Learning Tips

Learn Indonesian Language: Everything You Need to Know

I have been teaching Indonesian (locally known as Bahasa Indonesia) as a foreign language for more than 10 years. Today I’m going to share the most effective way to master Indonesian based on my teaching experience and notable language acquisition studies. First of all, let’s start with interesting facts about the language. 

Facts about Indonesian Language

Fact 1: it is a standardized version of Malay which is already spoken in Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore. So, Malay was the lingua franca of Indonesia and Malaysia during the 14th century. There are two modern versions of that; one is Bahasa Melayu which is used in Malaysia and the other one is Bahasa Indonesia which is used in Indonesia. So, if you go to Malaysia, you will find some similarities. 

Fact 2: Indonesian language is mistakenly referred to as “Bahasa” and I corrected many people about this. Bahasa means language. So, if you say ‘I speak Bahasa’ then what language? That’s why we have Bahasa Bali or Balinese language which is a completely different language from Bahasa Indonesia.  

Fact 3: of about 250 million fluent speakers, only about 40 million use it as a first language. So, Indonesia has 700 hundreds of local languages. In Bali is Bahasa Bali and if you go to the other regions of Indonesia, there are a lot more local languages. Therefore, Bahasa Indonesia is a lingua franca for people across the country. That is why it is created to be simple, so everybody can learn it quickly. 

Fact 4: about 34% of its vocabulary is loan words. So, if you speak Dutch and some English obviously, then you will have a few advantages because you have a lot of loanwords from those languages. There are loanwords from some local languages like Javanese, Sundanese, and other languages. 

Fact 5: it uses the Latin alphabet. 

Fact 6: Indonesian is a phonetic language meaning one letter represents one sound. So, you pronounce the word exactly as it is spelled. One exception, in general, we meet whatever Indonesian words as they are spelled. All of the pronunciation of each letter, you can pronounce any word in Indonesia. 

Fact 7: no tenses. We have talked about this. That is all the fun facts about Bahasa Indonesia if you are planning to learn. There is no simple language to learn. 

Should I learn formal or Informal Indonesian? 

Formal Indonesian or the standardized Indonesian is normally used in writing, speeches, or politician informal occasions, whereas Informal is the spoken language that everybody uses in daily life. Which one should you study first? My suggestion is always to learn natural Indonesian. Indonesians mix up formal and informal Indonesian, although, on some occasions, one is more dominant than the others. For example, if I talk to my friends obviously it will be a lot of informal, but that would be some words that are considered formal as well. Like the use of me-, ber-, which is prefixes and suffixes to formalize the language normally. 

The same case with some speeches, you will have some ‘enggak or gak’ instead of tidak which is the informal form of tidak (no). My suggestion is to learn authentically, meaning to find sources that locals listen to or read. This way, you will avoid unnatural formal language that is directly translated to English. For example, some of my students often say ‘Semoga harimu menyenangkan’ which means ‘have a nice day’. In natural conversation, we just simply say “sampai jumpa (see you)” or “duluan ya (I need to get going)”.  

How to learn Indonesian Language

I have four tips for you on how to master Indonesian: comprehension input, space repetition, mimicking, and finding the right language partner or a professional teacher. 

Comprehension input is a very well-known theory by linguist Stephen Krashen. He said we learn a language through a subconscious process that occurs when we are exposed to comprehensible input. Now, what is comprehensible input? Let’s talk with input. So in language learning; input is listening and reading. When you listen to a foreign language, it helps you with your output. In this case it is speaking. If you read a lot, that will help with your writing. That is input. Now, comprehensible is something that is slightly above your level. 

In addition to being comprehensible, your input needs to be compelling. So, you need to find learning resources that interest you. Maybe it is a bit tricky if you just started to learn the language but as you progress, try to read or listen to topics that you are deeply passionate about. 

Your comprehensible input also needs to be authentic, that is based on real-life settings and contexts. I have been looking at a lot of textbooks from many resources and I will consider that a lot of textbooks are not authentic. They were created to fit with the first language of the learners, which is mainly English. So, normally they will learn similar expressions in English, then they try to make it into the lesson. That is not authentic. You want to find something that native Indonesians listen to and read, however, if you’re not ready for this, make sure to use textbooks that are based on real life situations. 

The second one is spaced repetition technique which is a way to review your new words at systemic intervals of time. For example, you can review your most difficult words every day and other more familiar words every 3 days. As you review your words every time, you can increase the interval to once a week or even once a month. You can do this manually with paper flashcards. Personally, I use my favorite app of all time Anki which helps to automate the intervals depending how familiar I’m with particular words. 

Two more tips to be able to learn new words/phrases effectively. One is to learn collocation, not individual words when possible. Collocation is a group of words that often come together, for example: apa kabar? (how are you?), bagus sekali (very good). The second one is to  try to turn words into pictures. For some individual words, I think it is easy to do. If I tell you the word ‘lama’ which means long. If you memorize the translation, it might take some time to stick. But, if you remember this as an animal that has a long neck, you more likely will remember the picture. So, ‘lama’ equals the long neck of the animal Llama. Another one is ‘mahal’ which means expensive. For example, the Taj Mahal is an expensive place. The point is you need to find associations that are already in your brain. The more connections you have with words you learn, the more likely you will remember them long term. 

The next tip is shadowing. Shadowing is the way to listen and mimic a native speaker’s pronunciation, rhythm, and intonation. Indonesian is relatively easy because the stressed syllable is not as strict as in English as well. In English, you have emphases that are really important, right? But Indonesian is not really, some words are emphasized a little bit. There are some phonemes which are specific sounds that do not exist in your brain yet. Therefore, it is something that you have to train your brain to do. This is why shadowing is really effective to do that. Basically, you listen to the native speaker and try to repeat the other intonations.

The last one is to find the right mentor or language partner. The main point of learning a language is to communicate with people. 

In my opinion, there are two main criteria for you to find a language fun. Firstly, they expose you to a lot of comprehensible input. If you have Indonesian teachers who speak English most of the class, of course, it can be fun but from a language-learning perspective it is not effective obviously, because you do not have as much comprehensible input. In the end, you have to go out of your comfort zone and expose yourself to a lot of Indonesians that are understandable. Secondly, they motivate you to continue learning.

Where to learn Indonesian? 

If you are looking for a place to learn Indonesian, look no further. We are a professional and highly rated Indonesian language school based in Bali, Indonesia. We can help you master the Indonesian language quickly and naturally. Here is why: 

  • All of our teachers are experienced and certified to teach Indonesian
  • We try to have our lessons entirely in Indonesian
  • Our course includes audio lessons of daily conversations and mini stories
  • We provide scientifically proven flashcard apps to remember vocabulary long term.
  • We use authentic content such as real-life conversations, articles and media to teach the language.
  • We adapt our teaching to meet your learning styles and language needs.

If you are ready to start your learning journey with us or want to ask any questions, feel free to reach out to us at You can also find out more here.

By Jembatan Bahasa

Jembatan Bahasa is a professional and highly rated Indonesian language school based in Bali, Indonesia. Our teaching team is experienced and certified to teach Indonesian as a foreign language. Some of them have over eight years of teaching experience and have taught in a prestigious international school in Bali. Interested in learning Indonesian with us? WhatsApp us at +6282 145 950 737 or email at