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When you make the decision to embark on a new adventure to the island of Bali, it might not be enough to run to the local bookstore. Grabbing a Bali Lonely Planet guide to read on the flight over and hoping you pick up the rest through osmosis probably won’t work

Grappling the Indonesian language is sometimes anything but natural and organic – expect a noxious mess of misunderstandings, dirty black-sand encrusted foot-in-mouth syndrome and some rather embarrassing grammatical blunders.

You can find yourself lost in a language where words are repeated in succession and stitched together with a hyphen to mean something entirely different. Eg.

‘Hati’ means ‘heart’, ‘hati-hati’, means ‘be careful’.

‘Sama’ means ‘same’, ‘sama-sama’ means ‘you’re welcome’.

It’s a dizzying dialect where an extra syllable elongating a word changes it to the act of having or doing that thing. Eg.

‘Berjalan’ is ‘walking’ and ‘jalan’ is ‘street’. So the act of going down the street would be ‘berjalan’ on the ‘jalan’. (Streeting down the street?)

‘Makanan’ is eating and ‘makan’ is food. So having a meal would be ‘makanan’ some ‘makan’. (Fooding your food?)

Got your head wrapped around that yet? Try this on for size.

‘Tidur’ is ‘sleep’. Therefore the act of sleep itself, ‘asleep’ or ‘sleeping’ should be ‘tiduran’.

But alas, ‘tiduran’ means ‘to be on your back’, to rest your body and chill out with a lie down. But then ‘sleeping’ or being asleep is ‘sedang tidur’.

Early difficulties in learning Bahasa Indonesia are often related to the need to understand the structure of Indonesian words. Once you can eliminate ter-, meng-, pem- and other suffixes to find the root word, it’s much easier to look things up in a dictionary. For example to find ‘membuka’ you look up ‘buka’.

To make things more challenging, in English we have one word to cover numerous options in Bahasa. Confusion central. Eg.

The word ‘like’ can refer to ‘suka’ if you think something good, or ‘sayang’ if you care for someone/something; one English word, two completely different words in Bahasa.

Regional languages like Bahasa Bali or Bahasa Lombok and the increasing use of slang in the digital age make things more difficult. SMS abbreviations and social media chat is taking over the keypads of the Indonesian youth, so it can be a regular ‘badai sialan’ (shit storm) to try and wrap your head around it.

Now to share with you the basics of Bahasa Indonesia and some tips and tricks to help you learn the language.

Not found in your regular phrasebook; these terms are important in avoiding unnecessary blunders.

‘Bali burn’ or ‘Bali tattoo’ – The nasty repercussions of getting your ankle too close to your motorbike exhaust.

‘Bali belly’ – The reason you don’t drink the tap water. Bali is one of the most beautiful places on earth, but it is still a developing country. Be smart. Bottled water is readily available. Rest, rehydration and charcoal tablets are the answer if you unfortunately get an upset tummy.

‘Bali time’ – An incredible phenomenon that chews up your travel itinerary, sees you sleeping in past 10am and has your driver constantly apologising.

‘Bule’ – Foreigner. You. This is said in the kindest of manners. Just as you might call them Balinese or ‘balos’, you will be referred to as a ‘bule‘. Embrace it.

‘Banana massage’ – Use your imagination.

‘Jiggy-jig’ – A casual dalliance.

Bahasa Bloopers

‘Rambut’ (hair) & ‘Jembut’ (pubic hair) – A little too close for comfort on the pronunciation.

‘Angin’ (wind) & ‘Anjing’ (dog) – Don’t get caught out in the dog. That’s just plain awkward.

‘Ibu’ (mother) & ‘Ubi’ (sweet potato) – Nobody likes fried mothers.

‘Kedelai’ (soy) & ‘Keledai’ (donkey) – Try not to order your coffee with donkey milk.

‘Kasihku’ (my love) & ‘Kuchingku’ (my cat) – Not to be confused, unless you really, really love your cat.

‘Cawat’ (g-string) & ‘Cewek ‘(girl) – No female will take lightly to being called a loincloth.

Bahasa Basics

Hello – Halo

Good bye – Selamat Tinggal (you are leaving)/ Selamat Jalan (they are leaving)

Yes – Ya

No – Tidak

Please – Silakhan

Thank you – Terima Kasih

You’re welcome – Sama-sama

Good morning – Selamat pagi

Good afternoon – Selamat siang

Good Evening – Selamat sore

Good night – Selamat malam

Welcome – Selamat datang

Happy Birthday – Selamat Ulang Tahun

Congratulations! – Selamat!

How are you? – Apa Kabar?

I’m fine/good – Baik-baik saja

Have a nice day – Hari baik!

Enjoy your meal – Selamat makan

What is your name? – Siapa nama Anda?

My name is – Nama saya

Where are you from? – Anda berasal dari mana?

I am from – Saya dari

I want to go go– Saya mau pergi ke

Excuse me – Maaf/ Permisi (to get past)

I understand – Saya mengerti

I do not understand – Saya tidak mengerti

I’m sorry – Maafkan saya

I love you – Aku cinta kamu/ Saya cinta kamu/ Saya mencintaimu

Good – Bagus

Bad – Buruk

Happy – Senang/ Bahagia

Sad – Sedih

Beautiful – Cantik

Ugly – Jelek

Like – Sayang

Love - Cinta

What is this/ that? – Apa ini/ itu?

What is the time? – Jam Berapa?

How much/ many? – Berapa?

How much is this/ that? – Berapa ini/ itu?

Expensive! – Mahal!

Cheap – Murah


One – Satu

Two - Dua

Three – Tiga

Four – Empat

Five – Lima

Six – Enam

Seven – Tujuh

Eight – Delapan

Nine – Sembilan

Ten – Sepuluh

Handy Grammar Tips

These will be helpful in understanding the structure of sentences as you begin to be able to string them together.

Adjectives always follow the noun eg. ‘Beautiful woman’ – ‘wanita cantik’.

Word order is usually subject-verb-object eg. ‘Saya (I) mau (want) makan (to eat) nasi (rice)’.

The personal pronoun goes after the noun eg. ‘my car’ – ‘mobil saya’.

Remember this

Whatever your method, it’s most important to find the mix that works for you. Your experience of ‘Bali time’ mightn’t necessarily be conducive to you attending scheduled courses and lesson appointments. You might rather a quick crash-course with Cinta Bahasa, mixed with a daily play on your smart phone app and a few sunsets swapping language with locals on the stairs at the nearest beach.

Source: Excerpt from an article appearing in (see full article HERE)

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