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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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Based on the Malay trade dialect, Bahasa Indonesia is the national language of the Republic of Indonesia. It unites the over 254 million people of Indonesia (2014), 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 academia.

While it may be technically possible for foreigners to live in Jakarta, Bali, or other big cities 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 very appreciative of foreigners who make the effort to learn Bahasa Indonesia and build relationships with them. Both business and personal relationships with Indonesians will improve because of the effort made to learn their language.

Learning Bahasa IndonesiaLearning 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 CDs 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. Another option is joining online courses. There are free online Indonesian courses available, even though the materials offered are fairly limited and mostly for beginner level.

Bahasa Indonesia is not as difficult to learn as many other foreign languages; for example, 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 in Indonesian lanaguageFormal 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. Theh importance of 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 adjustment challenges that you too face as a newcomer. Their advice and sharing newly discovered resources will 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 2 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), or any expat who is fully committed to learning the language early in their stay.

Indonesian language tutorsTutors

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 may, however, just want to cover specific sections of the course that best meet your specific 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 requirements or challenging aspects of the languages that you may be encountering.

learning to speak indonesianSelf-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 Indonesia that is used on a daily basis by Indonesians is quite different than what you may learn in a formal course, though most Indonesians will certainly understand formal Indonesian grammar as well as the more relaxed versions.  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

learning indonesian languageTrue 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 even just emailing 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 which is great if you're on a limited budget. 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.

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

Audio Phrases

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

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

First Encounters

How are you? Apa kabar?
Good/ Not so good. Baik / kurang baik.
What’s your name? Siapa nama Anda?
My name is Anna. Nama saya Anna.
Where are you from? Dari mana Anda berasal?
I’m from Australia. Saya berasal dari Australia.
Where do you live? Di mana Anda tinggal?
I live in Jakarta. Saya tinggal di Jakarta.
Are you married? Sudah Menikah?
Yes, already/ Not Yet. Ya, sudah / Belum.
Nice to meet you. Senang bertemu dengan Anda.
Do you speak English? Bisa bicara bahasa Inggris?
Does anyone speaks English? Ada yang bisa bicara bahasa Inggris?
I don’t speak Indonesian [well]. Saya tidak bisa bicara bahasa Indonesia [dengan baik].
Excuse me. Permisi
May I ask you? Boleh saya bertanya?
I don’t understand Saya tidak mengerti.
What is (chair) in Indonesian? Apa bahasa Indonesianya (chair)?
What does (lampu) mean? Apa artinya (lampu)?
Thank you. Terima kasih
You’re welcome . Sama-sama
May I ask? Boleh saya bertanya?
Are there any questions? Ada pertanyaan?
Please pronounce/ say it. Tolong ucapkan!
Please speak slowly. Tolong bicara pelan-pelan!
Please repeat. Tolong ulang!
Please spell it out for me. Tolong eja!
Please write. Tolong tulis!
Please listen. Tolong dengarkan!
Please read. Tolong baca!
Please come in. Silakan masuk!
Please sit down. Silakan duduk!
Don't read it. Jangan baca.
Don't write it. Jangan tulis.

For more First Encounters phrases and more helpful information to learn Bahasa Indonesia, visit the IALF website.

Hello, Goodbye and Well Wishes

Good morning (dawn – 11.00am) Selamat pagi
Good day (11.00am – 3.00pm) Selamat siang
Good afternoon (3.00pm – sunset) Selamat sore
Good evening (sunset – dawn) Selamat malam!
Good bye Sampai jumpa!
Good bye (lit. Until we meet again) Sampai jumpa lagi!
Good bye (to someone leaving) Selamat jalan
Good bye (to someone staying) Selamat tinggal
Enjoy your meal! Selamat makan!
Enjoy your drink! Selamat minum!
Good night! Selamat tidur!
Happy studying! Selamat belajar!
Happy working! Selamat bekerja!
Welcome! Selamat datang!
Congratulations! Selamat!
Happy birthday! Selamat ulang tahun!
Happy wedding anniversary! Selamat ulang tahun perkawinan!
Happy Wedding! (Lit. Best of luck for entering new life.) Selamat menempuh hidup baru!
Merry Christmas! Selamat Hari Natal!
Happy New Year! Selamat Tahun Baru!
Happy Idul Fitri! Selamat Hari Raya Idul Fitri!
Happy Vesak Day! Selamat Hari Raya Waisak!

For more Hello, Goodbye and Good Wishes phrases and more helpful information to learn Bahasa Indonesia, visit the IALF website.

Asking and Telling Time

What time is it now? Jam berapa sekarang?
One o’clock. Jam satu.
Half past three. Jam setengah empat.
A quarter past nine. Jam sembilan lebih/lewat seperempat.
A quarter to five. Jam lima kurang seperempat.
20 minutes to 12. Jam duabelas kurang duapuluh[menit].
Ten [minutes] past four. Jam empat lebih sepuluh [menit].
Five [minutes] past nine. Jam sembilan lewat lima [menit].
Half Setengah
A quarter Seperempat
Past (after the hour) Lebih/lewat
To (before the hour) Kurang
What time does the plane/bus/train leave? Jam berapa pesawat/bis/kereta api berangkat?
The plane/bus/train leaves at (9.00). Pesawat/bis/kereta api berangkat jam (9.00).
What time does the plane/bus/train arrive? Jam berapa pesawat/bis/kereta api datang?
The plane/bus/train arrives at (8.00). Pesawat/bis/kereta api datang jam (8.00).
What time does the museum/shop/office open? Jam berapa musium/toko/kantor buka?
The museum/shop/office opens at (9.30). Musium/toko/kantor buka jam (9.30).
What time does the museum/shop/office close? Jam berapa musium/toko/kantor tutup?
The museum/shop/office closes at (5.00). Musium/toko/kantor tutup jam (5.00).
What time does the film/school/performance start? Jam berapa film/sekolah/pertunjukan mulai?
The film/school/performance starts at (6.00). Film/sekolah/pertunjukan mulai jam (6.00).
What time does the film/school/performance finish? Jam berapa film/sekolah/pertunjukan selesai?
The film/school/performance finishes at (8.00). Film/sekolah/pertunjukan selesai jam (8.00).

For more Asaking and Telling Time phrases and more helpful information to learn Bahasa Indonesia, visit the IALF website.

Dates and Days

What date is it now? Tanggal berapa sekarang?
The first of June, 2015. Tanggal satu Juni dua ribu lima belas.
January Januari
February Februari
March Maret
April April
May Mei
June Juni
July Juli
August Agustus
September September
October Oktober
November November
December Desember
What day is it today? Hari apa hari ini?
Today is Monday. Hari ini hari Senin.
Monday Senin
Tuesday Selasa
Wednesday Rabu
Thursday Kamis
Friday Jumaat
Saturday Sabtu
Sunday Minggu
What day was yesterday? Hari apa kemarin?
Yesterday was Sunday Kemarin Hari Minggu.
Yesterday Kemarin
Tomorrow Besok
Day after tomorrow Lusa
Two days ago Dua hari lalu
Two weeks ago Dua minggu lalu
Two months ago Dua bulan lalu
Two years ago Dua tahun lalu
Three more days Tiga hari lagi
Three more weeks Tiga minggu lagi
Three more months Tiga bulan lagi
Three more years Tiga tahun lagi

For more Days and Dates phrases and more helpful information to learn Bahasa Indonesia, visit the IALF website.

Asking/Giving Directions

Where is the post office/market/[Australian] consulate? Di mana kantor pos/pasar/konsulat [Australia]?
Where is the nearest market? Di mana pasar terdekat?
How can I get there? Bagaimana saya bisa ke sana?
Can you please show it on the map? Bisa tolong tunjukkan di peta?
Is there bus/public transportation going there? Ada bis/angkutan umum ke sana?
Go straight ahead. Jalan terus/lurus.
Turn left/right. Belok kiri/kanan.
Zoo kebun binatang
embassy kedutaan
consulate konsulat
mosque masjid
museum musium
market pasar
jail penjara
library perpustakaan
petrol station / gas station pompa bensin
Hindu temple pura
restaurant restoran
beauty salon salon
school sekolah
train station stasiun kereta api
park taman
bus terminal terminal bis
stationary shop toko alat tulis
building material shop toko bahan bangunan
clothing shop toko baju
hardware shop toko besi
book shop toko buku
shoe shop toko sepatu
supermarket toko serba ada/ toserba
barber tukang cukur
university universitas
Buddhist temple vihara

For more Asking/Giving Directions phrases and more helpful information to learn Bahasa Indonesia, visit the IALF website.


Do you have batik shirts/necklaces/bracelets? Ada baju batik/kalung/gelang?
Do you have a plastic bag? Ada tas plastik?
Do you have a different size? Ada ukuran lain?
Do you have my size? Ada ukuran saya?
Do you have (this) in different colors? Ada warna lain?
Would you take [fifty thousand rupiah]? Bagaimana kalau [lima puluh ribu]?
How much does this clothing/book/necklace cost? Berapa harga baju/buku/kalung ini?
Can you send overseas? Bisa kirim ke luar negeri?
Can I pay by credit card? Boleh bayar pakai kartu kredit?
Would you accept a lower price? Boleh kurang?
fixed price harga pas
This is too big. Ini terlalu besar.
This is too small. Ini terlalu kecil.
expensive mahal
cheap murah
I want to buy [shoes]. Saya mau beli [sepatu].
I need [dictionary]. Saya perlu [kamus].
I’m losing money Saya rugi.
I don’t want a plastic bag. Saya tidak mau tas plastik.
I don’t want it. Saya tidak mau.
I don’t have any money. Saya tidak punya uang.
I’m not interested. Saya tidak tertarik.
Change of money Uang kembalian
Wow.. that’s very expensive! Wah, mahal sekali!
Yes, we have./No, we don’t. Ya, ada. /Tidak ada.
This one. Yang ini.
That one. Yang itu.
Which one? Yang mana?

For more Shopping and Colors phrases and more helpful information to learn Bahasa Indonesia, visit the IALF website.


one satu
two dua
three tiga
four empat
five lima
six enam
seven tujuh
eight delapan
nine sembilan
ten sepuluh
eleven sebelas
twelve duabelas
thirteen tigabelas
twenty dua puluh
thirty tiga puluh
fifty lima puluh
seventy five tujuh puluh lima
eighty nine delapan puluh sembilan
hundred ratus
one hundred seratus
two hundred dua ratus
two hundred thirteen dua ratus tiga belas
one thousand seribu
two thousand dua ribu
four thousand three hundred fifty empat ribu tiga ratus lima puluh
ninety seven thousand sembilan puluh tujuh ribu
million juta
one million satu juta
two million five hundred sixty thousand dua juta lima ratus enam puluh ribu
eight million four hundred fifty seven thousand delapan juta empat ratus lima puluh tujuh ribu
one hundred million seratus juta
five hundred million lima ratus juta
nine hundred thirty five million sembilan ratus tiga puluh lima juta


Red Merah
Orange Jingga, oranye
Yellow Kuning
Green Hijau
Blue Biru
Purple Unggu
Black Hitam
White Putih
Grey Abu-abu
Brown Coklat
Light red, pink Merah muda
Light blue Biru muda
Dark blue Biru tua
Light green Hijau muda
Dark green Hijau tua
Gold Emas
Silver Perak


My child is missing! Anak saya hilang!
Watch out! Awas!
Stop! Berhenti!
Pickpocket! Copet!
My chest hurts Dada saya sakit
Where is the nearest police office/hospital? Di mana kantor polisi/rumah sakit terdekat?
I lost my wallet/passport [lit. my wallet/passport is lost]. Dompet/paspor saya hilang.
Be careful! Hati-hati!
This is an emergency! Ini darurat!
This is my insurance card. Ini kartu asuransi saya.
My wife/husband/child fainted! Isteri/suani/anak saya pingsan!
Leave me alone! Jangan ganggu saya!
Don't touch/hold me! Jangan peggang saya!
Fire! Kebakaran!
My car/motorbike is missing. Mobil/sepeda motor saya hilang.
Call the police/doctor/ambulance! Panggil polisi/dokter/ambulans!
Thief! Pencuri! / Maling!
Perampok Robber
Someone hit me. Saya dipukul orang.
I’ve been robbed. Saya dirampok.
I was hit by a car/motorbike. Saya ditabrak mobil/sepeda motor
I want to report a missing person. Saya ingin melaporkan orang hilang
I want to make a report for loss of items. Saya ingin membuat laporan kehilangan.
I fell off the motorcycle. Saya jatuh dari sepeda motor.
I’ve run out of my medication. Saya kehabisan obat.
I got poisoned. Saya keracunan.
I’m calling the police now! Saya panggil polisi sekarang!
I’m bleeding. Saya pendarahan.
I need to go to the hospital/police station. Saya perlu ke rumah sakit/kantor polisi.
I need an interpreter/doctor. Saya perlu penerjemah/dokter.
I’m pregnant. Saya sedang hamil.
I’m pregnant. Saya tersesat!
I can’t get up. Saya tidak bisa bangun.
I can’t breathe. Saya tidak bisa bernafas.
I don’t have insurance. Saya tidak punya asuransi.
Please send a fire engine! Tolong kirim pemadam kebakaran!
Please help me! Tolong saya!
Please call my insurer. Tolong telepon asuransi saya.
Please call the {Australian] consulate. Tolong telepon konsulat [Australia].
Help! Tolong!

For more Emergencies & Sickness phrases and more helpful information to learn Bahasa Indonesia, visit the IALF website.

Illnesses and Medical Symptoms/Conditions

cough batuk
swollen bengkak
heat rash biang keringat
blister bisul
measles cacar air
fever demam
diabetes diabetes/ kencing manis
diarrhea diare/mencret
stung by a bee disengat lebah
infection infeksi
acne jerawat
cancer kanker
sprained (ankle) keseleo
malnourished kurang gizi
scrape lecet
wound luka
bruised memar
broken bone patah tulang
sexually transmitted disease penyakit menular seksual
cold pilek
faint/unconscious pingsan
dizzy pusing
fractured bone retak tulang
rash ruam
toothache sakit gigi
headache sakit kepala
stomachache sakit perut
heart attack serangan jantung
difficult to breath sesak nafas
low blood pressure tekanan darah rendah
high blood pressure tekanan darah tinggi
gout asam urat
cavity gigi berlubang

For more Illnesses and Medical Symptoms/Conditions phrases and more helpful information to learn Bahasa Indonesia, visit the IALF website.

Other Articles on Learning Indonesian:


Indonesian Language Requirement for Expats in Indonesia

Indonesia's Manpower Minister Hanif Dhakiri announced (early January 2015) his intention to follow through with a regulation mandating that foreign workers pass a bahasa Indonesia test to obtain a work permit.   The exam will be part of a new set of requirements that will determine the eligibility of a foreigner to work in the archipelago. It is included in the ongoing revision of a 2013 Manpower Ministry regulation. "We hope that the revision can be complete in February so we can immediately implement the Indonesian language skill test for foreign workers who wish to work in Indonesia," Hanif told state-run Antara news agency.  Although the number of foreign workers in Indonesia has been dropping, an influx is expected next year with the formal implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community.

 Many questions about this new policy have yet to be answered:

  • How will the new rule be enforced?  If not done fairly or evenly history tells us that some companies will pay the costs and others will not and gain an advantage. 
  • Will the requirement be applied to foreigners who already have work permits?
  • What level of proficiency will be tested: basic or intermediate?
  • Where will classes be organized:  only in Indonesia.  If not, will Indonesian embassies and consulates offer them?

Watch the discussion of these new regulations on the Expat Forum

UPDATE - March 24, 2015

Indonesia to Withdraw Local Language Plan for Foreign Workers, Sources Say

Last Updated July 15, 2015

Photo Credits: IALF

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