How to learn Bahasa Indonesian official language?


Are you planning on traveling to Indonesia anytime soon? Learning a few basic words and vocabulary will definitely be useful in Indonesia as very few locals speak English. Of course, in very touristic areas and among younger people it will be easier for you to find someone who can speak English, however, it is usually a hard case.

The Bahasa Indonesian is the official national language spoken across the 18,000 islands and over 350 different ethnic groups. According to its origin, Bahasa is similar to a standardized version of Malay.

Why you should learn Bahasa Indonesian …

There are many reasons that could lead you to learn some Bahasa from:

  • Having an Indonesian spouse
  • Going for holidays
  • Going to work in Indonesia
  • Going for a business trip
  • Simply for fun because you love the culture


Also, do not expect shop assistants, taxi drivers and other people you may have contact with in Java or any other cities in Indonesia to know how to speak English. Most of them did study English at school but just like in France or Spain, the level is pretty basic and not made for proper oral communication.

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Did you know that according to EF English proficiency ranking, Indonesia ranks 32th among a total of 70 countries? In Asia, Indonesia ranks 8th.

How to learn this new language and methodology …

Know your motives, why you are doing it


The first thing you need to do, and this applies to any language you may want to learn, is to know why you want to learn Indonesian. Your purpose will shape the vocabulary you will have to learn and the effort you will have to put in to reach your desired level in Bahasa. Since Bahasa is not one of the top most learned languages in the world, this step is even more important because there are fewer reasons for why you want to learn the language. Unless you got a job in Indonesia or are married to an Indonesian, you may not feel the urge to learn some Indonesian.


If you are going for a 2-week trip you won’t have to learn that much vocabulary compared to someone going to live there. Your focus, in that case, would be to learn basic conversation sentences such as “hello”, “how much is it”, and do so on. and not “please sign the contract here”.

Have a plan and set goals the SMART way










Now that you know why you want to learn Bahasa, make a plan. If we take the tourist example again, you may start to learn some basic Indonesian about one month to two weeks prior to your trip so that it stays fresh in your mind. If you really want to connect with locals, speaking Indonesian is an undeniable asset and will make your experience so much better and enjoyable. There are several ways to learn some basic vocabulary such as books or vocabulary lists. However, I will give some other tools you can use to learn Bahasa the fun way and never get bored … I am sure you’ll even want to learn more about this language and not only for your short term trip.


Practice daily




The first tip to really remember the new vocabulary you acquired is by practicing daily. Either it is by talking to yourself in your mind, or listening to some Indonesian music, just include some Bahasa in your daily routine. Practicing as little as 15 min a day is way more powerful than doing it 2 hours per week because of how our brain works.


Use different media to improve your listening and reading skills


Thanks to the internet we are lucky to have several resources available for free. Use Youtube to watch some Indonesian videos with English subtitles to practice your listening skills and read some web magazines to practice your reading skills. You can also watch some TV if you have access to some Indonesian channels. Also, don’t forget about radio, you can use websites such as :

Have a penpal and language partner/friend


Another great way to have fun while making new friends and having fun is by finding a penpal friend or just a language partner. Not only are Indonesian very nice, they will also benefit from this relationship by improving their English and you your Bahasa.

Here are the top websites I recommend :

Use websites and mobile apps


Use your mobile phone and technology to your advantage. You have several free apps you can use to learn Indonesian. Actually, most websites dedicated to Bahasa learning also have their own Android and/or iPhone app. Here are some websites and apps you could use:


Immerse yourself and take classes


If you fall in love with the Bahasa language and want to take your learning process further you can come to Bali for example for holidays during a few days. Afterward, you can decide if you want to go back to take some live language classes. One of the recommended schools is IALF which has various brands across Indonesian big cities.Also, note that Bahasa has similar traits with Spanish. So if you already can speak some Spanish or even Malay it will definitely be very helpful. You may also want to start with some basic vocabulary and grammar to get you started. Once you reached a sufficient level you can work your way up to adding vocabulary. Finally, even though the grammar and pronunciation are not excessively difficult, you will have to deal with a lot of affixes. Bahasa uses pre- and su- ffixes to change a word from adverb to noun etc.


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