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Mimi + Marge Blog

Learning Indonesian

Learning Indonesian

You know that person that can pick up a language right away? That seems to absorb grammar and vocabulary just by listening? Well, that is not me. When I first worked in Bali, I convinced myself that I lacked the aptitude to learn Indonesian, that it would be nothing but an exercise in frustration. Then, one long and boring ride back to where I was staying, the driver asked me something in Indonesian. I replied that I did not speak any Indonesian. He said, 'Shame on you. Don’t be lazy and learn the basics.'

He was right. We had hours of grid-lock traffic, so that is where and when I started. Afterwards, I set a goal to try and practice at every encounter with a native speaker. I learned polite greetings. Numbers and directions followed. My basic greetings and thanks were very much appreciated. Most locals could see I was hopeless but trying. Vocabulary for food was much easier to learn than anything else as I love Indonesian food and eating in small local restaurants. If it was delicious, I could remember the name!

This first foray into learning Indonesian was only the beginning. Indonesia has over 700 different distinctive languages, Bahasa Indonesia being most widely spoken. Indonesian is heavy on slang, shortened words, and is spoken at a rapid-fire pace. This led to confusion when I was first learning and I often felt like I was constantly back at square one. My first assumption that learning Indonesian would be frustrating? I was not wrong. 

I decided to put more effort into learning Indonesian as spoken in the area I work in and hired a local tutor, Dwi. Dwi was born and raised in Bali and studied English literature. Instead of choosing the regular traditional path, she  started her own language/tutor business and has built herself a house. This is not the cultural norm in Bali. It is no surprise she is in demand; she is the most patient and kind tutor, and after ten years I call her a dear friend. With Dwi’s help, I learn not just the language, but the customs and history of Indonesia. Culture and language go hand in hand. Send me a message if you need an Indonesian tutor.

Dwi, my wonderful tutor.

Learning Indonesian has become important to me; as a tool for better understanding Balinese culture, as a show of respect to my wonderful Balinese artisans and friends, and as a personal challenge. I continue to try. I continue to get it wrong. (Sometimes very wrong!) But it has been fun to learn Indonesian and has deepened my connection to my second home.

Learning a new language has been a slow process for me. I try to remind myself that beautiful things take time. Our silversmiths all spent long periods doing nothing but polishing silver before they were able to move on to more complex steps of jewelry making. My polishing phase has perhaps been a little longer than others’, but I know that if I persist there is delicate detail work in my future.