Why Study Indonesian?

Posted on 8 April, 2012

In all honesty, there are way more than five. But if you’re interested in something different or looking to get ahead in the Asian century, Indonesian is one of your best options. We’ve put together the five main reasons we think Indonesian is a great language to learn.

‘…in practice, language is participating in social relations in an extremely complex world of unequals. You cannot say you have mastered a new language if you have not discovered a brand new world, and your new self in it, through the experience of learning it.’

Ariel Heranto

It’s really not that hard!

For a beginner trying to learn a new language, it doesn’t get much more accessible than Indonesian. Bahasa Indonesia has an uncomplicated system of grammar and vocabulary and, as a result, it is not unusual for students to reach a basic conversation level within 1-2 months of intensive study. Most importantly for those interested in learning an Asian language, unlike Chinese or Japanese, Indonesian has no tones and uses the Roman alphabet.

Don’t just take our word for it – research suggests Indonesian is one of the world’s most accessible languages. The Foreign Service Institute in the US concluded that it takes around 30-36 weeks of full time study (the equivalent 750-900 class hours) to achieve a fluent standard of speaking and reading in Indonesian. To reach the same level in Japanese or Mandarin required around 88 weeks, or 2200 class hours. Nevertheless, while it is relatively easy to gain a basic level of proficiency, it is important to remember that, like any foreign language, getting to grips with Indonesian requires time, perseverance and hard work.

It’s fun

Learning Indonesian opens up a vast archipelago of some of the friendliest, fun-loving, and most hospitable people you will ever meet. Incorporating some travel into the ‘learning process’ will allow you to explore Indonesia’s many different regions, people and cultures.

With only a basic level of Indonesian, you can easily take yourself off the beaten track and find yourself motor biking across Java’s mountains and volcanoes, chilling in Bali’s rice paddies and beaches, partying in Jakarta or Yogyakarta, getting cultural in Sulawesi and Kalimantan, diving some of the most beautiful spots in the world at Raja Ampat and the Banda islands, or exploring the local wildlife with the komodo dragons in Lombok and the orangutans in Sumatra.

Given its proximity, low cost of living, and incredibly hospitable people, a little background in Indonesian opens up a traveller’s paradise.

It might just make you a better person

Well, not necessarily, but learning Indonesian will give you a means to access and understand a unique culture that is an eclectic mix of Eastern, Western and Islamic influences. The experience will challenge you to think outside of your comfort zone and engage with unfamiliar values and practices. It will also allow you to learn more about yourself and your own culture by forcing you to reflect on your cultural pre-conceptions – for example, on time, on religion, and on politics – and how they differ to those in Indonesia.

In an increasingly connected world, it will become more and more necessary to engage with those of different cultural and religious backgrounds. Learning Indonesian is one of the best ways to equip yourself with the cross-cultural literacy to thrive in this Asian Century.

It will help you get a job

The Indonesian economy is big and it’s growing rapidly. Not long ago, Indonesia’s economy overtook Australia’s in terms of gross domestic product; by the end of this decade, it’s expected that the Indonesian economy will become the world’s 10th biggest. While the majority of eyes are turning to China, Indonesia is slowly becoming a regional economic powerhouse. This means jobs – lots of them.

Those students who speak Indonesian – especially when combined with other academic studies such as in law, business, engineering, health, and the humanities – will have a competitive advantage in accessing these opportunities. As you can see in our careers champion profiles, being ‘Indonesia-savvy’ can open doors to a wide range of employment opportunities in government, education, business, hospitality, translating and interpreting, law, engineering and journalism.

Indonesia is important

Indonesia is Australia’s largest and nearest neighbour in the Asian region. It is a maturing democracy, a major trading partner, and a key member of ASEAN. For Australia, Indonesia truly matters. All too often, however, the relationship is described in abstract terms as a series of ‘ties’ – commercial ties, security ties, educational ties. What is lost is these descriptions is the fact that it is the relationships of everyday people – ordinary Australians and ordinary Indonesians – that forms the foundation of all these links.

By learning Indonesian, grappling with a fascinating and foreign culture, and most importantly, making new friendships, you are doing your bit for the relationship and helping transform the bilateral relationship from one of neighbours to one of friends.

Last Updated 3rd April 2017.