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.

Words I’ve learnt from subtitles

Picard Laksanakan

Like pretty much everyone in Indonesia I watch a lot of subtitled television. Most of it is in English with Indonesian subtitles but occasionally I stumble across something more exotic. My semi-regular indulgence is when the boys go to sleep and I’m alone in the living room. That’s when I get to watch my favourite Latin American soapies or telenovelas.

My favourite is Corazon Indomable (Wild at Heart) from Mexico. I get to listen to Spanish and read the Indonesian. It’s like eating a fluffy pavlova with some salsa on top, and sambal on the side.

But, more often than not, I’m reading Indonesian subtitles for an American show and this has helped me somewhat in my language acquisition. Not, I have to say, as much as actually talking to people, but seeing the same words used over and over has aided my memory.

One word I would never have learnt were it not for subtitles is astaga. Many exclamations and expressions of surprise – Good heavens! Crikey! and so on – are translated as astaga! But I have never ever heard someone use this in real life. I feel like I’m on an Indonesian sinetron (soap opera) myself when I use it so I tend not to.

Check out the very funny How to Act Indonesian – 5 signs it’s a sinetron to get an idea of what a sinetron is like.

Check out the very funny How to Act Indonesian – 5 signs it’s a sinetron to get an idea of what a sinetron is like.

Adil is another word I’ve learnt from the subtitles. It means fair. And the phrase ‘it’s not fair’ must get used a lot in American dramas as I’m pretty familiar with its equivalent, tidak adil. This phrase I count as a useful acquisition.

Brengsek is just about the closest thing to a swear word that I know in Indonesian. I think it’s my gender, maybe my age, and certainly the circles that I mix in, but I don’t seem to be picking up swear words. Brengsek means jerk so I occasionally use this when there’s a particularly good example of mindless motorbike riding right in front of our car.

I can’t leave out sial though. It’s the word that is used in subtitles whenever people swear in English. Damn, drat, shit all translate as sial. Do people actually use it? Not that I’ve heard. It means unfortunate.

Another word I have to thank American TV for is laksanakan. We grew very fond of this phrase through watching Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the starship Enterprise point to the monitor and say … laksanakan (see image at top). That’s a rough translation of make it so, in case you don’t remember. For a while my husband got a kick out of jumping in the car and saying to our driver: ‘The office! Laksanakan!’ Sadly other people just looked at him strangely if he said it and it hasn’t caught on. Not surprising when you realise it also translates as implemented. Now that’s an English word lacking romance.

I haven’t even started on the staggering eccentricities of pirated DVD subtitles. Sometimes they seem to belong to another movie altogether. And often everything is literally translated including names like Pat and Bob.

As I’m still trying hard to improve my Indonesian, every bit of Indonesian language around is useful, even if I do have to be careful before I start talking like subtitles.

What words have you learnt from television subtitles?

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.

Best and worst of bilingual Indonesian picture books

It’s wonderful to live in Indonesia and be able to pick up a new bilingual book at a bookshop whenever the mood takes me. It’s not that easy, however, to find quality books where the English is correct, the story is interesting to both the children and me, and, one of the more important points, has some Indonesian context. To start with, let’s take a look at some of the popular examples of bilingual books.

Indonesian bilingual picture booksOne series of good quality bilingual books come from Erlangga for Kids and includes Go to Sleep You Crazy Sheep, and Quiet! As they were written in English the language in English is impeccable and the Indonesian translation seems very good. Unfortunately, the rhyme of the You Crazy Sheep is not able to be carried across, making it nicer to be read in English.

Published by Erlangga for Kids and first published by Little Tiger Press in the UK.

Fairy book in IndonesianThe Fairies tell us about Empathy is part of another series which is similar but it seems the original language for the story was Spanish which possibly makes the Indonesian a translation of the English translation. The English feels a little clunky though it is nice to see a children’s book trying to tackle a difficult but important concept like empathy.

Published by Eaststar Adhi Citra (first published in Spain by Gemser Publications).


Dora the Explorer along with many, many other TV characters have made their way into Indonesian language and bilingual books for children. Dora in IndonesianDora is an interesting example as, while it restricts the Indonesian translation to mostly Indonesian, it still introduces a few Spanish words. So you end up with things like ‘Hola! Namaku Dora.’ The language used seems pretty spot on. If you had a Dora DVD that could play in Indonesian this could help reinforce some of the terms used, eg. Rancel for Backpack.

Dora is published by PT Citra Sastra Media in Indonesia.

So far these are nothing out of the ordinary as they are all books you could find in plenty of countries that have simply been been translated into Indonesian. Where it gets interesting is when we look at books published first in Indonesia. You’ll see a big range of subject matter and quality in my next post.

All the books reviewed here were found in Ganesha Bookshops or Gramedia.

What we can learn from Esperanto speakers

Esperanto tapeThe first language I started to learn was Esperanto, using a kit that dated back to the 1960’s. It was very interesting, this concept of a man-made language, though I did wonder who I would speak to with it. In the end I didn’t get much past 1 to 10. And porko = pig. So the problem of conversation partners didn’t arise.

I moved onto other language learning, eventually. First I had to leave country Tasmania and move to Hobart before I could take a language course in college, which in Tasmania equates to senior high school. Over the next few years I studied Italian, Spanish and Catalan and didn’t think any more of Esperanto.

Until I met Brian. A polyglot American who was hitchhiking around Europe learning languages, Brian had recently arrived in Turkey and was already speaking a bit of the language and living with a Turkish family.

Among the many lEsperanto numbersanguages Brian spoke was Esperanto. So naturally, when he arrived in Ankara he made his way to the Esperanto conversation group and struck up a conversation which resulted in Brian getting a free place to stay.

I was very impressed. I don’t think I had met an American who spoke more than two languages at that point. And for someone to learn languages just for the sake of it was impressive to me. Plus being able to talk his way into staying with a Turkish family.

Brian spoke reasonable Spanish and Italian. Probably German too. And most recently he had picked up some Polish after being given a ride by a Polish truck driver who told him his town had no English teacher. Brian was glad to help out and gave lessons in exchange for board and Polish conversation. After that he made his way to Turkey which is where I met him.

This was 1997 and, while I was keen to learn Turkish and did some study with the help of a teach-yourself Turkish book, I was putting more effort into socialising, going out and working at the Turkish Daily NewsEsperanto

I was living with my Australian best friend who was studying at university through a student exchange, and her Turkish housemate, Mine. My Turkish didn’t get past basic conversation but Mine’s English improved to the point that she later won a job with the UN.

Brian, of course, was serious about learning Turkish. Living with a Turkish family where Esperanto was the only common language pretty much forced him to learn. But he wasn’t stopping there and was also taking classes in Kurdish which was illegal at the time, and is still very difficult to do.

I lost track of Brian and his underground Kurdish classes but I am often reminded of him. He is an example of how our minds have the capacity for learning that most of us don’t bother to find. Minds can handle multiple languages without, for the most part, getting confused. He also showed me that learning languages gets easier, at least quicker, as you learn more, as long as you’re in the right environment.

Brian also had an open mind to all languages that is worth emulating. Languages are worth studying just for themselves, just for fun, just to learn. Even if you don’t have anyone around you to practice with. And sometimes you get great friendships from that, and other rewards that are impossible to predict.

And maybe I was just a little envious I hadn’t stuck with my Esperanto kit. Who knows where I would have ended up? Esperanto animals