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Your Ultimate Indonesian Pronunciation Guide

It’s a total confidence killer when you speak a language you’ve been learning, and the other person doesn’t understand you.

What? Were all those hours you spent a total waste? Has your study of pronunciation in Indonesian language learning failed you?

If you’ve learned a language but neglected the pronunciation, I hate to tell you, but it’s going to take a long time to undo those mistakes. That’s why it’s always best to pay attention to pronunciation right from the beginning—yes, that also includes Indonesian rupiah pronunciation in this case!

When it comes to Indonesian, you can relax. Indonesian pronunciation is a cinch for speakers of English. Even a tiny bit of practice (seriously, a handful of hours at most) will set you on the path to excellent-sounding Indonesian speech. Improving your Indonesian pronunciation is both fun and effective!

In this article, we’re going to include some advanced tips in each section. These tips will take your pronunciation that much further and truly make you sound like a local.

Download Your FREE Guide to Beginner Indonesian!

If you want to master the Indonesian language and become fluent, get this Indonesian eBook!
You need physical worksheets to practice on.

This eBook is a MUST-HAVE for all Indonesian learning beginners!

FREE Indonesian eBook

Download your FREE Indonesian practice sheets PDF today and learn the Indonesian language in no time!
This is a must-have guide for absolute beginners

1. Sounds You Already Know

Introduction

1- Consonants & Vowels

To kick off this section on basic Indonesian pronunciation, we’ll begin with sounds that you’re already familiar with in English. This will ease you into pronunciation in Indonesian grammar.

The consonants b, m, s, z, d, l, n, y, g, w, and h are all virtually identical to their English counterparts.

All the vowels are the same, too! Indonesian has six “phonemic” vowels, though because of certain predictable rules, there are some extras that show up from time to time. The six vowels are all represented with the letters a, e, é, i, o, and u.

The e without an accent is the schwa sound found in the English word uh.

The accented é is usually only used in texts for learners, representing the pure vowel sound e in Spanish or Italian. 

Usually, there’s no marking to tell you how to differentiate between é and e—the words are pronounced differently, and they simply have to be memorized. Fortunately, there aren’t any common word pairs that would cause embarrassment.

Anyway, all this means that you can already pronounce an enormous number of Indonesian words with just these few vowels and consonants—and you’ll probably do it right every time.

There are no silent letters in Indonesian. So when you see an h at the end of a word, end it by breathing out, actually pronouncing the sound. However, there can be muted letters, like the final k in kakak (used often when talking about siblings), bapak (a term of respect), and uak (meaning “father,” or used to address a male older than you).

2- Letter Combinations

Now, let’s look at letter combinations that make a couple of additional sounds that, again, you already know. Proper pronunciation in Indonesian language depends on knowing these combinations and what they sound like.

  • Ng 
  • Ngg 
  • Ny 
  • Sy

Whenever you see ng on its own, it’s always pronounced like the ng in “sing.” Adding an extra g is actually a very logical way to represent the ng sound in “finger.” It’s just ng plus g (Ngg).

Ny is pronounced just like the ny in canyon. It and ng occasionally appear at the beginning of words in informal Indonesian, but not in the standard formal written language.

Lastly, Sy is the same sh sound that you find in the word “English.”It’s only used in Arabic loan words, though there are a ton of Arabic loan words in Indonesian, so it’s not a super-rare sound.

Insider Tip:

The sounds made by d and sy are actually made with your tongue a little bit further back in your mouth than in English, while t, l, and n sounds are made with your tongue against your teeth.

And those vowels that change their shape a bit? Before a p, t, or k at the end of a syllable, the vowels become shorter, exactly like “short vowels” in English. So the word bodoh meaning “stupid” has two clear o vowel sounds, but the word bésok meaning “tomorrow” has a short o like in the English word “hot.

2. Sounds that are a Little Different

Correct Pronunciation

A few letters, namely c, j, r, and v, make sounds that you might not expect. P, t, and k are almost the same, but they need a little explanation too.

C and j kind of go together. C always makes the ch sound like in “church,”while j makes the sound in “judge.”No exceptions here!

R is always trilled or rolled, as in Spanish or Russian. It tends to be rolled a little more forcefully than in Spanish, and if you listen to talk shows, sometimes you’ll hear people drag it out to almost comical levels.

Because of Dutch influence, v is always pronounced like the English fin “fair.”It’s not a particularly common letter in Indonesian, though when you pronounce loanwords or brand names, you’ll need to be aware of this.

Lastly, the sounds made by p, t, and k are never aspirated. In English, aspiration is the difference between the p in “pit” and the p in “spit.” At the beginning of stressed syllables, p, t, and k in English are pronounced with a slight puff of air, but this is never the case in Indonesian.

And when these sounds end a word, they’re not actually released. The voice stops before the sound is actually made, sounding like you’ve cut off the word in your throat.

Insider Tip:

Many millions of foreign learners simply use the English equivalents for c and j, and they do just fine. Nobody will ever point this out as a mistake. 

Technically, though, you should be pronouncing them far forward in your mouth, with your tongue tip pointed downwards instead of touching the roof of your mouth.

To make this unfamiliar variation of ch, try smiling really wide as you say the ch sound in English. That forces your tongue forward, and you automatically say it just like an Indonesian!

3. How Indonesians Speak

Secrets to Learning

1- No Stress

Stress is a vital aspect of pronunciation in Indonesian sentences.

Word stress in Indonesian is fairly predictable, and never makes the sole difference between two words. In general, it’s on the second-to-last syllable. If that syllable has a schwa, then the stress is on the last syllable (even if that has a schwa too).

Adding prefixes and suffixes doesn’t change the stress. Therefore, the prefixes and suffixes never carry stress. So tanah (”land”) and pertanahan (”land use”) are pronounced with the stress on the same syllable.

In some Jakarta radio and television broadcasts, the announcers always stress the first syllable of every word, leading to a distinct broadcast voice that isn’t ordinarily used elsewhere.

One thing I’ve seen described very rarely anywhere else is this unique way that Indonesian people will repeat your words back to you to check what you’re saying.

When you give somebody a word or a name, for instance a street address, they’ll typically repeat it to you with a different stress.

For example, if you take a taxi and describe your destination, they’ll always repeat the name of the destination to you and stretch out the word. 

2- Don’t Waste Time on Words

When it comes to pronunciation in Indonesian phrases, in natural speech, whole parts of words will get left off. Not really “swallowed” as English can swallow groups of consonants, but more like there are accepted informal “short pronunciations” of many words.

The most common shortening is removing the me- from the beginning of verbs.

Super-fast grammar lesson in case you weren’t aware: Indonesian uses prefixes and suffixes to turn root words into transitive verbs, most often with the prefix meN-. The N is capitalized because it’s shorthand for several different forms that all begin with me-, based on the next letter.

So sewa becomes menyewa (”to rent something”), and obrol becomes mengobrol (“to have a chat”).

If we take the start of those prefixes off, we’re left with nyewa and ngobrol, which you’ll see and hear all the time!

  • Di sini bisa nyewa motor?

“Can you rent a bike here?”

  • Mereka sedang ngobrol.

“They’re chatting.”

3- Special Cases

Out of many different languages I’ve studied, Indonesian has some of the most regular pronunciation, and the most consistent written representation of sounds.

That’s probably because as a standardized language, it’s less than a hundred years old. Still, there are already a couple of small exceptions to take into account that aren’t easy to pick up from reading alone.

By the way, that’s why I always, always recommend listening to foreign languages as much as possible!

1. paham/faham - pikir/fikir

Paham, meaning “to understand,” is pronounced alternately with a pa- sound at the start, or a fa- sound. There’s no difference in meaning, and if you add the prefixes or suffixes, it always changes to memahami.

Exactly the same process happens with the word pikir, meaning “to think.” However, with the ber- prefix, it may occasionally appear as berfikir.

This happens to these two words because they’re Arabic loans, which have special accepted alternate pronunciations. More on that later on.

2. Delapan

The word for the number eight is three syllables long, and that’s just too many for a busy person to deal with. So when you go to a shop and hear a price, you’re likely to only catch “lapan” at first, because the d sound kind of blends in with the rest.

In a crowded minimart, this is surprisingly hard to disentangle from lima (”five”) or enam (”six”) if you’re not expecting it. 

3. Lumayan

 

This word means “pretty much” or “just about.” In Central Java, most people pronounce it as lumayén.

If you travel to East Java, you’ll notice that people pronounce it as it’s spelled. If you pronounce it that way, you’ll have a couple of people misunderstand you in Central Java. Just listen to how others pronounce it and imitate that, and be prepared to swap pronunciations if any problems come up. 

4. Tahu

There are two words spelled t-a-h-u. One means “to know” and the other means “tofu.” The difference is clear when they’re spoken aloud, though—the verb omits the h, and the nounpronounces the h strongly. 

This even gets reflected in informal writing, where you’ll see Indonesians write something like gak tau (”I dunno”).

However, there’s no need to stress about this. If you say tidak tahu and mean “I don’t know,” nobody will interpret that as “no tofu.”

4. Sounds from Arabic

Mistakes

As I hinted earlier, you can’t say two sentences in Indonesian without coming across a word derived from Arabic. It’s not just words related to religion, but words describing all kinds of everyday thoughts, actions, and objects. This makes some Arabic knowledge good to know when it comes to your pronunciation in Indonesian vocabulary.

What happens when these Arabic words, with their Arabic sounds, get transformed into the Indonesian sound system?

Well, first of all, there’s a new letter to contend with: z. If you see this letter, the word is almost definitely from Arabic.

I mentioned, though, that it’s pronounced the same as in English. And that’s true. But another perfectly acceptable pronunciation for this rare sound (in Indonesian terms) is j.

So you’ll hear—and sometimes even see—the word zaman (”time” or “era”) pronounced as jaman,and the word izin (”permission”) as ijin.

You’ll also find the letter combination kh, which is simply pronounced as h most of the time. If someone’s speaking very carefully and wants to sound a little more majestic, they may pronounce kh a little bit further in the throat, like the sound in the German ach.

5. Why is Correct Pronunciation in Indonesian Important?

Correct Pronunciation

Proper pronunciation is important, very important. Some say it’s even more important than getting the grammar perfectly correct! Why would this be?

1) Good Understanding 

If communicating with native speakers matters to you when learning Indonesian, you need to be understood when you talk, and you need to be able to understand the native speakers. After all, without understanding, the purpose of language is null and void! In order to be understood, you need to be able to speak the language in a way that is familiar to native speakers, or at least recognizable by them. 

When learning to speak a new language, you will learn that the more you progress the more intricate it becomes! For instance, almost every language has vocabulary that may look the same in writing, but because the words are pronounced differently, they have very different meanings. This means that you may say a word in Indonesian, and because of a slight change in pronunciation, the meaning of the word changes completely. Understandably, this can make for pretty embarrassing situations! At worst, your mispronounced Indonesian will sound garbled to a native speaker. 

Knowing the nuances of how a word or letter is pronounced will also help you to understand spoken Indonesian better.

No worries if this feels hard; you’re learning, and with our help at IndonesianPod101, you will not have a problem with mispronunciation if you follow our advice and examples carefully.

2) Good Communication 

Not pronouncing Indonesian or any other language correctly can lead to a lot of frustration because you’re unable to express what you mean, and you will not be understood correctly. Even if you have total knowledge of Indonesian grammar, and can write it like a native, not knowing how to speak it properly will only make for very frustrating communication all around.

3) A Good Impression 

Even if you’re only a beginner, it is possible to speak any language correctly. This way, you are bound to make a good impression on native speakers, and when you’re more fluent, you will be likely to garner a lot more respect than a fumbling newbie speaker who doesn’t care much for correct pronunciation. 

People often have a lot of patience for someone who learns to speak a new language, but native speakers are more likely to address you and engage with you in conversation if you work hard on your accent. This is simply because you’ll be able to understand one another! So, proficiency in pronunciation can mean the difference between having none or plenty of Indonesian speaking friends. It will also serve you well in the workplace, and make you popular with your Indonesian speaking managers and employers or employees.

Learning to speak Indonesian properly is also a sign of respect for not only the language, but also the native speakers and their customs. 

6. Secrets to Learning the Correct Indonesian Pronunciation

Improve Pronunciation

1) Use voice recording tools to perfect your pronunciation

IndonesianPod101 has plenty of resources to help you with your Indonesian pronunciation, so be sure to make thorough use of our recordings with native Indonesian speakers. These are available not only to demonstrate to you how you should pronounce Indonesian vocabulary, but also sentences and dialogues. Watch and listen to these over and over again to train your ear, and watch the teacher’s mouth as she speaks in the video lessons. Then, copy the speech as best you can. Later, you can record yourself to hear if you sound like a native speaker and compare yourself with native speakers. Great for self-motivation.

2) Practice in front of the mirror.

And see that you’re copying the correct lip and mouth movements.

3) Use our IndonesianPod101 dictionary!

Use the Indonesian dictionary provided by IndonesianPod101 to look up words and listen to the audio pronunciation. This will go a long way towards giving you an idea of how to pronounce a word or letter correctly.

4) Train your ear to the language!

Make an effort to listen often to Indonesian music and recorded books, and watch plenty of Indonesian movies and/or TV shows in Indonesian. This will train your ear to the language, and you’ll be surprised how quickly you pick up the accent. Remember, this is the way we learned to speak when we were young - mostly by listening to the adults talking, and repeating what they say!

5) Practice, practice, practice… 

Repetition of the same thing may be boring, but in learning a new language, you’re creating new pathways in your brain. For these to remain and become habitual, you will need to repeat the correct pronunciation often.

6) Make friends with a native Indonesian speaker.

Don’t be shy to address them in Indonesian! Ask them to correct you when you make a pronunciation mistake - this is a wonderful way to practice and learn the language first-hand, and also to make new friends.

7) Practice your pronunciation with your Indonesian teacher!

If you’re a serious student and don’t know where to meet native Indonesian speakers, consider investing in IndonesianPod101’s Premium PLUS plan. This means you will have your own native Indonesian teacher available to practice your pronunciation with, and much more! Send recordings of yourself speaking Indonesian and get feedback from your Indonesian teacher.

7. Conclusion: Learning Excellent Indonesian Pronunciation

Introduction

Although this article has a lot of information about how pronunciation in Indonesian can be complex, it really isn’t so bad. 

Do a ton of listening to native, natural speech, and you’ll slowly internalize all these features and end up speaking very well.

One of the complaints that I had about the learning materials I used when I started learning, was that the recordings were totally artificial and unrealistic.

People were stretching out every sound, and swinging the pitch of their voices up and down, way past realistic diction. The first time I tried watching an Indonesian TV show, it felt like a totally different language.

I personally like to speak along with, and shadow, different recordings when I learn a new language. It really makes me feel like I’m internalizing the feel of the language, rather than just the words and sounds.

Knowing how each sound is produced is a great first step, because it means you have an idea of what you should be doing (theoretically). 

Next, you just need to practice those speaking muscles. The more you actually speak with correct pronunciation, the easier it will be. 

And, of course, IndonesianPod101.com will be here to guide you on each step of your language-learning journey! With our help, you can be pronouncing Indonesian words like a native speaker before you know it. Sign up for a basic account to learn Indonesian pronunciation online for free, and to continue improving your Indonesian skills as a whole.

So, readers, do you feel more prepared for Indonesian conversation? Or is there anything you’re still struggling with? Let us know in the comments!

8. How to Download Your Free Guide to Beginner Indonesian

Download Your FREE Guide to Beginner Indonesian!

If you want to master the Indonesian language and become fluent, get this Indonesian eBook!
You need physical worksheets to practice on.

This eBook is a MUST-HAVE for all Indonesian learning beginners!

FREE Indonesian eBook

Download your FREE Indonesian practice sheets PDF today and learn the Indonesian language in no time!
This is a must-have guide for absolute beginners

Log in with Your Free Lifetime Account and we’ll give you a bundle of PDF cheat sheet including Survival Phrases, Romantic Lines, Learning Tips… — absolutely FREE!

3 Reasons to Learn Indonesian Through PDF Lessons

Let’s now take a closer look at how studying Indonesian lessons in PDF format can help you reach your dream in up to half the time of normal video or audio lessons!

① Saves Minutes on Your Data Plan

Learning Indonesian through PDF lessons can dramatically reduce your data use. Once a lesson or tool is downloaded, you can then access it offline via your computer or smartphone any time or place regardless of Internet access. And once you’ve downloaded the Indonesian lessons in PDF format, you can actually access them faster than logging in and trying to do so via a live site. So not only will learning Indonesian using PDF lessons save minutes on your data plan—it will save you some significant time as well as the lessons add up!

② Print and Take All Indonesian Lessons and PDF Tools With You Anywhere

Sometimes, a tiny smartphone screen just isn’t adequate, especially when you are trying to learn something new. The great thing about PDF lessons, tools or files is that they can be quickly printed and taken anywhere after you download them. In fact, printing out Indonesian lessons in PDF format can actually save you time when compared to going through the material on a smartphone with a small screen—even with the extra printing time!

③ Great Study Tool to Boost Retention and Mastery

Studying video or audio lessons online is a great way to learn a language because students can play and rewind sections as many times as needed until the lesson is mastered. But when you review the same Indonesian lessons again in PDF format, an incredible thing happens: your retention dramatically improves! Thanks to Time Spaced Repetition, seeing the information again in written format helps reinforce the information in your mind and improves both retention and recall. The benefits of learning Indonesian using PDF lessons quickly add up to significant time savings for you, your data plan, and your dream of learning a new language!

Why are we giving it away?

Learning to read and write is a must for all beginners. Although you get video lessons on how to write in Indonesian at IndonesianPod101, you’ll still need physical worksheets to practice on. That’s why you’re getting this printable tutorial PDFs as a gift.

9. Related Lessons

How to Say Hello in Indonesian
Do you know how to say hello in Indonesian? It’s the most basic phrase that you’ll need to say and hear in everyday life. If you don’t know yet, learn 15 ways to say hello and greet others in Indonesian. Why 15? The more variations you know, the more you can speak and the more fluent you become!
How to Introduce Yourself in Indonesian
Can you introduce yourself in Indonesian? Don’t worry! Check out the 10 Indonesian Lines You Need To Introduce Yourself with this free Review Sheet. From “My name is…“ and “I live in…” down to “My hobbies are…” Just review the 10 lines. It will only take you 2 minutes. Then, introduce yourself in the comment section below!
Indonesian Alphabet
Learn everything you need to know about the Indonesian alphabet. At IndonesianPod101, we introduce you to Indonesian writing in simple, easy-to-follow steps, and you can ask for advice or help anywhere along the way. It is important to master the Indonesian alphabet completely from the start.
How to Say Thank You in Indonesian
Has anyone thanked you today? We will. Thank you for reading this article and learning with us! In fact, today, you’ll learn the many different ways to say “Thank You” in Indonesian. It’s one of the most important Indonesian phrases. Check it out and watch the video too to practice your pronunciation.

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