Tips for Learning Bahasa Indonesia (Collected from the students of Language Studies Indonesia)

Here at LANGUAGE STUDIES INDONESIA (LSI), we've worked with thousands of Jakarta Expats over the years, and, by way of our Online Distance Learning Programme, we've worked with thousands more throughout Indonesia and the world.


One of the best things about working with 'adult learners' (as LSI does primarily) is that, unlike children, adults have some understanding of how they learn best. And, today, we'd like to share with you the 7 most common language learning tips we've received from our adult students over the last few years.


We hope you'll find these tips helpful. And, if you have other tips you think might be useful to Indonesian language learners, please be sure to share them with us so that we can include them in our future posts. We can always use more help.

1.  THE BEGINNING IS THE MOST EXCITING PART


It's essential that you get yourself totally addicted to Bahasa Indonesia when your enthusiasm is high at the very beginning  . . . and the best way to do this is to study very intensively when you start out!


There’s nothing like tackling a new language and learning how to actually say stuff!  It can be such a rush - it can be totally addicting.


Many of our Jakarta Expats spend 2, 3 or 4 weeks studying the language full-time (maybe 20 to 30 hours a week) before starting their new job. Typically, after "staying in the language" continuously for 2 or more weeks and studying to the point of "brain melt", these students experience a real "high" as they realise they've mastered basic communication in a very short period of time!  This "high "gives their future language development unstoppable momentum when they start their new jobs. By their first day of work, they're already truly "into Bahasa Indonesia" - they're already "totally addicted" to communicating in a new language!


For those of you who simply can't undertake full-time language study before settling into your new job post, the principle remains the same:  Study as intensively as you can when you start out.


You might need to work every day but, still, set aside as many hours as you possibly can each week for language study (during your workday or in the evening and on weekends), particularly in the beginning.


You’ll learn much more if you have lessons 5 days a week than you will if you have lessons 3 days a week. And you'll learn much more having lessons 3 days a week than you will having lessons 2 days a week . . . and just remember, the fewer lessons you take each week, the less chance there is that you'll ever truly ever experience that "rush" that comes with learning to communicate effectively in a foreign tongue.


It’s amazing how much Bahasa Indonesia you can learn in just a few days. It’s also amazing how much you can forget in just a few days. So, study as frequently as you possibly can in the beginning, to ensure that your new language "sticks" with you.

This is the only way that you'll ever progress quickly enough to experience the "high" - the "additive quality" - of language learning.


2.  FOLLOW YOUR INTERESTS

Even if you’re utterly excited about this new language learning journey you’ve embarked on, it will likely, at some point, begin to feel like a chore. To avoid these doldrums, the best advice from our LSI students is that you find ways to incorporate your studies into the things you’re already interested in.


For some, that’s reading. We have students who like to read Indonesian historical novels, and others who like to grapple with the newspaper each morning over breakfast. We also have students who are not ardent readers but are huge fans of Indonesian blogs! They claim that reading blogs is helpful because they’re usually written in a very colloquial manner. Bloggers tend to write the same way they speak, so the reader can develop her/his speaking skills without worrying about special Indonesian terms that are only used in writing.


Many students say that Indonesian movies are an excellent learning tool, especially if the movies have Indonesian subtitles. Although, annoyingly, subtitles don’t always match up exactly with what’s being said, they still keep your brain listening and reading in the same language.


Enjoying Indonesian Music is another way that some students improve your Bahasa Indonesia listening skills. This method isn't great for students who have trouble understanding song lyrics (even in their native tongue), but we have  many former students who report that listening to local artists was instrumental (pardon the pun) in their language development.


Whatever you interests, perusing them in "Bahasa Indonesia" will surely make your language studies more relevant to your daily life . . . and, at the same time, speed up your language acquisition markedly!


3.  SET CONCRETE CHALLENGES

When the initial excitement of learning Bahasa Indonesia begins to fade, it can be hard to stick with it. Once you've become comfortable enough with the language to understand most things and to make yourself understood, it's often difficult to maintain your motivation to learn. Students tell us that it's very frustrating to be stuck at this stage. On the one hand, they know that their Bahasa Indonesia is pretty solid, but, on the other hand, they know they're speaking like toddlers and that their language skills are not improving.


What's the answer if you're starting to become complacent with your language learning CHALLENGE YOURSELF!


When we speak with our students, they don't give us one single answer on HOW one should challenge her/himself. (Our students have different lifestyles, so they must each seek out ways to challenge themselves based on the context of your own individual lives.)


But there's one thing that all of our students agree on: To really challenge yourself, you must constantly seek out situations which require you to speak the language, regardless of how awkward and/or uncomfortable those situations may be.


If you're a timid person, you may be tempted to just learn a language in the safety of my own home, all alone where no one can hear your mistakes and make fun of you. The problem is, of course, that you'll never achieve your language goals in this way!

No, you must seize every opportunity you can to get out into the community and USE your language. You can go to lectures and open forums being hosted by Indonesian scholars; you can attend Indonesian cultural events; you can accept all invitations to social gatherings, even when you know you'll be the only foreigner in attendance; you can go to every wedding you're invited to;  you can go to every circumcision you're invited to; and, when someone at your office is returning to her/his rustic village for the weekend, you can ask to tag along with them.


DON'T BE SHY! Just get out there! You'll never progress if you keep yourself cooped up in your apartment building, sitting on a partitioned compound, separated from the real world by security gates!

Put your textbook aside, hit the road, and USE your language!  Speak with people! CHALLENGE YOURSELF!

4.  TRAVEL INDONESIA

If you're living in Indonesia, there are some 17,000 islands available to you, and there are cheap flights to many of them.  As many of our successful students have pointed out, the Indonesian archipelago offers an unparalleled opportunity to spend long weekends on countless "paradise islands" where English completely disappears.

Why not take advantage of your enviable situation? Why not enjoy the sun and the sand on an idyllic island where you'll be compelled to use whatever Bahasa Indonesia you possess? You'll return to work refreshed and happy on Monday . . . and your Indonesian language skills will develop at lightning speed.


5.  TRY TO THINK IN BAHASA INDONESIA

Obviously, this will be difficult if you only know 20 Indonesian words.  But our fastest-learning students tell us they get used to expressing everything they possible can with those few words they do have.

If your native language is unrelated to Bahasa Indonesia, "translation" only leads to awkward and unnatural sentences. This problem will be greatly reduced if you try to "think in Bahasa Indonesia" rather that translate from another language . . . and you'll achieve fluency much more rapidly as well.


6.  KNOW YOUR STRENGTHS - THEN IGNORE THEM

It can be very tempting to only play to your strengths when studying a language.  If you’re good at memorising vocabulary, then you might want to spend all day learning new Indonesian words. Or, if you’re really good with accents, then you might want to focus on mastering the Indonesian accent before you even have any grammar down.

The thing is, the stuff you’re good at is going to improve quite naturally, so you don’t need to worry too much about it. And if you focus all your attention on one aspect of the language, then you might actually slow down your overall progress.

As one student put it recently, "I really love grammar, but I usually actively force myself to ignore it when I’m speaking. Otherwise, I get much too caught up in tiny details that most people won’t even notice."

And the most important learning tip from LSI's students . . .


7.  REMEMBER THAT PEOPLE HAVE DIFFERENT COMMUNICATION SKILLS

This. Is. So. Key.

There’s no better way to kill your confidence than continuously attempting to speak with someone who just can't understand you, or whom you can't understand.

The simple fact is this:  Some people just aren’t great at communicating with foreigners.


You'll meet people who simply don't know how to "dumb down" their language. You can tell them that you don't understand them, but they have difficulty re-stating their thoughts with basic words that you might be familiar with. And there are other Indonesians who really struggle to understand people who speak Bahasa Indonesia with a foreign accent.


So . . . if you have a total "conversation fail" with someone . . . please . . . don’t take it as a sign that you won’t be able to communicate with anyone else! Just find yourself someone else to talk to - someone with better communication skills.

And (sorry if this is sexist), most LSI students report that women tend to be much better at understanding language learners with "broken" Indonesian language skills, and much better at responding in understandable ways.

Is this because women are hardwired to understand little children?  We don't know. We're just reporting our students' findings :)


Do you have any other learning tips that might help Bahasa Indonesia learners? Please let us know. We'd love to share comments with others!


Selamat belajar, happy studying.

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