By Jeff Hutton. Indonesia Expat Newsletter 25 Feb 2013
Finding quality Indonesian classes is surprisingly tough in the nation’s capital. And as interest grows it may get tougher.
Back in 2006, when he was teaching English at a Jakarta high school, Desmond Breau did what many expatriates in the capital get around to eventually: he sought out an Indonesian language teacher. And then he sought out another; and then another.
Finding a language tutor, it turns out, was the easy part. But outside Yogyakarta, where Indonesian language instruction is well established, finding a teacher with a rigorous curriculum is tougher.
“I asked the Director of the high school where I was teaching, where can I get a serious education in Indonesian?” recalls Breau.
The options, he was told: Either go to Yogyakarta or enrol at the University of Indonesia, where lesson times are numerous and inflexible and the semesters lengthy. “I found it really discouraging.”
Jakarta’s mainly specialized base of expatriates – a mainly professional and government linked bunch with busy jobs, a huge pool of private tutors and a general indifference to Indonesian as a language has crimped the supply of high quality schools in the country’s capital. As Indonesian authorities ratchet up language requirements to secure work permits and neighbouring countries like Australia do a better job at promoting Indonesian than authorities in Jakarta, demand will grow, experts predict.
Amazingly, though, specialized Indonesian language courses are still tough to find. Breau and business partner Rahdian Saepuloh eventually set up Language Studies Indonesia after hitting up some Canadian investors and spending 18 months to devise their own curriculum. They claim that when they started taking students in 2007 they were the first commercial Indonesian language school in Jakarta specializing in the language. That’s tough to verify, but Google searches even now turn up few direct competitors that make their money only by teaching Indonesian.
The biggest headache right now, the pair say, is the challenge of finding teachers with what Breau calls leadership ability. With a staff of 15 instructors Saepuloh and Breau say they need two more immediately. They’ve interviewed more than 40 candidates over three weeks and still haven’t found anyone suitable.
“Every single teacher I’ve had was incredibly nice. And if you tell them you want to be able to speak to your driver they’ll tell you what to say,” says Breau.
"I don’t want a nice person. I want a teacher".
Saepuloh says developing the school’s curriculum was a learning experience for him, challenging notions that just because Indonesian was his language it didn’t mean he could teach it. It also laid bare for him just how little anyone else was doing to promote and protect his language.
"When you come to the airport in Milan, what are the first words you see? Italian, right? When you come to the airport in Jakarta you see English".
For most Indonesians, in Jakarta their common language is the standardized product cobbled together by the Dutch in the 1920s with roots in Malay. For many here it’s a second or third tongue, varying significantly from what’s spoken in their hometowns such as Javanese or Sundanese, explains Lilie Suratminto. Suratminto has been a lecturer for 30 years at the University Indonesia of Dutch language and culture and Indonesian language teacher for foreign students.
Lilie organized University Indonesia’s first international conference for Indonesian language teachers in 2010. He says many here treat Indonesian with no great love, merely a tool to get by with someone from another part of the country. “Indonesian language speakers pick it up early on at school or through daily life and, honestly, many wonder why foreigners don’t do the same”, Lilie says. With no real government plan to promote the language, English loan words proliferate and teaching standards are tough to nail down. “You can learn it from anybody, they think.”
“Many people are not proud of their own language,” says Lilie, who comes from central Java and speaks Javanese with his family. “There’s English, English everywhere. I want people to appreciate Indonesian.”
That benign neglect is at odds with government requirements for Indonesian language regulations for Kitas work permits and the increasingly broad study of the language in neighbouring Australia.
Nia Indrakusuma has been the Director of Berlitz Jakarta languages schools since 2007. She says about a quarter of Berlitz’s students study Indonesian, the rest mostly study English. She’s betting a bigger proportion of her students will want to study the national language. Trouble is the government doesn’t say what they want the schools to teach.
“We regularly get requests for letters to accompany kitas applications,” Indrakusuma says. “If they enforce the rules more they should give us guidelines.”
Students considering a school or a teacher should insist on an outline of the curriculum and the methods. “The curriculum needs to build in stages and be continuous,” Saepuloh says.
Most teachers will come from a background of English training. Ask about their experience. “It’s the first thing every client asks me. They want to know the qualifications of the teachers,” says Breau.
Good schools seek feedback and should be able to show it to prospective students and teachers should be able to tell you what you can express after each course level. After 30 one-and-a-half-hour meetings at Berlitz a student should be able to go to the doctor and employ survival Indonesian on a daily basis. Language Studies offer flexible tutorial time slots and a curriculum that runs 156 hours of training from beginner to advanced.
Anyone with more time on their hands may consider studying at University Indonesia where classes run over three semesters, Monday to Friday starting at 8am until midday.
Breau at LSI expects the school to grow. Last year the school had 10 teachers. In 12 months they hope to have as many as 25 teachers leading students aiming to make the most out of their stay in Indonesia.
Without any direction from cultural officials in ministries of education and elsewhere, the schools are on their own.
“When anyone signs up for classes they need to feel they are getting somewhere,” says Breau. “We are advocates for the language.”