When traveling to foreign countries where the language is literally so foreign, I found many tourists speaking LOUDER and s.l.o.w.e.r to the locals in a bizarre attempt to get understood. It seriously annoys me every time I see a traveler rudely turn their back to the waiter/market stall owner, throw up their hands and announce to their partner, “He just doesn’t understand! We’re wasting our time here, Harold. Let’s go find someone who can speak some English.” If you have the time (and the patience) to actually try and learn some local language, it can really pay off as you’re bound to get more experiences and understandings of your location than if you had kept your mouth and ears shut.
During my time in Indonesia, I covered a wide stretch of islands including the largest of the three Gili islands: Gili Trawangan or ‘Gili T’. We rocked up to the shore of this little exotic island in darkness with no accommodation booked (standard.) and were immediately approached by a friendly Indonesian man called Danny.
The official language of Indonesia is a dialect of Malay. As my mother is from Malaysia, I knew the odd word or two, such as, ‘Selemat Pagi’ (Good Morning) and ‘Bagoose’ (Good), but Dill really developed my basic vocabulary. As Indonesia is one of the fourth most populous nations, and with nearly 100% of the population speaking fluent Indonesian, it makes Bahasa Indonesian one of the most widely spoken languages in the world! There are variations, for example, Javanese and Sudanese, but basic vocabulary is easy to remember as there are no grammatical genders, those pesky rules which got me extremely confused and delirious in my foreign language classes.
Surprisingly enough, there are obvious influences on Bahasa Indonesian from when the Dutch colonised the islands! We discovered this as my Belgium friend struggled to converse in English with an Indonesian, but once the Indonesian found out he was from Belgium, he began chatting away in Dutch. It was great that they found a language from a completely different country to communicate through!
Here are some basic phrases that would prove to be incredibly useful for those who are lucky enough to get over to Indonesia to travel. I’ve spelt them pretty much how the phrases are pronounced, and I hope my intake of rice wine didn’t affect my memory when it came to writing it down in my journal.
Selemat Siam – Good Afternoon
Selemat Melam – Good Evening
Om Santi – Goodbye
Tidak – No
Bagoose – Good
Panas – Hot
Ping – Cold
Bike Bike – Very Good
Terima Kasi – Thank You
Pere Missy – Excuse Me
Haiti Haiti! – Danger!
Apu Kuba – How are you?
Saya Nama Sophie – My name is Sophie
Se Apa Nama Avida? – What’s your name?
Saya Tedak Megurti – I don’t understand
Bersulang – Cheers! (when toasting with a drink)
Choi – Real Friend
Sayung – Hunny
Ker-lu-arg-gah – Family
Shanti – Beautiful
Daree Haiti Saya – From the Heart
Remember, most locals appreciate attempts that tourists make to understand their language. You also benefit by getting a wider cultural experience as you’re not segregating yourself from the new society you’ve flown into with your camera. They might find your errors entertaining (it cracked Dill up when I tried combining ‘How are you, hunny?’) but the effort is noted and friendships can be developed, especially by Dill and Antong who made my time on “Gili Tra-la-la” one of my highlights of Indonesia.
Here are some useful audio clips to figure out the correct pronounciation, but its best to learn it from someone armed with a guitar, a high-pitched giggle and a missing tooth!