrases.

On the other, there are a ton of little nuances in Indonesian grammar that don’t exist at all in English.

And surprise surprise, that’s what you’ll be tested on.

Across 25 questions, you’ll have twenty minutes to take a look at sentence pairs and detect which sentence in each pair has an error. You should definitely practice Indonesian word order so you can detect any sentences that have mixed-up syntax.

Even more so, though, you should brush up on the prefixes and suffixes. Sometimes, the answers will stand out, such as an intransitive verb with a ber- prefix instead of a me- prefix.

However, the differences between -kan and no ending, or me-i and just me-, are significantly more subtle and require a lot of detailed analysis as you read. 

From this point on, make it a habit to actually look at the verb forms as you read Indonesian, and think about what they could be doing in the sentence.


4. The Reading Section

Man Studying Books in a Library

A major aspect of one’s Indonesian language proficiency is how well they can understand what they read.

The reading section is kind of like the listening one, as you’ll have eight texts with five questions each. Again, you’ll be tested on nonfiction passages of around 400-500 words each, dealing with scientific or technical topics like the history of electromagnetism or how a digital camera works. You’ll have 45 minutes to complete this.

This is where native English speakers have a distinct advantage, because a lot of the formal vocabulary here is directly cognate to English. 

By reading Indonesian-language reviews of cars and electronics, you’ll quickly become used to reading about technical topics in Indonesian. A general scientific knowledge in your own language wouldn’t hurt either, because if you don’t have a general idea of what gamma rays or fructose are, you’ll likely be lost even if you do recognize the vocabulary.


5. The Writing Section

In the writing portion, your task is relatively simple, but involves some pretty targeted Indonesian skills. You’re given a diagram and asked to summarize it in 200 words in under 30 minutes.

However, you won’t be dealing with any first-year, Anak itu sedang makan cokelat (“The child is eating chocolate”) kind of language. It’s the type of diagram you’d see in a biology or physics textbook, depicting the life cycle of a flower or how a volcano erupts.

Fortunately, Indonesian bookstores usually have excellent selections of nonfiction oriented toward children and teenagers. You can even find translated versions of the excellent DK Eyewitness books at some libraries, meaning hours of fun and education for you as a learner.

The more you read this kind of material, the easier it’s going to be to write about it on the spot. 


6. The Speaking Section

A Woman Giving a Presentation and Speech

This is where things get turned up to eleven real fast.

Where other exams have you roleplay, take part in a debate, or do several tasks appropriate for multiple levels, the UKBI requires you to read a brief academic article, look at a chart or graph, and then prepare a presentation for a general audience. For five straight minutes.

This is where your ability to flow seamlessly from one topic to the next in Indonesian will be seriously tested. 

The topic in the test preparation guide is a graph showing the number of doctors per 100,000 people in each country in ASEAN. It’s simple enough, so how are you going to talk for five whole minutes? 

Expound on the different levels of education and economic development in each country, and speculate on the possible reasons why more or fewer people tend to go into medicine.

Truly outstanding answers will make predictions for the future, basing them on a deep knowledge of current ASEAN events and political developments.


7. UKBI Preparation: Your Overall Study Strategy

A Row of Colorful Books with Headphones Around Them

The interesting paradox about this exam is that there are very few resources to study for it, and at the same time, a huge number of people to study with.

As long as you’re in Indonesia, that is.

You see, Bahasa Indonesia isn’t the native tongue of all Indonesians. Perhaps in a few generations, the proportion will rise, but in most places, children grow up speaking a local language like Javanese or Minangkabau.

Now, these languages are all related to Indonesian, and with enough Indonesian in schools and through movies, books, and everything else, most Indonesians are functionally bilingual at an extremely high level. 

However, if you want to be an Indonesian teacher to foreigners or to Indonesian children, you have to take an Indonesian proficiency exam. The same is true if you want to be a civil servant. That means that thousands of Indonesians take the test each year as well!

If you happen to be living in Indonesia right now, you could try contacting your local schools and asking if anybody there has experience taking the UKBI. 

Even outside of Indonesia, you might be able to get the WhatsApp contact info for the Darmasiswa (foreign student scholarship) program directors and ask for assistance directly.

Indonesian society is often based on knowing people and maintaining personal connections. People used to quickly finding information online about whatever they need might quickly become frustrated as they try to navigate a world where phone calls and text messages are much more common.

For that reason, there’s just one textbook about the UKBI exam available online, written by Atikah Solihah; it’s simply called Latihan Soal UKBI. Buy that book for a couple of dollars, study it well, and you’ll be at a great advantage when it comes time for the test.

8. Conclusion

We hope that after reading this article, you’re more confident in your ability to ace your Indonesian language exam. Did we answer your questions, or do you still need clarification on something? We look forward to hearing from you! 

And by the way, the very website you’re on isn’t a bad resource either! The advanced dialogue that IndonesianPod101 lessons deal with are on more advanced and formal topics in exactly the style that you’ll encounter on the exam.

The more you listen to and read real Indonesian, the better you’ll do on that Indonesian exam—especially when it’s all in one place with transcripts for every podcast episode!

Check out IndonesianPod101.com lessons today, and get ready to attack the UKBI exam with flying colors!

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