Being posted to Indonesia with my partner was exciting, anxiety inducing AND it would allow me to learn a new language. How else was I to get by in this city of 10 million people? 3 years in and I’m still not even remotely fluent in Bahasa Indonesia. I get by. I no longer beat myself up about it. My commitment to learn was palpable and I had a plan. Enrolling in language classes filled me with false hopes of conversing with our pembantu & driver, understanding the local news & other programs, engaging in girlie chit chat with the local Spa girls.. didn’t happen.
Learning Bahasa Indonesia is considered by many to be one of the easiest languages to pick up. However I found that while formal Indonesian is taught in class, informal Indonesia is spoken on the streets so the learning doesn’t necessarily transfer to a life context. My advice: sign up for one on one tuition in conversational Bahasa Indonesia to develop a general gist of the language and pronunciation and be kind to yourself – no pressure.
Now I’m not special. I’m not the only expat to try and give up. Many expat spouses have enrolled for classes and private tuition only to give up due to frustration of not learning fast enough, or being time poor due to kids, volunteering, work or study commitments. Many friends have tried and failed like me, preferring to get by with charades and the odd Indonesian word thrown into English sentences to make meaning when interacting with locals. We get by.
We live in an apartment complex filled with expats from varied countries French, Chinese, Brits, Aussies, wealthy Indonesians. Staff speak English with varying degrees of proficiency which reduces the necessity to learn. Work is an English speaking environment where even cleaners, drivers, café staff and speak at least some English. And the locals that possess the tiniest fraction of basic English are so proud and excited to share this knowledge that they don’t want to converse in Indonesian!
So with home and work negating the need to learn what’s it like when we enter the real world? Well, signage and store names are displayed in Indonesian and English, newspapers are published on English and Google automatically translates websites. Most people have basic English so dining out, shopping, and seeking directions is usually fine. The lack of Bahasa Indonesia means it’s difficult to make meaningful connections with locals due to language barriers. But If all else fails Google Translate!
So what do I do with my time if I’m not engaging in language learning? Mostly I work and study but I have time to experience this city and country through travel and other cultural activities. The sights, smells, food, people and the traffic (ranked worst in the world). My experience turned into something really positive once I stopped beating myself up for my lack of Bahasa Indonesia skills.
And now we’re getting ready for our next adventure…