The purpose of learning Indonesian: an instructor’s perspective

Posted on 22 February, 2017

Learning Indonesian? There are plentiful ways to go about it, and a great many reasons to do so. It isn’t always a hard slog either. Kartika Wijaya, who helps run Indonesian courses for expats and visitors in Bandung and online, today provides a few memorable and amusing moments from her time in the classroom.

Being a teacher has been a passion for me since I was younger. But I never thought that being an Indonesian language instructor of English speakers could be such an interesting experience for me.

Most of my students are Australians. They come from different backgrounds and occupations, such as students, researchers, school teachers, tourists who plan to visit Indonesia with friends and family, members of the military, people with business interests in Indonesia, and those who have Indonesian spouses who can hardly speak English so there’s no other way but to learn Indonesian to enable communication between them.

Teaching German students. Photo: Kartika Wijaya.

As they all have different backgrounds and purposes in learning the Indonesian language, the learning materials are also customized to each individual’s needs. Of all my Australian students, I always find those with Indonesian spouses to be the most hilarious ones. Sometimes they’d ask me funny questions such as how to say ‘Please don’t be jealous’ or ‘If you trust me, you wouldn’t ask me to delete her number off my phone’ in Indonesian, and other amusing lines.

On one occasion, out of curiosity, I asked an Aussie man married to a Indonesian woman, “As you speak very little Indonesian and she speaks hardly any English, have you two ever quarreled?” He smiled and nodded: “Oh yes, we do quarrel. I speak in English and she speaks in Indonesian. We don’t understand each other and we keep talking in our own languages. But now I need to know several Indonesian words for cursing so that I’ll understand her when she’s cursing.” He winked. I couldn’t help but laugh hearing this!

So you can imagine that his vocabulary list might consist mostly of words used in arguments. Other types of words are used in different situations such as romance and when going shopping, telling time, etc.

Student excursion to a nearby village. Photo: Kartika Wijaya

Another interesting teaching experience I once had was in conversation with a primary school teacher of the language. She described how challenging her work is, but at the same time also told me that she felt rewarded and pleased if her students got good marks at school. She also told me that there were very little Indonesian books available in bookstores in Melbourne. And the book she was using to teach her students at the school at the time was already old and yellowish as it was printed in the late 70s!

Another Australian student of mine is a businesswoman. She rents a villa in Bali and therefore she and her family travel there very often. Her Indonesian is quite good and she can communicate very well in Indonesian.

Although all of my students have different backgrounds, they all have one thing in common. They can only speak formal Indonesian language, not the spoken or colloquial form, as they think it is enough for them to learn only the formal language as it is widely used throughout Indonesia.

Well, now at least they can confidently travel to Indonesia and communicate with the locals, as I believe that is the purpose of learning Indonesian after all.