Bahasa Indonesia

by Tabitha Kidwell

In a recent article in the New Yorker (which I love), David Sedaris (who I love even more) wrote:

“On a recent flight from Toyko to Beijing, at around the time that my lunch tray was taken away, I remembered that I needed to learn Mandarin. ‘Goddammit,’ I whispered. ‘I knew I forgot something.’”

That is how I felt on my flights from DC to Tokyo to Singapore to Jakarta to Semarang! I had received my placement in Indonesia in April, and I immediately googled “learning Indonesian.” This led me to the aptly named http://www.learningindonesian.com, which provides 48 audio lessons with accompanying study guides. I downloaded all 48 and thought to myself “OK, I’ll just do one ten-minute lesson a day, I’ll be finished by May, then I’ll get a book out of the library and really study some grammar, and I’ll find an Indonesian person in town to give me lessons, and I’ll try to watch the Indonesian newscast online and…”

Let’s just stop there because none of that ever happened. I did get through all 48 audio lessons, but I rushed through the last 8 or so on that looooong plane trip. The audio lessons are led by an American named Sean and an Indonesian named Cici. They have a comforting and reliable format:

Sean: Selamat Datang, everyone. I’m your host, Sean.
Cici: Halo samua, saya Cici. Apa Kabar?
Sean: In this lesson…..
(Sean and Cici present and have us practice pronouncing and using 5-10 new words)
Sean: That’s it for this lesson. In the next lesson, you’ll learn to… Thanks for listening! Terima Kasih!
Cici: See you soon everyone! Sampai Nanti!

Their faithful adherence to this script meant that I totally mastered “Selamat Datang” and “Sampai Nanti.” I also learned many other useful phrases like:

Ibu saya suka makan nasi goring. (My mother likes to eat fried rice.)
Laba-laba ini lebih besar daripada anjing itu! (This spider is bigger than that dog!)
Ya, orang America adalah gemuk karana makan banyak sapi. (Yes, American people are fat because they eat a lot of beef.)

In truth, I also learned many phrases that have actually been useful. I thought I wasn’t remembering very much from Sean and Cici, but since I’ve been here, I keep remembering things they told me. I think it gave me enough of a base that I actually have something to build upon when talking to people and overhearing conversations here!

With this base, I was excited to start Indonesian classes this past Wednesday. Indonesia is so important to US foreign policy that they have decided to provide three weeks of language training to all the fellows (we are the only ones to receive this world-wide!). My (not-so-) diligent studying got me placed in the intermediate class, but I am hanging on for dear life. Every two-hour session leaves my brain feeling like agar-agar (jelly). It’s 120 minutes full of straining to understand every one of my instructors words, looking some them up on google translate, writing them down, trying to remember words I wrote down two days ago, etc. The pace of my language learning has really sped up. It’s like I’ve gone from the pace of the kid pedaling his bicycle loaded with 100kg of rice to the pace of the angkot (a public transport mini-van with up to 20 people stuffed in) speeding by him! I’m exhausted at the end of the day, but it’s better than not being able to speak! Soon, instead of just commenting on the canine proportions of a spider, I’ll be able to say something along the lines of “get that spider the f*** out of my house!”

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4 Comments to “Bahasa Indonesia”

  1. Wow!!! Nice story, you’re pretty impressive

  2. So “adalah” means fat in Bahasa Indonesia? That should be easy enough to remember!

    • No, it doesn’t really mean anything, just separates the subject from the predicate. Kinda like “to be” but it isn’t required. Suzi, Malagasy is actually complicating things because there are so many FALSE cognates… 😦

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