4 Tips For Learning Bahasa Indonesia FAST

Indo Slang bahasa indonesia

[ Student Manual at Indo Slang ]

Besides English and your Mother Tongue, you’ve perhaps tried to learn another language at some point. I certainly have. I took 2 modules of French in NUS, learnt Japanese at a Community Centre, struggled with Korean, and most recently, am picking up Bahasa Indonesia. I’ve had the opportunity to meet some Indonesian celebrities  – Indra Bekti whom I helped to host at Universal Studios Singapore and made sushi with Tarra Budiman in Jakarta. In November 2015, I also popped by the Indonesian city of Surabaya (2nd largest city after Jakarta), attended a traditional Javanese wedding and savored the local cuisine! 🙂

I’ve found Bahasa Indonesia to be very easy to learn, because of two reasons: (1) It is similar (though not entirely the same) to Malay, and (2) it uses the Roman alphabet so I don’t have to memorize a new set of letters, such as with Japanese or the Cambodian Khmer language.

You probably know a few words already: makan? kosong? nyonya? Selamat pagi? Selamat datang? 😀

When I first began to learn Bahasa Indonesia, I realized there are a few distinct differences between this language and Malay. In Malay, we refer to ourselves as ‘saya’, pronouncing it “sa yer“. However, in Indonesian, it’s “sa ya” which rhymes with kaya. It’s the same for “ada” or have. It sounds like ‘ah der’ in Malay and “ah dah” in Indonesian.

And yes, the Indonesians can tell if you are local or not by the words and pronunciation you use. One teacher told me that if I use ‘lapan’ when indicating the number 8 (when I’m purchasing something), the price will go up (i.e. I don’t get the discount locals would get) but when I use “delapan”, the seller will take it as a sign that I’m either local or I speak bahasa indonesia. 🙂

And when it comes to learning Indonesian, you’ll definitely have a lot of fun with numbers. Take this figure, for instance: 7,565, 271. When spelled out, it’s tujuh juta, lima ratus enam puluh lima ribu, dua ratus tujuh puluh satu. Quite a mouthful actually. But such fun to try to enunciate! 😀

And before I get carried away with sharing with you the joys of learning Indonesian in Singapore, here are 4 tips to help you pick up the language FAST. Simply remember F-A-S-T! 😀

#1: FIND a compelling reason WHY you want to learn the language

traditional javanese wedding

As with any language, it definitely helps speed up the learning process if you have a clear motivation and reason for spending time, effort and money in learning the language.

If you’re marrying an Indonesian, you’ll definitely have the motivation to learn the language! Also, Indonesian women are gorgeous! 😀

I was once pretty hooked on Japanese anime (Go, Naruto!) and ended up picking up some Japanese words and phrases along the way.

I guess it is the same reason why many local housewives can be found in Korean language classes at community centres. They are so enamoured by Korean stars in the Korean dramas they watch fanatically. 😀

So my first tip for you is to FIND that reason why you’d like to learn the language. Will you be working in Indonesia? Will you be interacting with Indonesian clients in Singapore? Do you need to converse with your domestic helper who can only speak Indonesian and nothing else? Find that compelling reason, and you’ll be motivated to get fluent in the language.

#2: ASSOCIATE new words with words you already know

Sate Ayam Ponorogo

For instance, “saya suka sate ayam” is “I like chicken satay”. Take note of how the word “suka” sounds similar to the word of the same meaning in Hokkien – you’ll say “Wa suka jiak…”

The word for “like” is pronounced in a similar fashion in Indonesian and in Hokkien. 🙂 Doesn’t this make learning Indonesian a bit easier?

#3: SEARCH online for units you want to revise after class

For instance, this video was helpful for my revision on asking for directions. 🙂 I think it is a great idea to watch and listen to videos put together by native Indonesians. You’ll be able to pick up the tonality they use, and get comfortable with listening and responding to a native speaker.

#4: TRAIN yourself to think / write / speak only in Indonesian

Of course, it would be best to take lessons at a language school with a native speaker of Indonesian. You can consider Indo Slang, which I’ve blogged about previously.

If you cannot go for a full immersion in the country whose language you are trying to learn, then you’ll have to train yourself to eat, sleep, breathe Indonesian while in Singapore. You can start by ordering your nasi padang using just Indonesian. Good luck!

While you’re at it, do also try to pick up some of the Indonesian slang, and then practise it in class or with an Indonesian buddy.

In this video, I’ve learnt some new words: bokap (father), kepo (nosy, *and it also sounds like kaypoh and has the same meaning in Singlish), kece (cool), bokek (broke), nyokap (mom), cieeeeeeee (to the effect of “awwwww”), anjrit (*an exclamation), kentut (fart), sotoy (meaning ‘you don’t know anything), and ee (poop).


I hope these four F-A-S-T tips are useful for your learning Bahasa Indonesia! 🙂 Because I’m having such fun with these articles, I may just share more in future. Do come back for more! 😀