Learning and Teaching Indonesian Language in Remote Village

Posted on 3 November, 2020

Indonesian version, click here

Written by Sarah Bouquet – AIYA Victoria Committee
Edited by Dinda Ichsani and Meylisa Sahan – AIYA National Blog Editor

Hi friends, my name is Sarah and this is my first time writing content on AIYA’s blog. It’s been a long time, I’ve wanted to start writing for this blog but I’m always confused about what to write. Moreover, I was also a bit scared because my Indonesian wasn’t fluent enough to start writing. But yes, maybe the more often I write in Indonesian, the more my ability to use Indonesian will be developed. We’ll see.

Today, I want to talk about a topic that I often encounter when meeting Indonesians, they will usually ask about this.

“Sarah, how come you can speak Indonesian?” and every time this happens I’m always confused about what to answer because there are a lot of foreigners who speak Indonesian fluently, in my opinion. So it’s not just me. In Melbourne, for example, I know some people who are fluent in Indonesian, which is not their native language. They also don’t have a family from Indonesia. From what I have seen, my friends who are fluent in Indonesian are diligent in learning Indonesian every week and even dare to take student exchange programs in Indonesia. They may have studied for a semester in Jakarta or Yogyakarta, or maybe like me who is addicted to watching Indonesian YouTubers, hehe.

However, as smart as you are studying on your own, there must always be a teacher behind all this “success”. There is always something we need to ask our teacher. Then, can I speak Indonesian without these teachers who over the years have awakened my enthusiasm to learn Indonesian? I don’t think so. In essence, the main reason why I can speak Indonesian is that I have several Indonesian teachers who want to see me succeed in learning Bahasa. They also share their knowledge and answer hundreds of my questions about Indonesian every time the class starts. So, I thought that for this blog, I would interview my Indonesian language teachers. I was going to interview my teacher from the days of elementary school (SD) when the things we learned were simple things like colours, names of days of the week, and singing birthday songs. I would also interview my teacher in junior high school (SMP) when we were all more interested in gossiping with classmates than learning foreign languages. I salute my junior high school teachers, because if I were them I would not be able to teach junior high school-aged children because it must be very difficult. I’m also going to interview the teacher who taught me the preparation for the twelfth-grade exam. At that time, I was forced to learn Indonesian from a distance, because there weren’t enough students at my school to form the Indonesian language class. I was the only student who studied Indonesian in my class. As a result, I had to study online. Every week there is always a task that I had to complete and every two weeks there will be lessons over the phone with my teacher. The office of the teacher responsible for teaching me is about two hours from my school, by the time class started I had to find an empty classroom so that our call session is not interrupted and we can talk for fifteen minutes.

In my opinion, all Indonesian teachers are unique. Why? Because they all choose to teach Indonesian in remote areas, for example like my school which only has five hundred students and of that number, only a small group wants to learn Indonesian. There are a few schools in the city. Seeing this, I think the spirit to learn Indonesian must really exist in an environment like this.

Then, why are they interested in teaching Indonesian when the number of students is very small? Well, as far as I know, I would not be able to speak Indonesian at all without them teaching me, and they are also one of the reasons why the younger generation can be interested in learning Indonesian even if students live in remote areas.

So, without further ado, here are my extraordinary Indonesian teachers.

Mr. Odgen
Mr. Odgen
Ibu Beasley
Mrs. Beasley
Mr. McGillivray
Mr. McGillivray

What is the best part about being an Indonesian teacher?

Mr. Russell Odgen : I have loved watching the developing awareness in students of the fascinating Indonesian cultures that exist on our international doorstep. Observing the ease in which Australian and Indonesian students develop warm relationships has also been a highlight.

Mrs. Maria : To be able to introduce Indonesia as a huge country and full of contrasts.

Mrs. Beasley : Seeing the smiles on children’s faces and their pride when they have succeeded in learning/remembering a language point. I’m always amazed at how well the children “soak up” the language and how they retain it despite holiday and learning breaks. I also love being able to open children’s eyes to a world that may be different from their own but, as we learn more about it, we see similarities with our own lives.

Mr. McGillivray : Lots of things! It’s great to see the development in the student’s learning from year 7 to year 12. Having the opportunity to take students overseas to Indonesia has always been a positive experience also. I have taken 5 groups overseas to date.

Do you remember your first time/first week teaching Bahasa Indonesia? What was it like? 

Mr. Pak Russell Ogden : Being a Science teacher who retrained in Bahasa Indonesia later in my career, I had looked forward to teaching in this area for many years. Those first lessons were full of fun and satisfaction as I shared my stories, my photos and my passion with students for the first time.

Mrs. Maria : Excited but then a bit disappointed with rules and regulation at schools (for example No nuts policy when I can’t cook satay with peanut sauce for my students)

Mrs. Beasley : It was in the mid-1990s when Primary Access to Languages via Satellite (PALS), a government initiative to encourage language learning via the satellite attached to the roof of the school, was introduced. I volunteered to take it on with the Grades 5/6 children at my school. I was learning alongside the children with the teacher’s notes on my lap, desperately trying to keep ahead to help the children, as we tuned into the broadcast. Not the best way to learn and teach, although the presenters did their best with limited funds. It taught me that the children should have a teacher qualified in Indonesian to work face-to-face with them, if we wanted them to be engaged and succeed in their language attempts.

Mr. McGillivray : That was a long time ago, back in 1996! I was actually still learning the language (only 1 year of learning) so I was very nervous at that time!

How did you learn Bahasa Indonesia? Why did you choose to learn Bahasa at a secondary/tertiary level?

Mr. Russel Ogden : In the eighties I spent six weeks on a surfing holiday at Lagundri Bay on Pulau Nias. Often while the others were surfing I would wander through the close by villages and the few words I knew came in very handy (although many villagers knew only their Bahasa Daerah).I studied Indonesian as a hobby for many years. Eventually the Department of Education offered scholarships so that teachers of other subjects could retrain in Bahasa Indonesia. Such a wonderful opportunity for me!

Mrs. Maria : Every Indonesian must study the language formally at school from tingkat SD to univ, at least during my time.

Bu Beasley : Another government initiative – the LOTE (Languages Other Than English) Training and Retraining Scheme for classroom teachers who could train to become teachers of a select group of languages. I had always been interested in languages, coming from a Dutch background and studying French through high school so I was happy to take on the challenge of learning Indonesian (coupled with my experience of PALS). I attended weekly sessions at Monash University Gippsland Campus (now Federation University) after teaching my grade for the day, there were school holiday sessions and I finished my studies in Yogyakarta completing 6 weeks based around Seni Drama. It was tough studying while working full time.  

Mr. McGillivray : Back in 1995 I was offered to study the course to become an Indonesian teacher. There was a big shortage of Indonesian teachers at the time so I thought that it would be good to learn another language and there were lots of employment opportunities due to this situation.

What did you find was an effective way of studying Bahasa Indonesia?

Mr. Russell Ogden : Take every opportunity to learn. Create opportunities where possible. Be prepared to make mistakes and be brave in speaking opportunities. I made extensive use of podcasts and CD’s while driving.

Mrs. Beasley : The course I took initially began with careful guidance through the language and grammar points – we were all beginner learners. I loved my first year and was enthusiastic about continuing – lots of practical activities and positive feedback geared to our ability. In second year, the lecturers focused on immersion in the language and encouraged wide reading and listening as a way to pick up language and grammar points, much more of a university approach. I found the expectations were difficult to attain with working fulltime and family commitments.  However, I completed the course and gained my qualification but I feel there were big gaps in my learning and understanding. The in-country experience was great insofar as connecting with Indonesian people in everyday situations outside the classroom was great for practising and improving conversation skills in real-life applications.

Mr. McGillivray : Going on walks and talking to myself in Indonesian, ringing other students and talking to them in Indonesian, having Indonesian penpals, reading lots of Indonesian, studying a little bit – often (everyday if possible). 

What is classroom activity that has been really successful for you?

Mr. Russell Ogden : Translation relay. Each team has a passage to translate on the other side of the room. Team members take it in turn to cross the room and remember as much of the passage as they can and return to their team and relay as much of the passage as they can remember. Only then can any resources be used to help translate the passage. When all teams have completed their translations they are read out to the class. Prizes for the first and the best translations.

Mrs. Maria : At Prep or Grade 1, teaching body parts. I spread a long piece of butcher paper on the floor and asked the smallest pupil in the class to lay down on the paper while three other students traced/outlined her from head to toe (including fingers and all toes). After this, everyone wrote the name of the body parts on the drawing (kepala, bahu, leher, etc.). This activity made students happy while learning new vocab.

Mrs. Beasley : Generally, anything game-based, songs or drama activities. Primary school children enjoy the movement, singing and gentle competition and I’ve found these activities really support the language learning. For example, just beginning the song for days of the week gets the children joining in and remembering what they are. There are so many of these activities that can be adapted from English. Another thing I really enjoy with the children is when I mark the roll at my current school. Many of the children have spontaneously taken to making up simple phrases or sentences, usually humorous, in Indonesian in reply about themselves or their friends. It’s wonderful to see their attempts and the way grammar points can be simply illustrated. It’s also so uplifting to see them laugh when they understand what the other child was saying in Indonesian. 

Mr. McGillivray : Getting students to ask each other questions in Indonesian whilst the whole class is listening. Immersive roleplays. Story reading/creating. Always learning grammar/vocab within context.

Do you have a favourite success story teaching Indonesian? What makes you proudest about your students?

Mr. Russell Ogden : My favourite success stories have been the passion and enthusiasm in students who have returned from exchanges and study tours to Indonesia. I have loved being involved in those experiences both in schools and in other contexts. I am most proud of those students who embrace those opportunities, push through the challenges and find those to be life changing events.

Mrs. Maria : When my students remember what I was teaching them and extend their language skills further in order to fulfil self-learning/passions.

Mrs. Beasley : Participation in the Building Relationships and Intercultural Dialogue through Growing Engagement (BRIDGE) Project via the Asia Education Foundation. After a successful submission, Leongatha Primary School was partnered with Pondok Labu 11 in Jakarta from 2010 till the end of 2014. My partner was Bu Tias with whom I now have a lifelong friendship. She has such warmth and natural teaching ability when working with children and they loved her. Together we worked on bringing the children of our schools together through letters, Skype calls, Edmodo, working on similar themes and homestay with Bu Tias brought groups of children to Australia. We always emphasised the similarities and noted the differences as interesting. It was a wonderful experience for me personally and the children at both schools. I was also fortunate to be successful in applying for a Indonesian Language Assistant position. In 2012, Bu Jeani joined me in the classroom. She was such an asset to the language learning and cultural understandings of the children and myself. To actually have someone there from that country to teach and to explain as the need arose was of enormous benefit. Again her warmth and manner endeared her to us all.

Mr. McGillivray : Yes, of course. My favourite success stories are when my students become better than me at writing/speaking/listening in Indonesian. That has only happened 3 times in my career. One of them is Sarah Bouquet with whom I am writing this interview for. 

Why is learning Indonesian relevant in 2020?

Mr. Russell Ogden : Most importantly, as has always been the case, the expanded cultural awareness and personal development that is derived from studying a language. Particularly that of our tetangga negara. Of course there are all those economic and political considerations, but for me it is personal development!

Mrs. Maria : With the COVID-19, working together side by side to protect our borders is important. Soon rather than later, we might be required to work together in terms of finding cures for this pandemic. Rather than relying on English language, knowing Indonesian in communicating will be a plus point to gain trust from people.

Mrs. Beasley : We are part of a global village. Indonesia is our nearest Asian neighbour. We have a strong trade relationship with Indonesia and it’s a popular holiday destination for many Australians so we should know more about the country, its people, its language and its culture. We should be engaging on a people-to-people level with Indonesia to enhance our awareness and understandings. We need children to see that there may be some differences that are interesting but there are many things we have in common. Learning a language broadens the mind and our outlook on the world. It strengthens problem-solving skills as we communicate for understanding. Indonesian language, with its alphabet the same as ours and its phonetic structure, enables children to experience success, especially in the crucial early stages of learning the language – they can say what they see. Hopefully, this will encourage them to continue their studies.

Mr. McGillivray : Language learning is always relevant. Indonesian learning is relevant in 2020 because they are our neighbours and together, we are going through some very challenging times. To learn how the rest of the world is coping in these times is important.