The Uproute Guide To Learning Bahasa Indonesia

Posted in the Uproute Blog on Jul 17, 2016

Indonesians absolutely love foreigners speaking their language.

It should go without saying, but a tiny effort in the language department goes an extraordinarily long way when you’re visiting any new country. This seems to be doubly true in Indonesia. Even by learning just a few little words and phrases in Bahasa Indonesia, you can guarantee yourself better service, hospitality and respect if you show the locals a little respect by using their own tongue. Even if you only greet people in Bahasa, and say please and thank-you in Bahasa, that elevates you above 90% of the non-effort-making travelers passing through the country. Easy!

Of course, nobody expects you to be fluent, but you can still make yourself a respectful visitor by learning a few key phrases. Here's our absolute beginner's guide to Bahasa Indonesia!

Most pronunciation is phonetic, with a few notable exceptions.

A few rules to go by:

  • ‘c’ is always pronounced ‘ch’
  • Roll your ‘r’s
  • Vowels can change pronunciation a lot.

If you get the pronunciation wrong don’t worry, they’ll correct you! It’s the effort that counts.

Call everyone you talk to sir or madam at the end of each sentence.

Use Pak (sir) and Ibu (ma’am) to address everyone you meet. You’ll seem courteous, polite, and culturally aware in the company of your hosts. Litter your conversation with lots of sirs and ma’ams for maximum effect!

You might need to learn more than one language...

Bahasa Indonesia is most Indonesian’s second language. They’re more likely to speak the local language or dialect at home and with friends, and only use Bahasa when they’re doing business or shopping or something else involving strangers. For example, in Bali, most people speak Balinese at home, which is a complicated language for a foreigner to understand. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try!

Ok, time to learn some words and phrases!

Important Note: This guide is designed for spoken Bahasa Indonesia only... So all spellings are phonetic!

Minta apakah kita bisa bicarra Bahasa Ingris [pak / ibu]?
Please may we speak in English [pak / ibu]?
Ma’af [pak / ibu], saya tidak bisa bicarra Bahasa Indonesia!
Sorry [sir / madam] I don’t speak Indonesian!
Minta kami makan siang?
May we have some lunch?
It’s good to say this when you enter a restaurant, as it isn’t always obvious as to why you’re there (most places offer other services too, such as laundry or accomdation). Switch out siang for ‘pagi’ or ‘melam’ to ask for breakfast or dinner respectively.
Minta dua Bintang besa
Two large Bintangs please
Minta satu lagi!
Same again, please!
Literally ‘please may I have one again’, so if you want to order two of the same, use ‘minta dua lagi’, and so on.
Suda punya terimah kasih.
I already have one thanks.
An easy and polite way to decline an unwanted offer of a bracelet, snorkelling trip, massage, etc.
Minta dua juta Rupia munggunakan visa?
Please may I have 2 million Rupia using a visa card?
This one is very useful at a money exchanger (you can sometimes get a better rate than at an ATM).
Sampai jumpa lagi
See you later!
Literally means ‘see you again’. Never say goodbye to anyone — they’ll find it rude!
Boleh saya tawar [pak / ibu]?
May I bargain [sir / ma’am]?
Great one to use at the start of a haggling session. Be aware that the person you’re dealing with might say ‘tidak!’ (no). Some things (like fuel) are fixed price and can’t be haggled over.
Thank you (in Balinese)
To which they’ll say ‘mo-ali’.
Dimana anda tinggal?
Where are you staying?
Expect to be asked this all the time! Usually, this is just small talk, so it’s ok to say ‘Saya tinggal di sudut’ which means ‘I’m staying around the corner’.

There you go! All you need to know to be in the know next time you're in Indonesia... Remember, it's the effort that counts, so don't be afraid to have a go and learn by doing. It's often the best way!

Good luck, and enjoy!

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