Are language differences an impediment to bilateral relations?

The annual AIYA Membership Survey is conducted to provide an in-depth analysis of the issues and perspectives of young people engaged in the Australia-Indonesia relationship. The much-anticipated AIYA Survey 2016 Report was released last week, and since it hit our screens we’ve been enjoying the extremely useful – yet sometimes surprising – results. One of the findings which may raise an eyebrow is:

“Language differences are not seen as too large an impediment to bilateral relations.” 

We asked three Awardees of the 2016 National Australia Indonesia Language Awards to respond.

Penny Vakalopoulos
Senior Awardee 2016

The Australia-Indonesia relationship is fraught chiefly because of cultural misunderstanding. In this vein, language differences are obstacles only insofar as they reflect cultural differences. When considering the practical use of English and Indonesian in our diplomatic discourse, the differing languages in themselves are not culpable for bilateral tensions, primarily because we have abundant resources at our disposal to translate and convey with accuracy.

That being said, we cannot overlook the strength of the connection between language and culture. The two are so thoroughly intermingled that it is difficult to even speak of the languages “in themselves”. Languages are, in many ways, direct representatives of culture. Thus language differences in fact can become a large impediment to bilateral relations, where these differences are reflective of a deeper gulf between our cultural values and perspectives. Moreover, such values are not always translatable.

Andrew Parker of The Age himself admitted that business and trade relations with Indonesia have been hampered most substantially by the fact that “we don’t really understand them culturally”. For this deficit of cross-cultural understanding to be addressed, we can in fact first address linguistic misunderstandings. This is because having a greater command of each other’s language will help to bridge the cultural gulf between us, since language is one of the most powerful pathways into another culture.

Therefore, if the notion of language differences becomes inclusive of the notion of cultural differences, the impediment to bilateral relations is not insignificant. Reducing language differences by expanding and deepening the Indonesian-proficiency of Australian citizens is, in my view, a necessary measure to ensure the success of future relations.

Sally Andrews
Wild Card Awardee 2016

Having spent the last semester in Yogyakarta (on exchange at Universitas Islam Indonesia through the support of ACICIS and the New Colombo Plan), it seems to me that language differences are a substantial barrier to forming long-lasting connections, establishing common ground, and engaging in nuanced discourse. The significance of this barrier should not be underestimated. The fact that our two heads of state can only communicate via the use of an interpreter doubtlessly impedes the ease with which policy collaboration can be undertaken, and creates an immediate sense of distance within negotiations.

While it may be relatively easy for a native English speaker to pick up Indonesian – what with its relatively simple grammar and pronunciation – it is fiendishly difficult to learn English. English is truly a nightmare language and my experiences in learning Indonesian have given me an immense sense of admiration for all those taking on the task of trying to master English. For the millions of people across Indonesia who are labouring hard to acquire English language skills, the distance – both geographic and cultural – from Australia may not seem so large. But for those who do not have access to English language teaching, language barriers do have a substantive impact on the perceived proximity between nations. One way in which this proximity could be lessened is through a dramatic increase in the numbers of Indonesian language speakers in Australia.

Muhammad Arif Zamani
Native Speaker Awardee 2016

I believe that language is a very important instrument in social interaction. One important milestone in the history of the struggle of Indonesia in gaining independence was the Annual Youth Pledge (Sumpah Pemuda), which declares the one national language as Bahasa Indonesia. Language of the World (2005) notes that there are at least 742 different languages ​​used by the peoples of Indonesia. These languages ​​represent differences in customs from Sabang to Merauke. Perhaps, if there was no Youth Pledge at that time, it would have been very difficult for Indonesia’s founding fathers to communicate the message to strengthen the national unity of Indonesia. Therefore, it is not an exaggeration to conclude that language is a unifying media, especially in the context of intercultural relations. The same thing may apply in the framework of bilateral relations between Indonesia and Australia.

Nowadays, Indonesian people are open to the concept of globalisation. In a positive sense, English is not something strange anymore as an international language, especially among young and educated people. In the framework of bilateral relations between Indonesia and Australia, language may not be a huge barrier because of this globalisation. However, from my experience in interacting with Australians both within AIYA and in everyday life, language has a deeper meaning than simply for communication. When I find an Australian who can speak Indonesian – even if just a little – I feel closer to them somehow. In return, I studied some typical Australian greetings like “G’day mate! How’s it going?” It may be simple, but may dissolve the boundaries of formality between the two cultures.

The use of English as an international language means that differences in language may not be an impediment in the bilateral relationship between Indonesia and Australia. However, I believe that by studying the language and culture of the two countries we can further strengthen our relationship.

Download the AIYA Survey 2016 Report here, and for more information about NAILA visit the website.

The AIYA Survey 2016 Report is here!

The Australia-Indonesia Youth Association (AIYA) is proud to announce the release of the 2016 Member Survey. As part of our mission to connect, inform and inspire, a regular survey is conducted to provide an in-depth analysis of the issues and perspectives of young people engaged in the Australia-Indonesia relationship.

This report enables policy makers, educators, businesses and other individuals to access and draw their own views about youth issues in the bilateral relationship. The survey covered everything from your thoughts on the state of the government-to-government relationship, to your opinions on the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA), scholarship schemes such as the New Colombo Plan, and other ideas to improve Australia-Indonesia ties.

AIYA would like to thank all our members who completed the survey earlier this year, and invite you to delve into the report and hear the perspectives of your fellow AIYA members. Conducted from March-April 2016, this AIYA Survey attracted close to 500 respondents, with the number of Australians and Indonesians roughly equal, while 70% of respondents were 20-35 years of age.

Please download your copy of the report here.

Some key findings of the survey are:

  • Australian and Indonesian respondents believe the Australian government is handling its relationship with Indonesia increasingly well. In our 2014 survey, Australian respondents in particular believed that Australia was doing a poor job of managing its relationship with Indonesia. In 2016, there was a significantly increased view that the government-to-government relationship is going well, and Indonesian respondents were particularly positive when it came to how both governments are managing the relationship.
  • Indonesian and Australian respondents agree that education is the most important element of the bilateral relationship. In order to strengthen the relationship, AIYA respondents — both Indonesian and Australian — place the greatest importance on education, followed by government-to-government relations and economic and business engagement. Environmental management and transnational crime issues were seen as lower priorities. Further views about the current educational opportunities available to young Australians and Indonesians — such as the New Colombo Plan and the Darmasiswa program — are explored in the policy section of the report.
  • AIYA survey respondents, especially Indonesian respondents, are increasingly optimistic about the effectiveness of the IA-CEPA, which is currently in the fourth round of negotiations.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, so please download the report, and find out more! Any questions, comments or media enquiries can be forwarded to Sam Bashfield at or Nicholas Mark at

AIYA Survey 2016: Wrap-Up

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At midnight on ANZAC Day, submissions to our third annual AIYA Survey officially closed, and what an amazing result! After a one-week extension, to allow any stragglers the chance to respond (you know who you are!), we have tallied some headline statistics which we’re delighted to share. Firstly, the 2016 survey attracted one of the largest responses we have ever received, and we owe it all to the members and friends of AIYA. Thanks for taking the time to share your views and ideas with us. These results enable us to make AIYA an even better organisation, and ensure we continue representing your views in our mission to connect, inform and inspire Australian and Indonesian young people.

We were thrilled to receive responses from residents of every state in Australia, and in close to two thirds of the provinces of Indonesia. We achieved a rough balance between female and male, Indonesian and Australian, and across our target age groups in our survey respondents. People from many different stages of education and fields of expertise were represented, including a number of students still in high school!

Of those already in the workforce, close to one third of respondents identified themselves as working in the education and training sector. This reflects the huge importance of education in the Australia-Indonesia relationship, and the passion of Australian and Indonesian teachers and trainers.

We were inundated with valuable suggestions and ideas which will be used to inform AIYA’s advice and advocacy programs. The AIYA Survey team are now working to create a final survey report, in which we will provide a detailed analysis of the results and highlight the key messages and suggestions we received. We’re looking forward to delving into all your feedback and valuable ideas. The report will be released in June-July, so watch this space!

Thanks to Nick Mark, Mike Tarn and Sam Bashfield from the AIYA Survey team, as well as Natasha Burrows and her legendary Comms team, for all their hard work.

AIYA Survey 2016: Early Results

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AIYA’s annual survey has grown and changed since its origins in 2013, but its fundamental purpose is the same: to identify what is important to our members, to understand their ideas and to learn how they would like the Australia-Indonesia relationship to develop. Over time, we can track changes in the mood of our members, and understand what new issues are important for them. From the New Colombo Plan to foreign workers and everything in between, AIYA wants to hear your thoughts! We’ve had a phenomenal response so far and can’t wait for more – so jump online and fill out the survey if you haven’t already. A full report will be published in May, but for the time being here are a couple of juicy stats from the submissions so far:

  • Almost half of our Australian respondents speak advanced or fluent Bahasa Indonesia, and half of Indonesian respondents speak advanced or fluent English. AIYA’s membership base obviously means our survey respondents are more likely to have studied Indonesian (for Australians) or English (for Indonesians) than the general population of both countries, but even we were blown away by the impressive and encouraging linguistic skills of AIYA’s members!
  • Survey respondents identified education, government relations and business/economic engagement as the top three issues affecting the bilateral relationship. With around one third of our respondents working in the education sector, this isn’t surprising. Do you think education is the most important factor affecting the relationship? Have your say!
  • Lack of cross-cultural understanding was by far the most commonly identified impediment to good relations between Australia and Indonesia. Is it because our cultures are so different, perhaps? What’s your opinion?
  • A staggering 95% of respondents agree that the New Colombo Plan has been effective in improving the bilateral relationship – but improvements need to be made. Comments on the matter include:

“As of 2016 the New Colombo Plan is not extended to post-graduate students which may not capture the potential of many advanced-level students with an interest in Indonesia.”

“[The NCP is] effective, but a costing exercise needs to be done: $67,000 could be split into three NCP scholarships … [and] opening the opportunity up to more students.”

The survey is open until midnight on 25 April, so get in quick and tell us what you think!

Take part in the AIYA Survey for 2016!

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Dear AIYA Members, friends and followers,

The Australia-Indonesia Youth Association (AIYA) is pleased to announce that our third AIYA survey is now open!

Click here to start the survey.

We are seeking to identify who you are, your opinion on the Australia-Indonesia relationship and how you would like the relationship to evolve. AIYA is committed to connecting, informing and inspiring Australian and Indonesian young people, and the ideas and interests of our members are our top priority.

The survey will take around 15 minutes to complete, and is completely anonymous.

The survey will be available until midnight on 24 April 2016.

We are very much looking forward to reviewing all of the responses to the survey and to sharing the results with you in some innovative and interesting ways.

Please also feel free to share the survey ( with your friends, family or network.

If you have any questions or comments about the survey, please contact us at

Salam semangat,

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Nicholas Mark

President – AIYA National