Learning Bahasa to truly explore Indonesia

When I first arrived in Bali I had set the clear goal of not just being a tourist, but learning about the culture and people of Indonesia. Also wanting to explore less touristy parts of Indonesia I decided to start learning Bahasa Indonesia (language of Indonesia).

Even if you are staying in touristy areas it’s worth having a mini adventure into the Indonesian world. By simply attempting to speak Bahasa you exceed the limits of the typical tourist.

Along the road I’ve been so happy to embark on this journey. Every time I meet someone from Indonesia and speak in their language they are all very motivated to help me get better & take me into their homes like I was their family. I’ve said it before, the Indonesian people are one of my favourite things about this magnificent country.

Here’s 4 reasons to learn speaking Indonesian:

  1. Cheer up whoever you are talking with. Indonesian people really appreciate your effort & will always try to help you learn more. It’s a great show of respect to actually try to adapt to the culture and language of the area you’re traveling in.

  2. Being able to communicate with people around 156 million people living on a lot of beautiful islands! In this way you can travel out of the big tourist hub and explore a more authentic Indonesia.

  3. Have a huge advantage when haggling prices, something you do a lot.

  4. Learning a new language is actually a lot of fun and rewarding, and a good way to keep your brain active while traveling!

In Indonesia there are over 600 different languages that emerged through the isolation of different islands throughout time. That means almost every bigger island has its own language on top of the official Indonesian language. That means not all 250 million people speak it, but everyone who has been to school does! This did mean I had a few weird encounters where I would speak some Indonesian, but the local Indonesian could not.

The most usual exchange will simply be, "apa kabar” (How are you?) always followed by “Baik” (Good)

Dan Kamu? (And you?) always followed by “Baik” (Good)

How to go about learning Indonesian?

Apps: I would recommend using either Duolingo or Babbel. The latter clearly being the best but has a monthly fee. Duolingo is for free.

If you have never tried any of these apps I would definitely give it a go, as they try to make learning languages into ‘a game. Makes the proces more enjoyable. Both are apps you can find on your phone.

Ask the locals for help:

Indoensian people are some of the most kind you will find. If you show any attempt at trying to learn Indonesian they will instantly try to support you! So when you’re sitting on a café ask for some practical words you could want to know. I personally write down all these words I get taught from locals in my Iphone notes, and will ask most people I meet to write in one word!

Go to Bahasa indonesia workshops on Bali:

There are tons of events/workshops/courses on Bali where you can be taught some Indoensian - some are even free and a good way to socialize.

Bahasa Indonesia starter-kit:

A few rules for not sounding completely stupid when speaking. Okay realistically you will probably sound pretty stupid the first times you try to say these. But the locals will correct you & that’s generally the easiest way to learn it.

The most important things to note is:

You compress the ‘e’ sound in the beginning of the words. For example: “terima kasih” meaning thank you, is said as “trima kasi”

And you compress the ‘k’ sound in the end of words. For example: “tidak” meaning no, is said “tida” and then a very small g sound almost instead of k.

Here’s a few words to get you started:

  • Terimah Kasih — Thank you

  • Sama-Sama - You’re welcome (same back to you)

  • Tidak Terimah Kasih — No thank you

  • Berapa harga — How much is the price

  • Nama saya [your name] — My name is

  • Siapa nama kamu? — What is your name?

  • Selemat Pagi — Good morning

  • Selemat Siang — Good midday

  • Selemat Soree — Good afternoon

  • Selemat Malam — Good evening/night

  • Kopi — Coffee

  • Teh — Tea

And some slang!

  • Mantap - Cool

  • Mantul (or Mantap Betul) - Very cool / good

As soon as I began attempting to struggle a few words out in Indonesians local people were engaging way more .

Meeting a lot of happy people on Flores

Meeting a lot of happy people on Flores

For some weird reason indonesians write “haha” as “wkwk”. No one I have met has been able to explain me why yet
— no idea why I put this as a quote