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Learning Bahasa Indonesia
the National Language

Practical Information for foreigners, expats and expatriates moving to Indonesia - find out about housing, schooling, transport, shopping and more to prepare you for your stay in Indonesia

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expatriate information for Indonesia

Bahasa Indonesia in BaliBased on the Malay trade dialect, Bahasa Indonesia is the national language of the Republic of Indonesia. It unites the over 237 million people of Indonesia (May 2010), whose native tongue may be one of the over 300 distinct languages or regional dialects. Older people may speak some Dutch and English is the foreign language of choice for business, tourism and study.

While it may be technically possible for foreigners to live in Jakarta without learning/speaking Bahasa Indonesia, it is highly recommended that you obtain a working knowledge of the Indonesian national language. An inability to communicate in Bahasa Indonesia will cut you off from the mainstream of society, and dealing with those Indonesians who don't speak your foreign language will be very difficult. By not learning the language, you also deny yourself the rich cultural experience of fully communicating with those from another culture. Indonesians are appreciative of foreigners that make the effort to learn Bahasa Indonesian and build relationships with them. Both business and personal relationships with Indonesians will improve because of the effort made to learn their language.

To get you started and introduce you to the Indonesian national language, are some basic phrases in Bahasa Indonesia.

Click on the link to the Indonesian phrase below to hear the phrases in Indonesian:


Good morning Selamat Pagi
Good mid-day Selamat siang
Good evening Selamat malam
Good-bye Selamat tinggal (if you're leaving)
Selamat jalan (to someone who is leaving you)
Thank you Terima kasih
You're welcome Kembali or sama-sama
How are you? Apa kabar?
Excuse me Permisi or maaf


Do you speak English? Bisa bicara Bahasa Inggris?
I don't speak Indonesian. Saya tidak bisa bicara bahasa Indonesia.
I don't understand. Saya tidak mengerti.

Requesting basic assistance:

Can you help me? Bisa bantu saya?
Where is the bathroom? Di mana kamar kecil?
Where is . . . Di mana . . .
How much is this? Berapa harganya ini?
I want this. Saya mau ini.
I want to eat. Saya mau makan.

Getting home:

My address is ... Alamat saya...
Please take me to ... Tolong, antar saya ke ...

[Download All Sound Clips (514 Kb)] This is a zipped file.
Learn bahasa Indonesia, the national language of Indonesia

Learning Bahasa Indonesia

The best time to start learning Bahasa Indonesia is before you even make your move to Indonesia, however it may be difficult to find language materials in your home country. You may want to ask your sponsoring company to help you obtain tapes and books several months before you move, so that you can start becoming used to the sound of the language and start familiarizing yourself with its structure and vocabulary.

Bahasa Indonesia is not as difficult to learn as many other foreign languages as verbs aren't conjugated as in English and French.  Bahasa Indonesia also uses the same alphabet as English, making it much easier to learn when compared to other Asian languages where tonal differences and pictograph written languages are common.

Formal Courses

Soon after your arrival in Indonesia, you may want to make it a priority to register for a Bahasa Indonesia course. Often your sponsoring company will pay for at least 40 hours of instruction.  There are several excellent schools and community organizations in Jakarta (and other cities) which have comprehensive, structured programs to help you begin learning Indonesian. Learning Indonesian properly from the beginning cannot be stressed enough.

An advantage of signing up for a course is that it's a great place to meet other newcomers and make friends. The people that you will be taking the course with will also be facing many of the settling in and adjustments challenges that you too face as a newcomer. Advice and shared resources with help to ease your transition.  Some people find they are more committee to attend a class rather than arrange for a private tutor.

Several schools offer 3 and 4 week intensive programs, in Bali or Yogyakarta, where you can study for the full day and have some enjoyable cultural experiences as well. These schools are suited for expats who need to learn Bahasa Indonesia quickly, such as diplomats or those with jobs where they have a lot of interaction with Indonesians who don't speak English (or another foreign language).


Some expats opt for private lessons in their home or office from private tutors because of their time restrictions or wanting to save on travel time. This option tends to be the most expensive, however gives the opportunity for the instruction to be tailored to specifically meet your needs. Even though the tutor may come highly recommended from other expats, that does not ensure the quality of their instruction. Teachers that are employed from quality schools may be the most qualified and have a proven curriculum that they will follow. You many however just want to cover specific sections of the course that best meet your needs.   You may also find it useful to meet with a tutor for a period after you have completed several levels of a formal course. That way they can help you with any special problems or requirements you may have.

Self-Taught Bahasa Indonesia

Some expats opt to learn Bahasa Indonesia on their own. Excellent books to learn Bahasa Indonesia are available in bookstores in the major cities. Once you are in Indonesia, you will have the opportunity to practice your fledgling Indonesian with your household staff, driver, vendors, people you meet in the stores, and social encounters. The diligent will quickly pick up enough Bahasa Indonesia to feel comfortable interacting with Indonesians on a daily basis.

The Bahasa Indonesian that is used on a daily basis by Indonesians is quite different than what you may learn in a formal course.  Look at your needs and who you will be speaking with to determine the best method for you to learn the language.

Pen Pals and Indonesian Friends

True fluency in a language requires active use of the language. Many expats find it helpful to get a pen pal or have a "language buddy" relationship with an Indonesian where you help each other to learn a desired language by sharing your skills. This can be as simple as setting up a time to meet once or twice a week where you focus on learning language and developing a friendship over coffee or email each other any questions you have about the language.

Many Indonesians want to learn English, or French, or German ... so if you want to learn Bahasa Indonesia, offer to "trade" skills by investing time in each other's language studies. Obviously you can pay a private tutor to do the same thing, but this type of a relationship is based on mutual benefit and doesn't involve payment. One time you focus on helping the expat to learn Indonesian, and the next time you meet you focus on helping the Indonesian to learn the foreign language.

Two great places to chat with Indonesians wanting to learn English or to find an Indonesian pen pal is on the Living in Indonesia Expat Forum.

Other Articles on Learning Indonesian:

Housing and schooling information for expats in Indonesia expatriate website for Indonesia Indonesian language translation of article
Practical Information for foreigners, expats and expatriates moving to Indonesia - find out about housing, schooling, transport, shopping and more to prepare you for your stay in Indonesia

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