top of page

Learning Indonesian

I started to take Indonesian classes a few weeks ago. And yes, I found someone who was a native speaker and willing to try to teach me at home. (and I am well aware that there are more than 700 languages used all over Indonesia, and I do not intend to learn them, thank you. Bahasa Indonesia, as it is called, is the official one and I will stick to that).

Compared to some other languages, Indonesian is quite easy to learn : same alphabet, the sounds are quite simple, and the grammar is virtually non-existent compared to European languages.

For example, there are no tenses at all. A verb is the same whatever the subject is. And also the same regardless of the time. If you want to induce a time notion, you just define it and include "yesterday", "next year" or "when I'll walk on the moon" in your sentence. And that's it.

Maybe this is why time is a slightly different notion in Indonesia. There's a word for tomorrow, which is "besok", but when someones says "ya, besok!" (yes, tomorrow!), you might want to make sure the person is actually talking about the next day or the next few ones...And it makes it quite difficult to grab at first for someone who is used, like me, to speak languages in which present, past and future are different.

There is no plural either. Double the word, and that's plural. "Anak", a child. "Anak anak", children. If you need to be more specific, you use numbers or qualify with "a lot", "a few", etc.

BUT there is a trick. Some words are doubled even though they are singular. Ha ha, not so easy after all. Spider: laba-laba. Butterfly: kupu-kupu. Which shall not be mixed with "kupu-kupu malam", litteraly meaning "night butterfly" but used to qualify prostitutes...

And just like in any languages, there are a bunch of similar words you do not want to mix because they do not mean the same at all. Like "kelapa" (coconut) and "kepala" (head). I am pretty sure I asked once for a "head ice-cream" instead of a coconut one.


But generally, people were super nice about my poor attempts at speaking Indonesian, and are also very helpful, trying to understand what I am going on about and helping me out with new words. My new best friend is a pocket Indonesian-English dictionary. Three words a day, someone once told me, that's what I am trying to do. Making lists and all in a little notebook. I am sort of hoping to be able to have a standard conversation in a few months...

bottom of page