How To Learn The Indonesian Language Bahasa By Yourself

avatarMille Larsen
10 mins read

The Indonesian language, or Bahasa is a standardized version of Malay. It's been the official language of Indonesia since 1945 when Indonesia declared its independence from the Netherlands.

When you speak the Indonesian language, you have the advantage of being able to communicate with towards 40 million Indonesians who speak it as their mother tongue. For more than 160 million people in the region, the Bahasa Indonesian language is a lingua franca, or a second language that people know well.

Moreover, if you make the effort to speak Bahasa Indonesia it'll be extremely well received in a country like Indonesia where few foreigners speak the language.

Indonesian has the reputation as being one of the easiest non Indo-European languages out there. It uses the same alphabet as English. The pronunciation is straight forward. Unlike English, it is consistent in the way that it is pronounced. And the grammar is quite simple!

But Indonesian isn't studied a lot outside of South East Asia. This means that study materials, teachers and courses can be difficult to come by and this represents the major obstacle in studying Bahasa Indonesia.

So how do you learn the Indonesian language then?

How to learn Indonesian: Get a beginner's course for Bahasa Indonesia - or two

When you lay out your plan on how to learn Indonesian, you have to start by a few books or beginner's courses. I always recommend doing more than one course simultaneously. Attacking the language from multiple fronts helps create a web of information in your brain. When you hear another speaker using the same word you just studied, it just seems to stick more because you get to experience "recognizing" something.

There aren't a lot of courses available for Indonesian, but a good one I can recommend is Teach Yourself Indonesian. Teach yourself is a book series with lesson that have dialogues in Indonesian and their English translations. This package also has an audio CD. I recommend that you do one lesson per day. Focus on the dialogues, try repeating after the speaker and mimicking the pronunciation and melody of the language. Teach Yourself has a great deal of grammar explanations too. If you find these helpful, go ahead and study them. If not, skim over them. You'll get a better feeling for the grammar later on.

A second beginner's course at the same time

If you speak French or German, I highly recommend the Assimil series for language learning. Assimil, sadly, doesn't offer an Indonesian course for English speakers. But if you're able to study through French or German, think of picking up this course. Unlike Teach Yourself, Assimil relies very little on grammar explanations. The dialogues are good and enjoyable to study, so it's worth a try. Read more about Assimil.

Wether you pick Assimil or Teach Yourself (or both), make sure to be consistent with your learning sessions. Study at least once per day. A morning and evening routine can be very effective. In my opinion, you get more out of several short study sessions than studying for hours at once. The reason is that with several small 15-minute spurts during the day, you keep coming back to the language and it becomes part of your routine.

Be sure to go back and revise older lessons too. I usually read through the previous 5-10 lessons every time I move on to a new one.

Dedicated audio courses

While working your way through Teach Yourself or Assimil, I propose that you start using a course that relies more on audio as well.

A course that is very popular among language learners is Pimsleur. With Pimsleur Indonesian you get a thorough audio course that helps you with pronunciation and grammar. If you're having a hard time actually speaking out Indonesian, Pimsleur can be a useful tool. It is slow paced and very repetitive. This can be an advantage if you're having difficulties, but to other people it might be a reason to pick something else.

Glossika Indonesian

Studying Indonesian with Glossika

How to learn Indonesian with Glossika

Another course that I've become a big fan of recently is Glossika. Glossika is an ingenious language learning course. It can be extremely helpful in helping you learn the Indonesian language intuitively. Studying Indonesian with Glossika is quite simple: You learn the language through studying sentences. For a study session, you go through 5-20 new sentences. Each sentence appears in English and Indonesian. The English sentence is spoken out, followed by the Indonesian version two times. In between the sentences, you should try to repeat what you hear in Indonesian. It is very important that you try and speak as clearly as possible. Do it at the same speed as the speaker.

Repeating sentences out loud can be difficult at first. But since Glossika focuses very heavily on repetitions, you will quickly be able to speak out the sentence without problems. For each time you study new sentences with Glossika, the system schedules the sentences for review. The scheduling time is based on an intelligent algorithm, that places the next revision gradually longer into the future. This is a great way of reminding you of a sentence just before you forget it.

How do you learn Indonesian grammar with Glossika?

So what about grammar? Glossika offers no grammar explanations. Yet it is very helpful for learning grammar intuitively. As you progress through the new sentences, you see examples of grammar in practice. For each new sentence you're moving forward to something that is related. So you're not jumping from one thing to the other. As you gradually learn more and more Indonesian sentences, you're internalizing important grammar concepts without really analyzing them. This intuitive approach resembles how children learn languages. The only difference is that Glossika is more structured about it, and it's much more effective for learning Indonesian.

To read more about Glossika, go read my Glossika review.

Reading in the Indonesian language

As you're getting well into your beginner's courses and your audio course, it's time to start adding other language learning activities. One of the most important is reading.

How do you learn Indonesian through reading? Well there are several approaches. I don't recommend just picking up a novel in Indonesian and looking up each and every word you don't understand. Not unless you're already at a very high level. To properly learn from reading, it needs to be enjoyable. Constantly referring to a dictionary is a sure way to impede all motivation. You will also have a hard time of following the plot.

One thing you can do, is rely on interlinear readers. The problem is that hardly any of these books exist in Indonesian. I've been able to found only one on Indonesian folk tales, but it's not enough to get you very far. In stead, you can pick up a book in English along with the translation in Indonesian. You read one page in English, then one in Indonesian and switch back an forth between the two books. If you're not comfortable with reading a whole page, you might want to use the same method for a paragraph for even a sentence. I've had a great time reading Agatha Christie novels in this way. There are a great number of Indonesian Christie novels on Amazon.

Reading Indonesian online

Another great source for Indonesian reading materials is the internet. Whatever subject that you're interested in, you'll find it online. Try translating a subject you're interested in on google translate. Then go look up articles for that keyword.

Google translating keywords into Indonesian

Use Google Translate to find keywords for articles to study in the Indonesian language

Once you've found some interesting content, go ahead and start reading. If you use Google Chrome, I can recommend the Google Dictionary browser extension. With this tool, you can click on any word, anywhere on the net and get an instant translation. This can be a great help when reading Indonesian articles online.

Read Indonesian texts with LingQ

Another way of studying texts in Indonesian is with one of my favorite language learning apps, LingQ. With LingQ, you import texts into their interface where you can study them word by word. for each text you study through LingQ, the software remembers which words you are learning, which you already know and which ones are new. When reading an article in LingQ, you simply click on the words or phrases you don't understand, and you look them up instantaneously.

As you progress with learning Indonesian through LingQ, the system keeps track of your vocabulary, and helps you analyze new texts based on your vocabulary. If an article has a high percentage of unknown words, it's an indicator that the text is too difficult. If you want to learn more about LingQ, please go read my LingQ review.

Speaking and writing Indonesian

Around the same time as you start reading in Indonesian, it's time that you start producing the language. One way of doing it, is finding a language partner. Having a tandem partner can work, but sometimes it can be difficult to find someone who matches your ambitions and time schedule when learning a foreign language. You'll also be helping your language partner with his or her English at the same time as they're helping you with Indonesian. If you have plenty of time on your hands, and if you happen to find a great tandem partner, this is no problem. I find, however, that the time I have for studying languages is quite limited.

Getting a tutor to help you learn Indonesian

That's why you're better off to go looking for an Indonesian language tutor. A tutor is someone you're paying to help you learning Indonesian, so you can get away with focusing on your own needs a little more. Don't hesitate to switch tutors if the one you originally contacted doesn't fit your expectations.

Studying with a tutor can be a great way of learning Indonesian, and it's something that I recommend that you do after having finished the beginner's book. Try taking charge of your tutoring sessions. What kind of thing would you like to do, and what wouldn't you like? After all, you're paying for your tutor's time. I recommend that you spend the time on discussion. Pick a topic to speak about, and rely as much on Indonesian as you possibly can. After the end of a tutoring session, sit down and write a short essay on the subject you just discussed and have your tutor correct it.

As you continue reading articles on LingQ, studying more and more advanced sentences with Glossika and reading and writing with your tutor, you're well on your way to become fluent in Indonesian. Congratulations on your achievement!