Learning a language is kid’s play – a review of some Indonesian resources

How exactly does your child teach themselves Indonesian? Well, ideally they’re living in Indonesia and speaking and listening to Indonesian every day. But what if your child doesn’t seem interested in using Indonesian? My now six-year-old son just didn’t want to practice any Indonesian when we first came to live in Bali. Bit by bit he has become interested in learning words and started to enjoy surprising people by using Indonesian unexpectedly. Some of these resources have also helped.

Another activity I love seeing my son involved in is anything he can do by himself (screens aside). We have countless activity books in our house – mazes, dot-to-dots, colour by numbers, colour by stickers, sticker books. You name it we probably have it.

Spanish Club by Rush Sharp and Rosi McNab, published by Collins, 2009. Perfect for starting kids as young as five or six learning Spanish.

Spanish Club by Rush Sharp and Rosi McNab, published by Collins, 2009. Perfect for starting kids as young as five or six learning Spanish.

But where are the activity books for learning Indonesian? We have a fantastic one for Spanish called Spanish Club that regularly gets pulled out and a little bit more gets filled in each time. Most of it gets done without involvement from me and the stickers have been great at giving him confidence with reading before moving on to writing.

If only there was an Indonesian Club!

Here are a few interactive resources we’ve tried out:

Indonesian for Kids Flash Cards and More Indonesian for Kids Flash Cards by Linda Hibbs, Tuttle Publishing.

Indonesian For Kids Flash CardsFlash cards don’t sound particularly exciting but my son loves them. He spreads them out and puts each one on top of its picture on the wall chart (he spreads it out on the floor). There are 64 cards, each one with a picture and printed on strong glossy card. They are very basic words and we found that both our children already knew most of them: colours, numbers especially.

Indonesian flash cardsHe likes them so much I had to buy him the second set which he now plays with as well. He recently quizzed my mother on all 128 words – she did okay. Some of the more advanced words are verbs like melihat, pergi and tutup. It’s a very useful selection of words.

Each set of flash cards is accompanied by a CD which we haven’t used much though some of the songs are good. Before the songs come on, though, there are pronunciation exercises which are not very interesting.

Each set also has a learning guide which has the potential to be a very useful resource. Unfortunately, the format lets it down. It has been printed cheaply in black and white with few images, and in a small size to fit in the box. There are some fun games described but no room for interactive activities. Published in 2009, they are aimed at ages 4–12 and beyond. This has been the best investment I’ve made into Indonesian resources for the children.

My Indonesia-English E-Book made by Earnest Creation Co.Indo-English e-book

So, it looks bright and colourful but it is mostly useless. However, I bought this from Hardy’s Supermarket with only a faint hope it might prove useful. It is mostly in English but with many simple words in Indonesian. There are also recordings and a choice between Indonesian or English language but it is not especially easy to use.

E-book pageWhen I asked my son what words he learnt from it, he said ‘biola’. Yep, not exactly high-frequency words. More like: let’s recycle the pictures for the English words and move them around a bit.

Look at the World: Sea – Lihat Sekelilingmu: Laut, text by Anna Casalis and translated into Indonesian by Gramedia

LautSurprisingly, this has been a big hit in my house. My youngest son regularly chooses it as his bedtime story. As it’s a lift-the-flap encyclopaedia-type book, there is not much story, but there is plenty of scope to read the Indonesian as well as the English words for each item in this book and quiz the kids on all the different words.

Laut pagesI don’t usually read out what is written under the flaps but it’s good practice for me as well, as the explanations are all in Indonesian and use a lot of vocabulary I’m not familiar with.

Kamus Stiker Interaktif by Alf Yogi S, published by BIP part of Gramedia

Interactive Indonesian Sticker Book DictionaryThis is another one I bought at Gramedia and I was excited to find it  (though I still didn’t get my hopes up). My kids love sticker books and I hadn’t seen a single other sticker book for Indonesian. It is all about learning vocab which isn’t a bad thing. There are 360 stickers and each one has to be matched with a word with the colour giving it a clue. The word is written in English, Indonesian and Mandarin.

Interactive Sticker book pagesThe words are in alphabetical order (by English unfortunately) and despite it being repetitive, my son was charging along with this book and maybe even learning a few words along the way. He got up to the letter P, and then the colour of the stickers stopped matching the spot on which to put them and it was all over. He abandoned it and hasn’t looked at it since. Sigh.

The Big Bali Book: Activities for all the family by Tara and Shaan Peckham, 2011

This has a lot of activities in here but not many are suitable for the 4-6 age group. They are mostly letter and word games interspersed with information about Balinese culture, history and geography.

Primary Indonesian Workbook 2 by Kathryn Methven and Lousie Robertson, Five Senses, 1999

If it had been available I would have bought Workbook 1 but I could only find this one. But judging from this workbook it probably wouldn’t have been very interesting for younger children either.

I’ve recently heard of a new book called My Awesome Bali Adventure: A travel journal for kids so look out for a review when I get my hands on a copy.


Names not to have in Indonesia

Following on from my last post about words that look the same in Indonesian and English but have different meanings, here is a list of names that look or sound the same in both languages but mean very different things.

Carlie – it is a very pretty name but it sounds like the Indonesian word for stream. Ooh, that sounds pretty too, you think! Maybe not when you see the globby green-slime covered waterway opposite our house that is our local kali.

Dan – what a lot of people called Dan there are in Indonesia! Hang on, it just means ‘and’.

Gorden – curtain (ok, I’m cheating here as the name is usually spelt Gordon, but it’s very close).

Lucky – why is this not a good name? Well, it’s totally fine actually, unless you’re a girl. More one to keep in mind when it comes to naming your dog, as opposed to your children. But even so, it’s worth knowing you’ll sound like you’re calling out ‘boy!’

Mara – an old family friend has this name, not very common I know. But I can’t help wondering when she visits Bali and is introduced, if people look at her twice and wonder … ‘is she really angry? She doesn’t look marah.’

Marie – the French way of saying this name sounds quite like mari, let’s go or go on then. Thus: ‘Mari Marie!’

Sandysandi kata means password so does it mean your name is a secret?

Summer – while not a widely used name anyway, you still need to be wary as it sounds like an exceptionally common word in Indonesian – sama – which means same or likewise. So introducing yourself as Summer could have people thinking you have the same name as them. ‘What a coincidence! Your name is Wayan too?!’

Tanya – in Indonesia, tanya means to ask, so you could enjoy a laugh with an exchange like this one.

Mau ke mana besok? Tanya Tanya.
[Where do you want to go tomorrow? Ask Tanya.]

Tim – which tim are you part of? One of the many words that Indonesian has taken from English, it means team.

I’m sure I’ve missed many many funny examples of names and words that have different meanings in these two languages. What are some you’ve come across?

Why are there so many bottles of air and cat ovens in Indonesia?

Most languages have these accidental cross overs where one word looks exactly the same, or sounds the same, as a word in another language. But the meaning is quite different. Called heteronyms, these are a few of my favourites from Indonesian to English.

Air – just to be confusing this is indeed one of the elements, and something you can’t live without. Do you breathe it? No, of course not. It means water.

Get mind-body-spirit alignment and top up your mobile phone credit at the same time?

Get mind-body-spirit alignment and top up your mobile phone credit at the same time?

Are – a way to measure land, it is a hundredth of a hectare (10m x 10m). [note: I just found out that this word also exists in English. Who knew!?]

Ban – a tyre and one of several car-related words on this list.

Cap – the first word in the ubiquitous stir-fried vegetable dish, cap cay, it comes from Chinese.

Cat Oven (or Cat Open) – despite the images this name conjures, it is not a place where kittens are baked (or opened). It means a place that can redo your car’s paint job.


A variation on the baked kitten is the open cat (creative spelling at its best). And what could the Poles Body be all about? The mind boggles.

A variation on the baked cat is the open cat (creative Indonesian spelling at its best). And what could the Poles Body be all about? The mind boggles.

Gang – why are there so many gangs in Bali? They even have their own sign posts. Gang means small street.

Got – we have one of these across from our house. A nice big drain.

Jam – I love strawberry jam, mango jam, guava jam. But in Indonesia it’s a different kind of stickiness, it means hour.

Helm – you don’t actually need one of these if you’re at the helm of a boat or plane. But you sure should wear one on a motor bike on these streets. Yep, it’s the underutilised helmet.

Lima – if you resided in the Peruvian capital a situation might conceivably arise where you have to give your address and confusion ensues. At a stretch. But anyway, lima means five.

Big bags of...? Cement. Obviously.

Big bags of…? Cement. Obviously.

Made – one of the most popular names in Bali, you really can say Made in Bali and it would be accurate each time

REM – yep, kind of cheating here with all capitals but otherwise it wouldn’t have made much sense. Rem is another car part, this time it means brake.

Rad – that’s totally rad, man! No it’s not. In Indonesia it means council.

Resort – why are the police in Indonesia always going to resorts? Signs saying Polis Resort are not uncommon but it only means a local division of police. It doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t sun lounges and happy hours though…

Sari – it’s a piece of clothing in India but in Indonesia it means essence. This leads to hotel names like Alam Sari (essence of nature), restaurants named Sari Organik and even health foods like Sari Korma (essence of date).

Yoga sign in Bali

Now, those are two words you don’t normally think of together.

Semen – cement, obviously. Hence the big bags of it.

Tang – ooh yes, that pair of pliers has a nice tang to it.

Tas – in Australia this could be the a shortened form of the picturesque state of my birth. But in Indonesia it’s just a bag.

Yoga – Ubud is well known as a place with more yoga mats per square kilometre than anyway else in the world. But why do all these other little shops have signs with Yoga on them? Some of them are even selling mobile phones. Yoga is a name.

There are sure to be many more that I haven’t thought of. What is your favourite?

The power of punk (and other music) for language learning


A few months ago I came across a song called ‘Aku Lapar’ from Fransoa, a Frenchman living in Bali. Sung to the tune of seventies hit ‘Ca Plane Pour Moi’, he gives a list of 40-odd Indonesian foods accompanied by a punk parody film clip made in a Seminyak restaurant. From nasi goreng to bakso to pepes the list is quite impressive. In place of the original chorus, which means ‘it’s alright for me’, he sings aku lapar (I am hungry).

This song, and the video that goes with it, made me laugh out loud. Why do I like it so much? Many reasons. For a start, the original song by Plastic Bertrand was one of the few foreign language pop songs that was played in Australia in the eighties (it reached number 2 on the Australian charts in 1979), so I have fond memories of it. And it’s already so camp. You couldn’t really take the line ‘I am the king of the divan’ seriously, could you?

The hidden educational value

Also, there’s something about a list song that appeals to me. I’ve written a few myself. One lists 16 fruit and their attributes (in Indonesian); one gives 20 ways to use bamboo. And another gives the names of the major Indonesian islands and cities found on them, in a kind of ‘I’ve been everywhere’ song. I have even written a song for yoga teachers to help them learn the names of poses in Sanskrit. I think the appeal for me is the hidden educational value. If the song is catchy you’ll remember the words. And if you remember the words you’ll have learnt something. I’m pretty sure I learnt some history from Billy Joel’s ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’.

Fransoa Aku Lapar Xtra PedasIn the case of ‘Aku Lapar’ you could learn the names of some Indonesian food. But even more than learning words I admire Fransoa’s creative spirit and his willingness to write and sing in another language. Indonesia could do with more foreigners being creative in Indonesian instead of so often sticking with English (or another language).

Multilingual music

I also like song that’s sung in more than one language. Let’s face it, I’m a language geek so I get a kick out of hearing pop songs sung in other languages, like ‘Las Cosas de la Vida’, an Eros Ramazzotti song which has Italian, Spanish and English versions (the last a duet with Tina Turner no less).

Tarkan Simarik

‘Kiss, Kiss’ was much better in the original Turkish, by the way (Simarik by Tarkan).

A song that mixes languages, an interlingual song you could say, is also something I’m very fond of. Manu Chao does it better than anyone. A well-known example from the early nineties is ‘Amigos Para Siempre’, which was the theme song for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. It featured three languages but it took me until I started studying Catalan at La Trobe University to realise that. I was singing along like everyone else: ‘amigos para siempre means you’ll always be my friend. Duh da da da means our love will never end.’

And if you’re wondering just what those missing words are? Amics per sempre. Yep, exactly the same words as the Spanish (friends forever) just sung in that hard-to-understand-flat-vowels-closed-mouth Catalan way.

Kita Australia

Some years back I was part of a latin choir in Canberra. That’s latin as in viva la fiesta, not as in Gregorian chants. One of the songs we sang was ‘I Am Australian’ by Bruce Woodley and Dobe Newton… in Spanish. Yo soy, tu eres, somos Australianos. I loved singing that. It really felt like we were showing diversity in our community and demonstrating solidarity with all Spanish-speaking Australians.

Indonesian would be a great language into which to translate that song. The chorus fits quite well: ‘Saya, kamu, kita Australia.’ Has anyone done it? Maybe the time is right.

Indonesian early readers captivate kids and teachers

Michelle Dudley, the Australian author of the Our Jakarta Series that was reviewed in an earlier post, graciously agreed to answer my questions about how her series of 30 books came about.

What inspired you to write the Our Jakarta Series? Had you written other books before (or since)?

Michelle Dudley, Yangon, February 2015

Michelle Dudley, Yangon, February 2015

Our Jakarta Series bilingual box setI taught at the British International School Jakarta (BIS) in their very first pre-school in 1993 and 1994 and again from 2003 to 2007, initially part time, then full time in Reception and in Pre-School. The school has a strong focus on early literacy and as a teacher of young children I was always trying to find ways to inspire, challenge and connect real life experiences and the printed word with the young children from many nationalities in my class. The school also had a policy whereby the classroom teacher had to listen to each child read every single day. I did this religiously and found that the children were often having difficulty connecting with the British, US and Australian based early readers their own lives in Jakarta. My youngest child was in Reception at the time so I would listen to her read at night as well (even as an Australian she too could not relate to many of the books on offer) so I became constantly aware of the gap in the market of quality early readers based on life in Indonesia.

Jalan book coverI distinctly remember listening to a four-year-old Singaporean girl living in a high rise inner city apartment struggling through a book about an outback sheep farm in Australia. I asked her if she had been to a farm, had she seen a sheep, had she been to a country town and did she like this story or any stories in the reader box. ‘No’ was the definitive answer to all my questions. I asked her what she liked to do on the weekend, the answer was: play with my nanny, go shopping, go to birthday parties, go to swimming lessons and go to the hair salon.


I think that was my ‘light bulb’ moment as I realised practically all the children in the class did the same things on the weekends and their young lives were not being reflected in any shape or form by the literature available.

Jalan Level 1

Research into early reading success constantly reiterates the importance of making text relevant to the lives of young readers and at the time I really felt I could not achieve that with the early years literature available. Because of this, I began to write and use my own handmade books as readers based on the children’s experiences living in Jakarta.

To the Village cover

At the time BIS offered several bursaries to teachers who had an idea to improve the school curriculum in some way. I won US$1,000 to develop my idea for a series of books. Initially I decided just to print a few sets using my own photos and the local photocopying store to add to the class collection. However, many teachers and parents became interested as they could see the children were fascinated to see places that they could recognise and relate to in the books; and consequently their reading confidence and progress increased rapidly. I realised that perhaps there may be a market in Jakarta and beyond to sell the books commercially.

Trip to the Village pages Level 2

At this point my wonderful Indonesian friend Wiwied Subowo stepped in and offered to print and publish my books for me through her publishing company PT Kinar Media. Suddenly my little handmade books needed to be more professional so I hired professional photographers Deviana and Oetomo and graphic designer Dita from Zige & Baffel to help with the layout and production. Copyright laws prevent authors from using photos from the internet so every photo for the books was taken by the photographers and myself. I had a notebook in the back of the car and on our way to school my daughter and I would spend a lot of time looking out the window and jotting down ideas for different titles for the series. I based the series on the English Key High Frequency Words (those words that occur often in English) and used them repetitively in individual books for effect and to aid memory. I drew all my inspiration from the children in my class and my own daughter. Writing simple books that appeal to early learners is actually harder than it looks and the process took months and months. I was teaching full time and spent hundreds of hours with the graphic designer positioning text and pictures in the best possible way for early learners.

The Our Jakarta Series, English and bilingual versions, are the only books I have published.


You’ve lived in many countries (at least four by my count), why did you decide to write children’s books in Indonesia? Have you thought about writing books about Myanmar?

I first travelled and taught in the Philippines on a university exchange for six weeks back in 1981 and was completely mesmerised by the country. This small taste of South East Asia ignited my travel bug! I then spent two years in 1983 and 1984 in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea teaching Kindergarten in a Catholic mission school which I loved. After I got married we moved to four different states in Australia and spent seven years in Indonesia on two different postings, three years in Bangkok, Thailand and are currently in our second year in Yangon, Myanmar. In Thailand, I taught in the slum community of Din Daeng at the Good Shepherd Centre and completed dozens of handmade books for children in the Day Care Centre relating to their particular lives and circumstances. I taught English to adult women here as well and used homemade books with them as an English resource.  I thought about publishing a series in Thailand and Myanmar but the cost was prohibitive so I decided to concentrate on printing the bilingual edition of Our Jakarta Series.

 Our Jakarta Series

What shaped your decision to publish originally in English and then republish in English and Indonesian?

During the process of creating the books I was advised to make the books bilingual but I really wanted to create a set of English readers on life in Indonesia (without the distraction of the Bahasa text) as I felt there was a huge gap in the market.  After some market research on returning to Canberra and teaching Indonesian myself from Kindergarten to Year 2, I realised that there was almost a bigger gap in the market for bilingual early readers. During our posting to Bangkok I decided to create the bilingual version so we could access a high-quality Thai printer capable of re-creating the box and the colour quality in the photos.

What has the reception been to your books in Indonesia and Australia?Our Jakarta Series

The books have been very well received in both countries. I finished the English version in Jakarta just two weeks before we finished our time in Indonesia in December 2007 so would have liked to have been there a bit longer to promote them around the country at international schools. My friend Wiwied did a wonderful job however, promoting them for me and selling them in her book shop Toko Kinar in Dharmawangsa Square in Jakarta. I also participated in an interview with ABC Radio National in 2008. This generated a lot of interest from teachers.

I was invited to participate in a workshop for LOTE teachers through the Department of Education in Canberra in 2008 on how to use the books (English version) in the classroom to generate interest and awareness of Indonesia through the eyes of a child. As Australia moves into the Asian Century I really believe that early exposure to Indonesian language and culture at the pre-school level is the key to igniting interest in Indonesia our closest neighbour.

Do you find it is schools or families purchasing them? Indonesian is not a widely taught language outside of Australia and its home country. Are there people outside of these two countries that are reading your books?

In Australia, schools are the purchasers of the English version as the books are only available in a set. Many schools have added them to the daily reader collection giving Australian children an opportunity to glimpse snippets of life in Indonesia. In Indonesia, the English version books are available for sale individually so both schools and families have purchased the books. Teachers from Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore have contacted me to say how much they liked the English version.

Our Jakara Series

Each bilingual book has a new ISBN number which now allows them to be sold individually in Australia. The bilingual version has been very popular with parents of young children. Because the books are predictable and colourful, young children are successful in their early attempts at reading a beginning bilingual book. The books are available on Google Books, AbeBooks.com and through the Asia Bookroom in Canberra.

Could you tell us about the challenges of getting published in Indonesia? It’s an enormous project with 30 separate books requiring different photo shoots, different design, and all requiring a lot of quality control. How long did it take and what kept you going when you hit obstacles along the way?

Our Jakarta Series Level 3As mentioned earlier it was a massive undertaking of team work involving my entire family – husband, three sons (proof readers) and daughter plus a small army of friends, nannies, teachers, school principal, drivers, housekeepers, work colleagues, local businesses – pretty much everyone I knew in Jakarta was involved in some way in the production of the books. I had a great network of friends who would rise to occasion and come to photo shoots with their children in tow with props, appropriate clothing and costumes.

Occasionally some children would feel nervous when they saw the photographer’s huge lights, umbrellas, cameras and equipment set up in the foyer of our house, however my main photographer Devi was brilliant with children (she has four of her own) and made all the children feel at ease by explaining how the camera and lights worked and bringing out puppets and soft toys to make the children laugh. My graphic designer Dita was incredibly meticulous and creative in making the individual books look good and flow well. We had an understanding from the start that the printed font/text must be clear and in lower case, everything had to be concise and educational first and foremost with no reference in photos to soft drink, beer, junk food, cigarettes or Disney characters and that design could not dominate the educational focus. Dita and I sat side-by-side till midnight most nights for nearly two years perfecting each book.

Our Jakarta Series Indonesia Level 1

The bilingual books were made while I was living in Bangkok and communicating with Dita the graphic designer in Jakarta, my friend and translator Arika in Canberra and the Thai printing company all by email so it was a delicate balancing act once again. When things got difficult and there were many, many obstacles I would always think of the end and the joy of finishing! I guess I’m determined, calm, driven and resilient – so I just keep persevering.

What has been the most unexpected pleasure you have found while living overseas in different countries? What has been the hardest?

I honestly see living overseas as a great privilege. Getting a tiny glimpse and a small understanding into a different culture, religion, language and way of life continually fascinates me. The hardest thing for me is missing my children and extended family back in Australia. My mother passed away two years ago so traveling back and forth to Australia trying to balance family commitments is always a challenge. We do miss Australia’s blue skies, tap water, fresh air and the smell of the eucalyptus trees too.

Our Jakarta Series Indonesia Level 1

What keeps you busy in Yangon?

Last year I completed my Masters in Education (Early Childhood) by correspondence so I spent many hours researching and studying while here in Yangon. I’m also involved with the Defence Attache Community here and will start teaching English voluntarily in a Yangon orphanage in March. It is an amazing time to be here in Yangon as the country is changing before our eyes. We plan on returning to Old Bagan and Lake Inlay this year and venturing to the hill tribes in Shan State later in the year. I also travel back and forth to Australia up to five times a year to see our children, three at university and one in boarding school – so I clock up a huge amount of airline miles.

Aussie Indo teachers in Bali learning from their colleagues

One of the many nice things about living in Bali, and one of the more underrated, is that there are so many conferences held here that every now and again there is one that is really interesting. Last year there was a fantastic meeting of children’s writers and storytellers with writers coming from Asia and Australia. And just a few months ago, Indonesian teachers from Australia gathered in Bali for the Australian Society of Indonesian Language Educators (ASILE) conference.ASILE logo

Teachers from all over Australia came to Bali for the two-day conference on 29-30 September, many staying longer to further improve their language skills. I met teachers from South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, ACT and Western Australia who ranged from primary school teachers, to high school all the way to university lecturers. The conference was held at IALF‘s headquarters in Denpasar, a comfortable space with enough rooms to accommodate the many parallel sessions.

Challenges ahead

The theme for the conference was Kobarkan Semangatmu: Working Together to Overcome Challenges. Some of the challenges that were discussed included declining numbers of students and schools taking Indonesian, and the end of Australian government programs that had encouraged more teachers to retrain as teachers of Indonesian.


I noticed one of the presentations, by Wieke Gur about ICT in teaching BIPA, is available online.

The Indonesian Curriculum for Australian schools was also discussed with the curriculum authors presenting on ‘what lies beneath and where to for teachers.’ It was an interesting presentation and a pity that it wasn’t included on the USB stick that was given in the conference pack.

Strong Indonesian presence

Among the conference attendees were many Indonesian teachers including some from Dyatmika (who presented on their literacy program) and the Green School. Many of the Indonesian-born and educated teachers seemed to have trained as English teachers first, and then switched to teaching Bahasa Indonesia bagi Penutur Asing (BIPA, meaning Indonesian for foreign learners). BIPA seems to be gaining momentum in Indonesia. Since 1999, BIPA teachers and institutions have had a professional association, APBIPA, which is working on the development of a certification program for BIPA teachers.

In fact, George Quinn, chair of the Balai Bahasa Indonesia in the ACT, declared in his opening remarks, “the centre of gravity in the teaching of Indonesian as a foreign language has shifted emphatically to Indonesia itself.” This makes it increasingly important for teachers in Australia to have good links with teachers in Indonesia, which would have been one of the aims of the conference.

Sessions were either in English or Indonesian and 18 of the 28 parallel sessions were presented by Indonesians, which demonstrates the eagerness for the Australian teachers to learn from their native speaker colleagues.

Aussie Indo teachers an interesting bunch

IALF in DenpasarThere is an interesting thing about Indonesian teachers in Australia. The majority are Australian-born whose first language is typically English. In contrast, 90 per cent of Chinese teachers in Australia are native speakers of Chinese. That is not to say that one is better than the other. What teachers may lack in accents and cultural knowledge they could make up with shared culture with their students, plus possibly having the advantage of other teaching experience in Australian schools.

I wondered, though, is this another factor as to why most Australian students currently studying Indonesian are doing so as beginners?

I was impressed with the teachers I met who had trained first in another field and later added on Indonesian. One teacher taught IT, another taught science, and both were able to relate their other area of expertise with teaching Indonesian. Learning Indonesian colours through a science experiment sounded very interesting. The IT teacher, Joyce Tabone, was also full of ideas on how to use IT, specifically iPad apps, to make learning Indonesian more fun.

The best sessions I found were the app session and one on Indonesian traditional games. Both were very useful, full of practical tips, and fun for the participants too.

On the last afternoon the Language Learning Space was launched and looks like an impressive tool to use. It includes a tutorial service for Australian schools provided by IALF.

I was sorry not to be able to join in on the trips to the Green School and STPBI, but it was a great experience to join with a group of enthusiastic teachers who loved what they did and were all eager for ideas on how to improve their teaching.

Indonesian language study in Australian schools – Knowns and Unknowns

Indonesian has had numerous promotions by successive Australian governments to encourage more students to study this language. It was given extra funding in the 1980s and identified as a ‘priority’ language back in the 1990s. This has included incentives for teachers to gain an additional qualification to teach Indonesian in the 2000s. And in 2014, Indonesian was the second language after Chinese to have a flash new resource, the Language Learning Space, developed for teachers.

Language Learning Space  http://www.lls.edu.au/home

Language Learning Space http://www.lls.edu.au/home

But despite being identified over and over again as an important language for Australians to learn, the study of Indonesian is in decline in Australia. An intervention was even called for in the 2010 report The Current State of Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese and Korean Language Education in Australian Schools Four Languages, Four Stories.

This report is referred to in the brand new and still not quite official Australian Curriculum for Languages: Indonesian (February 2014) which, among many other things, has a good overview of the study of Indonesian in Australia. Figures quoted in both these publications date from 2008 on the most part.

So, what is the state of Indonesian study in schools in 2008?

Most Indonesian students are found in primary schools

In fact 63 per cent of all school students studying Indonesian are in primary school. Do more primary schools have Indonesian teachers compared with secondary schools? Or is it that Indonesian is not competing with other languages and subjects that students can opt to study. In primary school subjects are usually mandatory for all students. This is supported by graphs showing large numbers of language learners dropping out of languages around Year 9 when many subjects become optional.

Most secondary Indonesian students are beginners

Year 7 Indonesian is, more often than not, the first time high school students are learning Indonesian. Even if they have studied in primary school the chances are not great that they will go to a school which also teaches Indonesian. And in that school, if most students are beginners, they may not be able to run an additional stream of Indonesian that is for continuing students.

Not many study it at a high level

Only about 1 per cent of Indonesian students are learning it in Year 11 or 12. So not surprisingly, anecdotally it seems that most students learning Indonesian in university are also beginners.

Numbers are declining

Numbers of students learning Indonesian in 2008 are double those back in 1994, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. From a peak in 2000 of around 260,000, around 10,000 less students have studied the language each year since 2005. This is matched with schools dropping the program as well.

So, retention is low. Let’s place this in the wider context.

Australians don’t study languages!

Only a small proportion of school students study languages at any point in their education which is a challenge that all proponents of language study have to face. Indonesian is the third most taught language in Australian schools. But still only 5.6 per cent of the total student population studies Indonesian.

Unlike 163 other countries in the world that have more than one official language, Australia is a firmly monolingual country. There are isolated pockets of bilingualism – think Vietnamese and Italian in parts of Melbourne, Arabic and Chinese in parts of Sydney, but we are pretty hopeless when it comes to learning other languages.

All governments seem to agree that more language learning is important for Australia. The latest government has acted by increasing the numbers of language curriculums from 11 to 16 and adding, among others, Latin and Classical Greek. Will this help all languages though? Or spread resources more thinly for ‘priority’ Asian languages such as Indonesian? If the aim is to encourage more students to take a language in Year 12 by offering more choice of language, I’m not convinced this strategy will work.

So send them to Asia

The other publicised move by this present government is the New Colombo Plan which aims to send thousands of Australian undergraduate students to Asian countries as part of their degree. As the Vice Chancellor of Sydney University points out, we can’t send them with no language training or cultural awareness skills. So will this plan (planned to last at least five years) be an incentive for high school students to study an Asian language? It remains to be seen.


One encouraging example is that of a NCP scholar training at Sanata Dharma University in Yogyakarta to become an Indonesian teacher on her return to Victoria. More examples like her could naturally lead to more high school students wanting to take the language in order to have this travel opportunity in front of them.

Language vs Culture

Even with the figures of schools with Indonesian programs we can’t be sure all these students were learning the language per se. In 2007 there were 306 primary schools with programs in Indonesian in Victoria and NSW. But it is suggested that a third of those might have included Indonesian in language and cultural awareness studies, rather than classes that aim for language proficiency.

The Australian Curriculum promotes language study be done through an intercultural focus. This raises questions like, ‘will students be actually learning the language or just about the culture?’ Give it a few years and I’m sure there’ll be a study that will say, but there is a lot of good stuff to say about the Australian Curriculum – enough for a separate article at least.

Do we know what is being taught?

Short answer: no. The Four Stories report recommended researching primary Indonesian programs to find out the conditions of the program, quality of teachers and what learners were achieving. Why? Because that information just isn’t known. Even quantitative data on Indonesian study “is often inconsistent and in some cases difficult to obtain.”

This is where the Australian Curriculum is so valuable. It has a wealth of information about what should be taught and recommends tools and resources to use. It also specifies what learners should be able to do in the language year to year in terms of achievement level.

And finally, how about the global context?

Australia is, according to the Four Stories report, the only Western country to support the teaching of Indonesian in schools. That makes Australia very significant in terms of pedagogy and providing an example to other countries.

But Indonesia itself may be stepping up more to promote its language outside of its borders. Unlike Chinese with the Confucius Institute, French with the Alliance Francaise, Italian with the Istituto Italiano di Cultura and so on, Indonesia has no funded institution devoted to promoting its language and culture overseas.

There are rumours that Indonesia will open a Balai Bahasa Indonesia in Australia which would be a huge boost to the language in Australia. The two BBIs in Australia that exist in the ACT and Perth were founded independently and do great work promoting the language and developing ties between the two countries.

Semangat guru-guru Bahasa Indonesia!

If you’re an Indonesian teacher, what’s your reaction to the Australian Curriculum? Are you positive about the outlook for Indonesian study in Australia?

Bahasa, books, Bali, blogging

I love Indonesian. I speak it every day though I am not yet fluent. Life in Bali can be easily lived without speaking or learning Indonesian, as long as you know English, but it’s definitely enriched through learning the language. Wearing Balinese adat for school.

I also try and practice a little Indonesian every day with my kids. Whether it’s asking them to count something in Indonesian instead of English, or using an everyday phrase in Indonesian, they are getting exposed to the language too. Not to mention, the culture.

I’ve looked for good resources to buy for my kids (aged 5 and 3) to help them learn some Indonesian words and phrases and I’ve had trouble finding many. We are amassing a collection of bilingual books, CDs, flashcards and some apps some of which have been great, others less so. So this will be a place where I can share some of the good and not so good.

Bali is our home for now but we expect we will, sadly, have to leave at the end of 2015 so this coming year will be filled with more Indonesian learning and writing.

IMG_1721Some of the writing I’ll be doing will be directly connected to teaching young children Indonesian, with much of that in the form of easy songs. And some other writing will be children’s books. I’ve also enrolled into a children’s writing course which should be great. But more on that later.

For now, all that’s left to say is Selamat Datang to my blog. And selamat menikmati!