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Learn Bahasa Indonesia: LESSON 1 – INTRODUCTION

Welcome to our first class of Bahasa Indonesia! Our goal during this course is that you can start using the language right away to communicate with localpeople as soon as possible, whether you plan to travel to Indonesia, have recently moved to the country, or simply want to improve your language level. You will learn colloquial Indonesian, frequently used words and we will teach you grammar in a simple way.

Bahasa Indonesia: Introduction

In this article we will make a small introduction to the language. We will talk about its origin, give you some tips on how to study this language and learn your first words in Indonesian Bahasa.

The word “bahasa” in English usually refers to both the Indonesian and Malaysian language. However, even though the Indonesian language sounds very similar to the Malaysian, it is totally different from its grammar, meaning, pronunciation, spelling and vocabulary.

History of Bahasa Indonesia

Bahasa Indonesia evolved from Bahasa Melayu, the language used in the Malay Peninsula. It is the mother of languages spoken in Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, East Timor and parts of Thailand.

Indonesian is different from Malay in Malaysia because it has more words and pronunciations that come from Javanese and Dutch. The Language Center published a book entitled “Senarai Kata Serapan in Bahasa Indonesia” and stated that Bahasa Indonesia comes from 10 different donor languages, which are; Dutch, English, Arabic, Sansekerta – ancient Javanese language, Chinese, Portuguese, Tamil, Persian, and Hindi.

Bahasa is Indonesia’s official national language and is spoken by more than 270 million Indonesians. It is the main language that has been established under the law of Indonesian government as a national language since the independence of the republic in 1945.

Many Indonesians communicate with Bahasa Indonesia as their mother tongue with others, but it should be noted that they also use local dialects and languages both spoken and written throughout the archipelago. There are about 150 to 250 dialects classified according to the usual ethnic denominations.

learn Indonesian Bahasa

Bahasa Indonesia Features

In the last century, after the adaptation of Bahasa Indonesia as the official language and in the present, the language has not only survived, but has been prospered and enriched by mixing with local languages to develop distinctive characteristics. Let’s look at some of the language features.

1. Latin/Roman writing

Bahasa Indonesia uses Latin writing, which was introduced by the Dutch during the colonial period.

For a beginner, this is the most relevant aspect, as there is no need to understand the characters in the script. Known letters of the alphabet will also make it easier for you to learn.

2. Phonologically consistent

Secondly, Bahasa Indonesia is phonologically consistent. That means, it is written exactly as it is pronounced.

This makes it much easier to learn than other languages that use Latin writing, such as French. In this sense, it is even more consistent than English, which is considered very irregular in terms of phonological consistency.

3. Flexible grammar

While knowing grammar is inherent in learning any language, there is so much flexibility in Bahasa Indonesia compared to other languages, that it is sometimes possible to communicate without following the exact grammatical rules and syntax. Let’s consider some important aspects of grammar below.

4. Subject-Verb-Object is not necessary

While the structure of sentence in Indonesian Bahasa usually follows the order of “subject-verb-object”, meaning can be transmitted appropriately without sticking to this order.

For example, in the case of Spanish, English, French, German, etc., the usual order of words in a sentence follows the rule of “subject-verb-object/adverb/complement”. In many cases, colloquial Indonesian Bahasa does not necessarily follow this rule and remains acceptable. In the following sentence:

“The technician came today.”

It can be written as:

“Tukang datang hari ini.” (The technician came today) or,

“Hari ini datang tukang.” (Today, came the technician) or,

“Datang tukang hari ini” (Came, the technician today)

All three uses will be perfectly acceptable in colloquial speech.

5. No case inflections

Bahasa Indonesia is free from case inflections. Instead, the position of a noun is clear according to its context and location in a sentence. For example:

“Mereka”EnglishBahasa Indonesia
NominativeThey comeMereka datang
AccusativeI ask themSaya tanya mereka
PossessiveTheir bagTas mereka

Notice how the word “mereka” has remained constant, including its possessive form where ownership of an object is indicated by placing it before the owner. That is, “tas” is placed before “mereka”. Similarly, “my book” will be expressed as “buku saya”, where saya means “I/me/my/mine”, depending on the context. Buku means “book”.

6. No verbal times/conjugations

In Bahasa Indonesia, certain words suggest verbal time. For example:

“Makan”EnglishBahasa Indoinesia
PresentHe eats an appleDia memakan apel
Continuous presentHe is eating an appleDia sedang memakan apel
Past perfectI have eaten an appleDia sudah memakan apel
FutureHe will eat an appleDia akan memakan apel

Notice how ‘memakan’, which is the active form of the root verb ‘makan’, remains constant and time is indicated by specific words placed before the verb (sedang, sudah, akan). Other forms of verbal times are usually resolved contextually.

7. No grammatical gender

In Indonesian Bahasa, “dia” is the common word used to indicate “he/she”, and gender is determined by context. For example, “dia adalah seorang ibu” may mean “he is a mother” or “she is a mother” in English. But speaker/listener can easily determine gender based on the context of the conversation.

8. No plural forms

There are no plural forms to consider. The plural is indicated simply by repeating the word. For example, flower means “bunga” in Indonesian and “flowers” is indicated by saying “bunga-bunga”. In texting or chatting language, this is written as “bunga2”. It’s important to remember this!

9. Adjectives

Adjectives are usually placed after the noun. For example, “a small child” is expressed as “anak kecil” where “anak” means “child” and “kecil” means “small”. In another example, “blue shirt” is expressed as “baju/kemeja biru”, where “biru” means “blue” and “baju/kemeja” means “shirt”.

learn Indonesian Bahasa

Is it difficult to learn Indonesian?

Because Bahasa Indonesia was influenced by several languages in Asia and Europe, particularly because of its Latin writing and, more importantly, its flexible grammatical structure, it is not surprising that it is one of the easiest languages to learn.

Normally, the difficulty level depends on the speaker/student’s background. For example, a Spanish speaker may find it easier to learn French compared to, say, Thai, because both Spanish and French belong to the same language group and can have a lot in common.

With the flexible grammatical structure of the Indonesian Bahasa, you can get to communicate effectively within 5 to 6 weeks after studying it. Studying other languages, such as German or English, takes much longer due to grammar and pronunciation rules.

learn Indonesian Bahasa

Why learning Bahasa Indonesia?

You will most likely want to learn Indonesian Bahasa for several reasons:

You may want to learn it as a tourist: experience the beauty of Indonesia, be able to travel smoothly and haggle through tourist destinations. Or maybe you’re interested in learning it to enrich your travel experience by connecting with locals and getting closer to their culture and lifestyle.

You may be a student or worker who needs to stay in Indonesia to study the local language and culture. Some may simply be language lovers and want to learn a language and its complexities.

However if you have moved to Indonesia with plans to stay for a while, whether for leisure, study or work reasons, you must learn Bahasa Indonesia. Even though most young people at universities today can speak English, you’ll need to interact with locals in all walks of life.

Learning Bahasa Indonesia will help you have a more enriching experience and make your stay easier if you need services such as doctors or bureaucratic management.

learn Indonesian Bahasa

Bahasa Indonesia is the main language for all communications in Indonesia.

Even in urban areas, you’ll need to use it as most people don’t speak English. You should know the basic Bahasa Indonesian at least to get around Indonesia, for everyday activities such as shopping, traveling or going to the doctor.

Indonesia is a very large country, and once you’re out of Bali and Jakarta, which are only a small part of the country, you’ll need to talk about some Indonesian words to survive.

In addition, if you work in Indonesia this regulation requires you to know the language and there has been talk of strictly implementing the language rule, although it has not yet been applied. However, since government regulation is already in place, it would be good if you learn Bahasa Indonesia.

learn Indonesian Bahasa

How to learn Bahasa Indonesia?

Now that I’ve explained how the language is quite simple and free from complicated grammatical rules, let’s look at several ways to learn it.

Fortunately, there are a lot of sources and information available at your fingertips. As discussed in the previous section, it is important to practice the language as much as you can by interacting more and more with the locals. Here are other ways you can explore to learn Indonesian Bahasa.

💡 Use of different time words:

As we have seen above, the first thing to consider to learn Indonesian Bahasa fast, is that, there are no verbal times. This means that time is related by using different time words and verbs are also not conjugated to refer to the person or quantity.

🔊 Listen to Indonesian songs:

If you’ve never heard Indonesians speak Bahasa, I recommend you listen to Indonesian music and read its lyrics, or you can also use translation app that can reproduce how pronunciations sound. It is one of the easiest ways to learn Indonesian Bahasa.

📖 Reading Indonesian Books:

Many Indonesian language books come with audio support on their respective websites or CD-ROMs to learn pronunciation. Here are some of them on Amazon:

🎓 Learn Prayers in Indonesian:

Like other languages, Bahasa Indonesia uses vowels and consonants to write sentences. The language alphabet also consists of 26 letters, 5 of which are vowels, and the rest are consonants.

Vocals: a e i o u
Consonants: b c d f g h j k l m n p q r s t v w x y z

💻 Online Courses:

The easiest way today to learn the language is through online learning pages. With online resources, you can start learning it even before you’ve landed in Indonesia. Online course structures, downloadable episodes, and various study materials provide the opportunity to learn on the go and enable flexible study schedules.

Here are the best websites to take online courses in Indonesian Bahasa

📱 Apps (iOS and Android):

Any modern app will be incomplete without the inclusion of mobile apps, which, fortunately, are also available to learn Bahasa Indonesia. Examples include Duolingo (iPhone, Android), Rasa Bahasa (iPhone), Learn Indonesian Free (iPhone), Learn Bahasa Indonesian (Android), Indonesianpod101 (iPhone, Android), etc.

📺 Youtube Channels:

YouTube has become an indispensable source of modern educational resources. In fact, there are very interesting YouTube channels that can teach Indonesian Bahasa. One of the main benefits of seeing the teacher is involving the student/audience.

Some popular channels include Indonesianpod101.com’s YouTube channel, an Ira Carolina series that is quite complete, a series of Indonesian 101 videos, or learn from Spain’s Maia on her BULE channel.

learn Indonesian Bahasa

Tips for learning Indonesian Bahasa quickly

Here are some personal tips and tricks for learning the language.

💚 Love what you do

When you love what you do, you’re likely to excel at it. This applies to learning Bahasa Indonesia. Let your interest in Bahasa Indonesia consume everything. Immerse yourself in everything related to Indonesia: its vibrant culture, friendly locals, its cuisine, its vegetation, etc. This will enrich your attempts to learn and speak Indonesian.

💪 No pain, no gain

Practice regularly. Consistency is the key to the domain. Commit to understanding Indonesia and its culture, and communication in Bahasa Indonesia will be natural to you.

🚶 Without haste but without pause

Start with small steps. Let immediate success boost your interest and keep you motivated to learn the language. Learn everyday phrases and conversations first instead of their rules, to maintain interest.

👨 👩 👦 👦 Relationship with locals

Finally, and I can’t emphasize this enough, it’s important to practice with the locals. Mix, mix, mix. You’ll learn more Bahasa by mixing with them.

Your first words in Bahasa Indonesia

These are without a doubt the first two words you should learn if you are thinking of traveling to Indonesia. Indonesians are well known for their hospitality, so during your trip, you’ll be continually using the magic words of thanks:

Terima kasih!

learn Indonesian Bahasa

The answer to terimah kasih (when someone thanks you), also consists of two words, and they are the same (and literally means “same” in English), so it is very easy! In Bahasa Indonesia, the expression to say “you’re welcome” is:

Sama sama!

learn Indonesian Bahasa

We wish you all the success in your journey to learn Indonesian Bahasa. In the next lesson we go much more to the point and teach you some of the most important phrases in Indonesian.

Don’t forget to enjoy your trip to Indonesia!

Remember that you can also write to [email protected] if you need help planning your trip to Indonesia.


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Article author

Born in Valencia (Spain), his professional career has always revolved around the tourism sector. He studied tourism degree and later specialized in digital tourism marketing.

After working in various travel agencies. In 2018, he was a beneficiary of an Indonesian government scholarship to study at one of the most prestigious universities in the country. After specializing in the destination and having traveled and lived in various areas of Indonesia, he joined our team in early 2020.

Fernando is passionate about surfing and extreme sports. He’s the first to sign up for a trip, always looking for new adventures!

Fernando Garcia
Marketing Advisor
Fernando García


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