Learn to Speak Indonesian

Selamat Siang Temanku! Anda mau Belajar Bahasa Indonesia? Bagus Sekali!
    Hello friend! You want to learn to speak Indonesian? Great!

One of the most rewarding experiences for me in 2010 has been learning basic conversational Indonesian (Bahasa Indonesia) while backpacking through Asia. When you speak the local language, especially one that most foreigners never bother to learn, you open unexpected doors, make many friends, put smiles on countless faces, and experience the country in a way most people don’t.

Bali

Why learn Bahasa?

You are likely reading this because you are interested in visiting Indonesia, a beautiful country full of amazing people and rich with culture. Even learning a few phrases will greatly enhance your experience there. I am confident that you will pick up some Bahasa on your trip if you try, and that this guide will aid in your learning. Learning Indonesian sounds scary, exotic, and difficult but I assure you Bahasa Indonesia was one of the simplest languages I’ve ever come across. Once I learned how to learn Bahasa via immersion and comprehension rather than rote and repetition, learning to speak a few more languages in the next few months became much easier and I’ve actually found I’m eager to learn even more languages.

A message to my fellow Americans

Don’t be scared. You’re not “bad” at languages, most people in the world are bilingual. Many of your foreign coworkers that speak fluent English probably learned it as a second language in high school or college. I was terrible at learning languages before my trip. This isn’t America, nobody is going to laugh at you, get upset at you, or tell you to go back to your country if you say things wrong. People would often smile and correct me, and some even sat down and spent hours with me teaching me pronunciations and other words – even when they didn’t speak a word of English themselves. I’ve sat in rice paddies with farmers, chatted with countless waiters, drank tea with a painter, road tripped with awesome Jakartan photographers, and even bantered with a police officer for a while – all while they taught me what I’m attempting to teach you now. Those moments were more meaningful to me than any ancient temples I visited or beautiful sunsets I watched on my trip, and I hope you can experience some of those connections as well.

Bahasa is E-A-S-Y

A few reasons why conversational Bahasa is so easy to learn:

• There are no new characters to learn, you can already read and write it
• There are no verb tenses to learn
• Objects have no gender, even he and she is the same word
• Words are almost always pronounced exactly as spelled
• There are no plural words, simply repeat words to pluralize
• There are rarely multiple ways to say the same thing
• There are very few articles and prepositions
• Syllable emphasis is consistent and not as important as other languages
• There are no tones or intonations
• The grammar is painfully simple

This means you can string together a few words and you’re actually speaking a full proper sentence. Some quick examples:

English Bahasa
What is this? apa ini?
I want this mau ini
Do you want this? anda mau ini?
This is tasty ini enak
Is this tasty? ini enak?

This guide is full of explanations and tips that took me months to figure out and I would have learned much faster had someone told them to me. This is not built as a quick phrase guide or vocabulary list, this is written for people that want to actually learn how to speak basic conversational Bahasa. You’ll be amazed at how far you can get with such a small vocabulary and I guarantee you’ll be greeted with huge smiles everywhere you go in Indonesia.

Quick note: Native speakers call their language “Bahasa Indonesia”, or “Bahasa” for short. Bahasa literally means “language”. I’ll be referring to the language as “Bahasa” from here on out.

Musician

Big fat disclaimer: I am not a language teacher nor do I speak the language fluently. I just picked it up quickly, love speaking it, and love teaching others how to speak it. Throughout this guide I’ll be listing the actual spelling of words and how my American ear hears the word.

Ready?

Pronunciation

Getting used to the pronunciation was the most important hurdle. Everything became much easier once I figured this out. Before diving into words, let’s go over pronunciation so you can actually read Bahasa. Even if you don’t know a single word, with a few rules you can read nearly any word in Bahasa like a local. Here are the basic pronunciation rules.

Vowel Pronunciation
a ‘ah’ like “Ball” and “Father”
i ‘ee’ like “Bee” and “Antique”
o ‘oh’ like “No” and “Low”
u ‘oo’ like “Food” and “Hoop”
e ‘uh’ when it is the first vowel in a word
‘eh’ like “Bed” when it is not the first vowel.
ai “aye” like “why”
au ‘ow’ like “cow”
oi ‘oy’ like “boy”

Tip: E takes a bit of getting used to. The common word “ke” is pronounced as a short “kuh”, almost as if you got punched in the gut. When in doubt omit the first “e” of most words when speaking. The auditory difference is often very subtle and people will understand you.

Consonant Pronunciation
c c is soft and pronounced ‘ch’ like “China”
k k is hard and pronounced ‘k’ like “Cat”
j like ‘dg’ in “Edge”
r r is always slightly rolled, much like in Spanish. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the middle or end of a word, it is rolled. In Spanish many people flourish their rolled r’s as if there were 5 or 10 of them in a row but this is definitely not the case in Bahasa Indonesia – a very very short rr is all you need. Avoid the temptation to pronounce everything like you were excitedly saying “Burrrrrrrito!” and stick with a shorter “bur’rito”. Because all r’s are rolled, most native Indonesians speaking English will pronounce “water” as “wah-turrrr” so don’t feel so bad if you can’t get used to it. Indonesians will forgive you if you skip the rolled r but some people will comment that you have “an American accent”. After a month of speaking Bahasa I still forget to roll many of my r’s.
h h is never silent, even at the end of words. Yes, you heard me right. At the end of the word it is aspirated – it sounds like you are softly and quickly breathing out. Softly is the key, this is not a clearing-your-throat “ach” sound that you might have heard in Hebrew, German, or Arabic. Be careful to not forget the non-silent h when speaking as woods can have different meanings with or without them. “muda” (young) and “mudah” (easy) sound the same to a westerner not familiar with the sound. “murah” (cheap) also sounds very similar if you leave out the rolled “r”. You can imagine easily getting in trouble if you were talking about your young friend – and describe her to the locals as easy or cheap (which happened to me).
ng ‘ng’ like “Sing”. ng is common in Bahasa and may take some practice. Try saying “long wrong song” out loud. Notice that the back of your tongue rests on the top of your mouth at the end of each word? Get used to that feeling, you’ll be using it a lot. It is important to note that the g is soft, it is not as if you said the word as “lon-guh”.
ngg ‘ng’ like “Finger” (think fi[ng-g]er). ngg is fairly common as well and is used when a hard “g” should be pronounced. While not formally a consonant (it’s more of a syllable breaking ng-g), its important to learn. Mangga (mango) is pronounced “mahng gah” (or “mong gah”). If you spelled it “manga”, it would lack the hard g and would be pronounced “mahng ah.” Similarly tinggal (stay/live) is pronounced “teeng gahl”, bangga (proud) is bahng-gah.

Glottal stop

When a word ends in a b, p, and more often a k – it’s nearly silent. The word “no” is tidak. It is pronounced “tee-dock” but with a barely audible “k” sound. This is accomplished by putting the back of your tongue on the top of your throat to cut the k sound short. This is similar to cutting “uh” short in the English phrase “uh-oh!”. Even though it’s barely audible, you cannot omit it. Try this out and listen when others say it. Another example that helped me was “tick tock”. I had to say “tick tock tidak” a few times until it felt comfortable, trying hard to cut off the end of each word as I hit the k. Words ending in b and p behave the same way.

Vocabulary

Ready for words? Let’s get some vocabulary under our belt before we try to form sentences or understand grammer.

English Bahasa Pronunciation
Yes ya yah
No / never tidak tee-dahk
Maybe mungkin moong-keen
Not yet belum buh-loom (often just “bloom”)

Greetings

Greetings

Much like English, people say “Good morning, good evening”. In Indonesia they have many more specific greetings and people love it when you use them correctly. You’ll also be hearing them a lot throughout the day so it’s good to at least understand them.

English Bahasa Pronunciation
Good morning Selamat pagi suh-lah-maht pah-gee
Good mid-day Selamat siang suh-lah-maht see-ahng
Good afternoon Selamat sore suh-lah-maht sor’reh (note the rolled r)
Good evening Selamat malam suh-lah-maht mah-lahm

Mid-day is generally around 11AM-3PM and was described by locals as “the really hot part of the day when you don’t want to be outside”. Afternoon is typically 3PM-ish to sunset.

People use “Selamat [time of day]” instead of “hello” and it’s almost always appropriate to use the greeting – when meeting a friend, when entering a restaurant or shop, even when passing a random policeman on the street.

When someone greets you with “Selamat pagi”, the appropriate response is to repeat “pagi” and people (especially women) usually reply in a somewhat happy singsongy way. PA-geeeeee! Try saying “Selamat pagi” to a few shop keepers in the morning and note their tone when they inevitably and happily reply “pagi!”

As you have likely deduced, pagi is morning, siang is mid-day, sore is afternoon, and malam is evening/night. Many words get reused so once you know these, you know the meals as well:

English Bahasa Pronunciation
Breakfast makan pagi mah-kahn pah-gee
Lunch makan siang mah-kahn si-ang
Dinner makan malam mah-kahn malam

Depending on the context makan means eat or meal, so you are saying “Morning meal”, “Mid-day meal”, and “Evening meal”. As you speak more Bahasa you’ll realize how many words are reused in many different contexts. For fun – nap is “tidur siang” – mid-day sleep.

You can use selamat for many more things as well:

English Bahasa Pronunciation
Welcome Selamat datang suh-lah-maht dah-tong
Goodbye (to someone staying) Selamat tinggal suh-lah-maht teeng-gahl
Goodbye (to someone leaving) Selamat jalan suh-lah-maht jah-lahn
Good night (to someone sleeping) Selamat tidur suh-lah-maht tee-doohr
Enjoy your meal (Good eats!) Selamat makan suh-lah-maht mah-kahn
See you later! (informal) Sampai jumpa sahm-pai joom-pah

Digging deeper: As you can see there are two different “goodbye”s. Selamat tinggal means “Good stay” and you say it to someone if they are the ones sticking around. Selamat jalan means “good walk” and you say it to someone who is walking away. Jalan also means “road” so you’ll see most roads named Jalan this and Jalan that. “Walk about / stroll with no specific location in mind” is jalan-jalan and is used when you are saying you just wanna wander around town or what you say to pesky shop keepers trying to get you in their store – “I’m just walking and I’m not interested in shopping” is simply “jalan-jalan”.

Advanced tip: Tidur means sleep, so selamat tidur means “Good sleep”. When someone is going to bed you say “selamat tidur”, not “selamat malam”. “Selamat malam” technically means “good night” but in Bahasa it is used as the “good evening” greeting. Of course you can always say “sweet dreams” (literally “beautiful dreams”):

English Bahasa Pronunciation
Sweet dreams mimpi indah meem-pee eehn-dah

Politeness

It’s always good to be polite in another country and you’ll find that the Indonesians are extremely polite people. You’ll be using these and hearing these every single day. It’s important to note that Indonesian’s don’t say “please”. The word for please (tolong) also means “help” and is usually used in that context.

English Bahasa Pronunciation
Thank you terima kasih tuh-ree-mah kah-seeh
You’re welcome terima kasih kembali tuh-ree-mah kah-seeh kem-bah-lee
You’re welcome (casual) sama sama sah-mah sah-mah

Sama sama means “same same”, as in “same to you!” and should ALWAYS be said after someone thanks you for anything. This is important. If anyone ever says terima kasih to you (and they definitely will), reply happily with “sama sama!”

Kembali means “to return”, so terima kasih kembali is similar to saying “I return your thanks”.

English Bahasa Pronunciation
How are you? apa kabar ah-pah kah-bar’r (don’t forget, rolled r)
Good! bagus bah-goos
Very good! bagus sekali bah-goos skah-lee
OK baik (or baik-baik) ba-eek (or baik-baik)

Apa kabar literally means “what (is the) news?”

Apologies are always good to know too:

English Bahasa Pronunciation
Excuse me (if you bump someone) ma’af mah-ahf
I’m sorry (may I have your forgiveness) minta ma’af meen-tah mah-ahf
It’s nothing tidak apa-apa tee-dahk ah-pah ah-pah

When ordering food, it is polite to use “minta” and “permisi”:

English Bahasa Pronunciation
May I have (polite) minta meen-tah
Excuse me
(to politely get attention)
permisi pur’r-mee-see
Thank you very much terima kasih banyak tuh-ree-mah kah-see’h bahn-yak
Thanks (informal) makasih mah kah-see’h

Makasih is just a shortened and much less formal version of terima kasih, only to be used with friends.

Pronouns

English Bahasa Pronunciation
I / me / my / of mine saya sah-yah
You / your anda ahn-dah
They / their mereka muh-reh-kah
Him / her / he / she dia dee-ah
We (listener included) kita kee-tah
We (listener not included) kami kah-mee
Myself / alone sendiri sehn-dee-ree

Notice that “saya” can be used for pretty much everything referring to “self”:

English Bahasa Literal translation
My friend teman saya friend / mine
I teach my friend saya belajar teman saya I / teach / friend / mine
My friend taught me teman saya belajar saya friend / me / learn / me
Your friend teman anda friend / you
You taught your friend anda belajar teman anda you / teach / friend / you
Your friend taught you Teman anda belajar anda friend / you / learn / you

Plurals

Swing

Many languages, including English, have different words for plural versions of things. Duck, ducks, goose, geese. There are no plural words in Bahasa, you simply double the word. People also use “banyak” which means many.

English Bahasa Pronunciation
Child anak ah-nahk
Chidren anak-anak ah-nahk ah-nahk
A few children beberapa anak beh-beh-rah-pah ah-nahk
Many children banyak anak bahn-yahk ah-nahk
Many banyak bahn-yahk
How many? berapa beh-rah-pah
A couple of beberapa beh-beh-rah-pah

Note that not all words can be doubled… Man is laki-laki but men is sadly not “laki-laki-laki-laki” which would have been totally awesome. I still don’t know how to say “men”, but simply “laki-laki” given the right context seems to work well.

Shopping & Restaurant Basics

Restaurant basics

English Bahasa Pronunciation
This ini ee-nee
That itu ee-too
What apa ah-pah
All semua seh-moo-ah
Want mau ma-oo (like “meow” without the “ee”)
Buy beli buh-lee
Pay bayar bah-yahr
Cheap murah moor’rah (rolled r & aspirated h)
And dan dahn
Or atau ah-tah-oo
Open buka boo-kah
Closed tutup too-toop
Need (less polite) perlu pur’r-loo
Small kecil keh-cheel
Bathroom kamar kecil kah-mar keh-cheel
Person orang oh-rahng
One person
(when eating alone)
se-orang seh oh-rahng
Three people tiga orang tiga oh-rahng
May I have my bill?
(check please!)
Minta bon-nya? meen-tah bohn-nya

Putting it together in our first phrases:

English Bahasa Literal translation
What is this? Apa ini? What / this?
Do you want this? Mau ini? Want / this?
Do you want this? (casual) Mau? Want?
I want that Mau itu Want / that

Tip: Notice that “I” and “you” are left out of the sentence. You are welcome to use personal pronouns to be explicit but many people just omit them.

Some other useful shopping / restaurant phrases:

English Bahasa Pronunciation
Is this place open? ini tempat buka? ee-nee tem-paht boo-kah?
Where is the bathroom? di mana kamar kecil? dee mah-nah kah-mar keh-cheel (literally where is the small room?)
I need the bathroom! (urgent, not polite) saya perlu kamar kecil! sah-yah pur’r-loo kah-mar keh-cheel

And people like it when you complement them on the food:

English Bahasa Pronunciation
Tasty enak eh-nahk (Sounds like the english words “eh knock”)
Very tasty enak sekali eh-nahk skah-lee (or more formally seh-kah-lee)
It’s all tasty semua enak seh-moo-ah eh-nahk
It’s all delicious! semua enak sekali seh-moo-ah eh-nahk skah-lee!

And if something is REALLY delicious you can use lazat.

English Bahasa Pronunciation
Super delicious lazat lah-zaht

Food

Many places don’t have English menus, so knowing how to read a menu and order food in Indonesia can unlock many fantastic culinary options for you. Bonus – restaurants are fantastic places to practice your Bahasa since you have to talk to the host(ess) and waiters throughout your meal.

Eating with my friends

Some common foods you’ll be asking about:

English Bahasa Pronunciation
Rice nasi nah-see
Chicken ayam ah-yahm
Pig / pork babi bah-bee
Sausage sosis soh-sees
Fried goreng goh-reng
Mixed campur cham-poor
Fried chicken ayam goreng ah-yahm goh-reng
Fried rice nasi goreng nah-see goh-reng
Chicken fried rice nasi goreng ayam nah-see goh-reng ah-yahm
Vegetable sayur sah-yoor
Salad sayuran sah-yoor-ahn
Cheese keju keh-joo
Butter mentega muhn-teh-gah
Eggs telur teh-loohr
Tofu tahu tah-hoo
Chili sauce saus sambal sah-oos sahm-bahl
Fruit buah boo-ah (aspirated h)
Fruit plate buah buah han boo-ah boo-ah hahn
Coconut kelapa keh-lah-pah
Young coconut (whole) kelapa muda keh-lah-pah moo-dah
Mango mangga mohng-gah
Banana bisang bee-sang
Potato kantang kahn-tahng
Carrot ortol ohr-tohl

Some drinks:

English Bahasa Pronunciation
Water air ahy-yoor
Drinking water air minum ahy-yoor mee-noom
Drinking water (slang) aqua ah-kwah
Bottle botol boh-tohl
Coffee kopi koh-pee
Tea teh teh
Beer bir beer
Milk susu suh
Coconut water air kelapa ahy-yoor keh-lah-pah
Ice es ess

You’ll often want to ask for cold water, you’ll want some black pepper, or check if something is sour.

English Bahasa Pronunciation
Hot (temp) panas pah-nahs
Cold (temp) dingin deeng-in
Sugar gula goo-lah
Salt garam gah-rahm
Black pepper merica hitam meh-ree-cha hee-tahm
Sweet manis mah-nees
Salty asin ah-seen
Sour asam ah-sahm
Tasteless tawar tah-wahr

Since tap water may get you sick, sometimes it is safe to tell them to not use ice:

English Bahasa Pronunciation
Don’t (command) jangan jahng-ahn
Use pakai pah-kayee
Don’t use ice jangan pakai es jahng-ahn pah-kayee ess

And finally – my most useful Bahasa phrase. I use it every time I sit down at a restaurant and waiters/waitresses will often ask the chef or will give you their opinion on what’s the tastiest. I’ve had some incredible meals this way and I had absolutely no idea what I was ordering until I learned more Bahasa words.

English Bahasa Pronunciation
What’s the most delicious thing here? yang mana paling enak? yahng mah-nah pah-leeng eh-nahk?

Animals

You’ll probably want to refer to animals you aren’t likely to eat…

Animal statue

English Bahasa Pronunciation
Dog anjing ahn-jeeng
Cat kucing koo-cheeng
Monkey monyet mohn-yeht
Naughty monkey monyet nakal mohn-yeht nah-kahl
Sweet dog anjing manis ahn-jeeng mah-nees

Note that sweet (manis) can be used with animals, women, and sauces but cannot be used for men, doing so is an effeminate insult.

Numbers

Once you learn 1-10, the teens, a hundred, a thousand, and a million you will be able to say just about every number.

English Bahasa Pronunciation
1 satu sah-tooh
2 dua doo-ah
3 tiga tee-gah
4 empat em-paht
5 lima lee-ma
6 enam nahm (e is silent)
7 tujuh too-joo
8 delapan deh-lah-pahn
9 sembilan sem-bee-lahn
10 sepuluh seh-pooh-looh

The teens are from 11-19 which are trickier. The word “belas” is used as “teen”. Bahasa shortens “one” to “a”, such as “a hundred”, or “a month” instead of “one hundred” or “one month”. Interestingly this also applies to 11 – “one teen” is “a teen” – sebelas instead of satu belas, but 12 is two teen, 13 is three teen, and familiarly 14-19 is four teen to nine teen.

English Bahasa Pronunciation
11 sebelas seh-bloss
12 dua belas duah bloss
13 tiga belas tee-gah bloss
19 sembilan belas sem-bee-lahn bloss

20-99 is pretty straightforward. 20 is “dua puluh” which literally means “two ten”. Just as you would say “Two hundred” or “Two thousand”, you say “Two ten”. 21 is “two ten one”.

Hundred is ratus. Just like “11”, “one hundred” gets special treatment. Instead of “satu ratus” one says “seratus”.

English Bahasa Pronunciation
20 dua puluh duah pooh-looh
21 dua puluh satu duah pooh-looh sah-tooh
22 dua puluh dua duah pooh-looh duah
30 tiga puluh tee-gah pooh-looh
40 empat puluh em-paht pooh-looh
99 sembilan blas sembilan sem-bee-lahn blahs sem-bee-lahn
100 seratus seh-rah-toos
101 seratus satu seh-rah-toos sah-tooh
115 seratus lima bilas seh-rah-toos lee-mah bloss
555 lima ratus lima puluh lima lee-mah rah-toos lee-mah bloss lee-mah

Thousand is ribu – “ree-boo”. This is very common since the IDR (Indonesian Rupiah) is always in the thousands. Million is “juta”. Unlike 100 (seratus) and 1,000 (seribu), some people say “satu juta”, some shorten it to “sejuta”. It seems to be a personal preference thing.

English Bahasa Pronunciation
1,000 ribu ree-boo
1,111 seribu seratus sebilas seh-ree-boo seh-rah-toos se-blahs
2,000 dua ribu duah ree-boo
1,000,000 sejuta / satu juta seh-joo-tah / sah-too joo-tah

Time

Sunset

English Bahasa Pronunciation
Today hari ini hah-ree ee-nee (literally this day)
Tomorrow besok beh-sock
Yesterday kemarin keh-mah-reen
Now sekarang seh-kah-rahng
Later nanti nahn-tee
Not yet belum bloom or buh-loom
Every day setiap hari seh-tee-ahp hah-ree
Hour jam jahm
Day hari hah-ree
Month (moon) bulan booh-lahn
Year tahun tah-hoon
5 o’clock jam lima (hour five) jahm-lima
6 o’clock jam enam jahm-nahm
When kapan kah-pahn
What time is it? Jam berapa jahm beh-rah-pah
In 3 days tiga hari lagi tee-gah hah-ree lah-gee
3 days ago tiga hari yang lalu tee-gah hah-ree yahng-lah-looh

Tip: Times in the future use “lagi” – again/another and times in the past use yang lalu – “which passed”. Think of it like saying “In another three days” and “Three days have passed since”

For vs For

In English you can say “for two days” (duration) and “for fun” (purpose), but these are distinct words in Bahasa.

English Bahasa Pronunciation
For (purpose) untuk oohn-toohk
For (duration) selama suh-lah-mah

Some examples in sentences:

English Bahasa
I am staying in Bali saya tinggal di Bali
I am staying in north Bali saya tinggal di Bali utara
I am going to north Bali saya pergi ke Bali utara
I am staying in north Bali for three days saya tinggal di Bali utara selama tiga hari (during three days)
I am staying in north Bali for the purpose of learning Bahasa saya tinggal di Bali utara untuk belajar Bahasa Indonesia
I am staying in north Bali to learn Bahasa saya tinggal di Bali utara untuk belajar Bahasa Indonesia (same as previous sentence)

Grammar & Sentences

Now that we know some words, we can form more complex sentences. Most sentences are of the following structure

Time + person + verb + subject + adjective

Adjectives and adverbs go after words, so “this morning” is “morning this” and “tasty food” is “food tasty”. An example in a sentence:

English Bahasa Literal translation
This morning I want delicious breakfast Pagi ini saya mau makan pagi enak morning / this / I / want / meal / morning / tasty

Once you form your first sentence Bahasa some people will automatically assume you speak it really well. This can be really intimidating when they start quickly speaking to you in Bahasa. It’s handy to tell people you only speak / understand a little bit, to recognize when someone is asking if you speak Bahasa, or to ask a shop keeper if they can speak English / Spanish / whatever. I found myself using these variants nearly every day to explain how it is I spoke Bahasa. In fact, I used it so often that one girl I met accused me of only knowing how to speak these few sentences since she heard me say it three times to three different people in a span of two minutes.

English Bahasa Pronunciation
Understand mengarti mung-ahr-tee
Speak bicara bee-char’ra
Able (to) bisa bee-sa
Can dapat dah-paht
Language bahasa bah-hah-sah
Indonesia Indonesia in-do-neh-see-yah
England Inggris Eeng-grees
A little bit sedikit-sedikit sdee-kit sdee-kit

Some useful examples

English Bahasa Literal Translation
I am from England Saya dari Inggris I / from / England
I can understand Bahasa Saya bisa mengarti Bahasa Indonesia I / able / understand / language / Indonesia
Can you speak English? Anda bisa bicara Bahasa Inggris? You / able / speak / language / England?
I can speak a little bit of Bahasa Saya bisa bicara Bahasa Indonesia sedikit-sedikit I / able / speak / language / Indonesia / little / little
I’ve been able to speak Bahasa for two months saya bisa bicara Bahasa Indonesia selama dua bulan I / able / speak / language / Indonesia / during / two / month
Speak slowly please pilan-pilan slow / slow
Can you say that again? lagi? again?
Speak slowly please, I’ve only been learning to speak Bahasa for the past 7 days pilan-pilan, saya hanya belajar bicara bahasa Indonesia selama tujuh hari slow / slow / I / only / learn / speak / language / Indonesia / during / seven / day
I taught myself saya belajar sendiri I / learn / alone
My friend taught me teman saya belajar saya friend / me / teach / me

People & Respect

Respect is an important element of Bahasa Indonesia. There is not one word for “man” or “woman”, there are three levels. These are equivalent to boy / guy / man and girl / lady / woman. Always use the most formal form when speaking to someone older or respected – or when you’re just not sure. Use the lowest form with children or with close friends. Indonesian men also use the least formal when saying “look at that hot girl” just as many American men do. For some reason some of these words always have emphasis unlike other Bahasa words, I’ve capitalized the emphasis I hear.

Formality Male Female
Most formal laki-laki (lah-kee lah-kee) perempuan (peh-rem-poo-ahn)
Mid formal pria (pree-ah) wanita (wah-nee-tah)
Least formal cowok (choh-wohk) cewek (cheh-whek)

Similarly the words for I and you are different based on context, and there are two levels of formality.

Formality I You
Formal saya (sah-yah) anda (ahn-dah)
Informal aku (ah-koo) kamu (kah-moo)

In general you should always use saya or anda unless the person you are talking to starts to use aku and kamu with you. Even then, they might be using it because you are younger or they see themselves as being more respected so using “kamu” might be insulting. Stick to saya & anda unless it’s with close friends around your age or when speaking to little kids.

More Vocabulary

Starting to get the hang of this? You’ll want to know how to talk about people & travel next…

People

My friends

You’ll frequently hear these words in casual conversation.

English Bahasa Pronunciation
Pretty (for a woman) cantik chahn-teek
Cute / Handsome (for a man) ganteng gahn-tahng
Funny lucu loo-choo
Like suka soo-kah
Crazy gila gee-lah
Stupid bodoh boh-doh
Naughty (like a naughty monkey) nakal nah-kahl
Naughty monkey monyet nakal mohn-yeht nah-kahl
Girlfriend / boyfriend pacar pah-char’r
Friend teman teh-mahn
My friend teman saya teh-mahn sah-yah
Your girlfriend / boyfriend pacar anda pah-char’r ahn-dah
Love (romantic) cinta cheen-tah
Kiss cium chee-oom
Hug paluk pah-look

Tip: Be careful to not jokingly call someone a “naughty girl” as that basically means prostitute. Also, make sure to call a man “ganteng” instead of “kantang” or you’re saying he looks like a potato instead of calling him handsome.

Examples:

English Bahasa Pronunciation
You are very beautiful. anda cantik sekali ahn-dah chahn-teek skah-lee
Yesterday I kissed your friend kemarin saya cium teman anda kuh-mah-reen sah-yah chee-oom teman ahn-dah
I want to kiss you saya mau cium anda sah-yah ma-oo chee-oom ahn-dah
You’re crazy anda gila ahn-dah gee-lah

Tip: Don’t use cinta to say that you love Nutella – that means something entirely different as I embarrassingly found out. cinta is reserved for romantic love between two people, not as a replacement for “like a lot” (suka sekali), otherwise you are almost saying you want to make love to the bottle of Nutella.

Travel

Gunung

You will quickly learn that people ask you where you are from and where you are going. It’s really handy to be able to tell them where you’ve been, what you’re doing here, and your next few destinations. Bonus points for using sentences.

English Bahasa Pronunciation
go pergi pur’r-gee
go to pergi ke pur’r-gee kuh
walk jalan jah-lahn
walk around / go for a stroll jalan-jalan jah-lahn jah-lahn
travel bepergian (notice the pergi) beh-purr-gee-ahn
return kembali kehm-bah-lee
car mobil moh-beel
motorbike motor moh-tohr’r
beautiful / scenic
(for places, not people)
indah een-dah
here di sini dee see-nee
there di sana dee sah-nah
north utara ooh-tah-rah
south selatan slah-tahn
east timor tee-moor’r
west barat bah-raht
middle/central tengah tuhn-gah

Examples:

English Bahasa Literal Translation
I am going to west Bali saya pergi ke Bali barat I / go / Bali / west
Three days ago I came here tiga hari yang lalu saya datang ke di sini three / day / which have passed / i / arrive / to / here
In three days I will return tiga hari lagi saya kembali three / day / again / I / return
Where are you going? mau ke mana? want / to / where?

This last one confuses me a bit since it literally means “want to where?” but you’ll definitely hear it a LOT. I was surprised at how often I was asked and started to feel like people were being a bit nosy. Don’t worry though, people are asking because they care (especially hotel staff). If anything happens to you they want to know where they can find you, they’re not going to follow you to steal your stuff or to pry. There are very no police in Balinese villages and almost no crime because everyone knows where everyone else is going and where they’ve been.

English Bahasa Pronunciation
Where are you from? anda dari mana ahn-dah dah-ree mah-nah?
Where are you from? (informal) kamu dari mana kah-moo dah-ree mah-nah?
What is your name? siapa nama anda? see-ah-pah nah-mah ahn-dah?
From dari dah-ree
I am from America saya dari Amerika sah-yah dah-ree ah-meh-ree-kah
I am from Sweden saya dari Swedia sah-yah dah-ree swee-dee-uh
I am from France saya dari Perencis sah-yah dah-ree peh-ren-chees
(sounds like “Frenchies”)
My name is Michael nama saya Michael nah-mah sah-yah mah-ee-kul

As you drive and walk around Indonesia you’re bound to see this:

English Bahasa Pronunciation
Caution / be careful! Hati-hati hah-tee hah-tee

Note that this looks like a plural but “hati” means heart and the street signs are most definitely not saying “hearts”!

And finally, these two words should adequately describe the weather in Indonesia…

English Bahasa Pronunciation
Rain hujan hoo-jahn
Hot panas pah-nahs

Some more handy words

Babi Guling

From memory, these are many words that I found useful in day to day conversation.

English Bahasa Pronunciation
Know tahu tah-hu
I don’t know tidak tahu tee-dock tah-hu
Holiday liburan lee-boo-rahn
Only hanya hahn-ya
Meet bertemu ber-teh-moo
With dengan dung-ahn
Keep going terus troos
Keep walking straight jalan terus jah-lan tross
Place tempat tehm-paht
Enough cukup choo-koop
Relax santai sahn-ta-ee
Both /
the two of them /
the two of you
berdua behr-doo-ah
The three of these bertiga behr-tee-ga
Lazy malas mah-lahs
Learn belajar blah-jahr
Room kamar kah-mahr
To shower / bathe mandi mahn-dee
Bathroom (room with shower) kamar mandi kah-mahr mahn-dee
Help tolong toh-lohng
Have punia pooh-nee-ya
After that sesuda itu seh-soo-dah ee-too
Word kata kah-tah
Words kata-kata kah-tah
Look lihat lee-hat

Useful in a hotel

English Bahasa
Can I look at a few rooms? bisa saya lihat beberapa kamar?
Hot water? Air panas?
I’ll take it
(OK, I want it)
Baik, saya mau.
I will say for __ nights saya tinggal __ malam
Do you accept credit cards?
(Am I able to use a credit card?)
saya pakai kartu kredit?

Comprehension via Literal Translation

To tie it all together, it’s useful to see some full sentences and break them down into literal English translations to better reveal the grammar. Once you understand the grammar you’ll be surprised at how you can string together words and successful form sentences. I’ll list some handy phrases and their literal english translations so you can get a feel for it. There are some other useful new words mixed in as well.

English Bahasa
May I please have two cold waters? minta dua air minum dingin?
Three days ago tiga hari yang lalu
Three days ago I arrived / came tiga hari yang lalu saya datang
Three days ago I arrived / came here tiga hari yang lalu saya datang di sini
I take photos saya ambil foto
I want to take photos. saya mau ambil foto
I want to take many photos saya mau ambil banyak foto
Tomorrow I want to take many photos besok saya mau ambil banyak foto
Tomorrow I want to take many photos of monkeys besok saya mau ambil banyak foto monyet
Tomorrow I want to take many photos of naughty monkeys besok saya mau ambil banyak foto monyet nakal
Tomorrow I want to go to east bali besok saya mau pergi ke bali timur
Tomorrow I want to go to east bali to take many photos of naughty monkeys besok saya mau pergi ke bali timur untuk ambil banyak foto monyet nakal

In this case we don’t say monyet-monyet to say monkeys, think of it as “Many monkey photos”, the many applies to “photo”, and it’s clear to the speaker that there are multiple monkeys.

Monyet

Advanced: Prefixes and suffixes

Bahasa makes heavy use of prefixes and suffixes. I wasn’t there long enough learn them all but it makes understanding words in context easy. If you listen for a root word you can often understand what someone is saying. If you learn one word, you can often comprehend a dozen! Don’t worry about what each of these prefixes and suffixes do to the word, just focus on the root word. If you ever hear “something… ajar …something” it has something to do with teaching or learning which, given some practice and context, will let you understand complex sentences given a small vocabulary. An example of this in English is “Develop”, “Developing”, “Development”, “Redevelop”, etc.

“Ajar” Variant Bahasa
ajar teach
ajaran teachings
belajar to learn
mengajar to teach
diajar being taught
mempelajari to study
dipelajari being studied
pelajar student
pengajar teacher
pelajaran subject
pengajaran lesson, moral of story
pembelajaran learning
terajar accidentally taught
terpelajar well-educated
berpelajaran is educated

Let’s look at a useful example of this, -an. Appending “-an” to a verb turns it into a noun.

English Bahasa Pronunciation
Eat (verb) Makan mah-kahn
Food (noun) Makanan mah-kahn-ahn
Drink (verb) Minum mee-noom
Drink (noun) Minuman mee-noom-ahn

Advanced: No, not yet, isn’t, don’t, forbidden, NEIN!

Bahasa has many ways of saying no, and you can’t just throw tidak in front of things like you can use “no” in Spanish.

Belum
English Bahasa Meaning & Usage
Tidak “no”, “not” (to negate verbs and adjectives) and “never”
Bukan “is not” – used to say A is not B (I am not from Canada)
Jangan “do not” – used to tell someone not to do something
Dilarang “don’t do that” / “forbidden”
You’ll often see it on signs along side “hati-hati”
“not yet”.

Belum is the tricky one. This was the source of much confusion for me. If someone asks if you have a girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband, replying with “tidak” is the equivalent of saying that you will never have one, as tidak means “never” as well as “no”. You should instead say “belum” (not yet). Similarly, if someone asks if you are hungry, you say belum – not yet, or you are saying you are never hungry. Be wary of this or you will confuse native speakers.

Advanced: Colloquial Indonesian & Shortening

I didn’t learn from a book and I wrote down words as I learned them. I was surprised to later find out that many of the words I wrote down were not in the dictionary! What was going on?

It turns out that Indonesians like to shorten commonly used words, just as english uses “cuz” for both “because” and “cousin”. Tidak ada (I don’t have) becomes tiada, bapak (father) becomes pak, aku (I) becomes ku, kamu (you) becomes mu. Even when words aren’t shortened in that manner, the first “e” in many words is often skipped. Selamat is often pronounced “slah-maht”, selama is often pronounced “slah-mah” instead of “suh-lah-mah” and sedikit (little) is pronounced “sdee-keet” instead of “suh-deeh-keet”.

Conclusion

Congratulations, you’ve made it to the end! This concludes my conversational Bahasa survival guide. With some practice, you’ll be able to communicate entirely in Bahasa during your travels.

Special thanks to Carpediem Ayu for patiently and masterfully explaining subtle grammar and spelling details to me, Astri Candrarini for forcing me to Skype her to practice spoken Bahasa, Jessy Eykendorp for showing me around Bali and introducing me to so many amazing new friends / native speakers, and the countless other new friends who put up with my broken language skills and helped me along the way.

Gusti says: “Anda dapat belajar bisa bicara Bahasa Indonesia!”

Gusti

Suggestions? Improvements? Corrections? Leave a reply below!