Bahasa Indonesian Lesson One

Whilst rote-learning should be avoided in most cases when learning a second language in some cases, as people learn sentences, not words, in some basic cases it is an effective way to ingrain knowledge. Specifically, basic pronunciation, the alphabet and numbers should be practised until they become second nature.


Bahasa Indonesian is almost entirely phonemic in its writtern form; almost every letter represents only one sound, which makes it easier to pick up the spoken form from a written text. This said there is some regional variation; Jakarta has some slight variations on pronounciation, the Javanese sometimes tend towards emphasis on the last syllable, whereas the Malay (Bahasa Malayu), Sumatrans and others tend towards the penultimate syllable. There is a sense of flow with the language and those unfamiliar remark that it sounds like Spanish or Italian as a result of the usually equal weighting in word-stress. Also like the romance languages, questions are best asked with a rising tone.


These are pronounced in most cases like English. There are however some important exceptions;

"c" is pronounced "ch"; it used to be spelled "tj" e.g., "cari" (to look for, to seek), "cinta" (to love), "Saya cari losmen" (I look for cheap hotel)

"g" is pronounced hard, like "group" e.g., "agama" (religion), "guna" (to use), "gado-gado" (vegetables and peanut sauce), "Saya mau gado-gado" (I want gado-gado)

"h" is pronounced very soft, if at all e.g., "tahu" (pronounced "tau", to know), "mudah" (pronounced "muda", easy)

"kh" is pronounced with a hard "k". This is found in words derived from Arabic. e.g., "khabar" (news), "khusus" (special)

"ng" is pronounced soft, like "singer". e.g., "uang" (money), "hilang" (lost) e.g., "Saya hilang!" (I'm lost!)

"ngg" is pronounced hard, like "hunger" e.g., "mangga" (mango), "ganggu" (to disturb), "anggur" (grape, wine).

"r" is trilled. e.g., "ratus" (hundred), "rambut" (hair)

Vowels and Dipthongs

There are five basic vowels in Bahasa (a, e, i, o, u) and two dipthongs (ai, au)

"a" is pronounced short, like "a" in "car" or "father" e.g., "satu" (one), "bayar" (to pay)
"e" has two main pronounciations; the first is short, like "e" in "open" e.g., "enam" (six), "beli" (to buy), "ke" (towards). The second is stressed or at the end of the word, where it sounds like "ey", like "grey", "passé" e.g., "desa" (village), "cabe" (chilli), "pena" (pen)
"i" has a long "e" sound, like "ee" in "been" e.g., "tiga" (three), "lima" (five), "tikkus" (rat), "ini" (this)
"o" also has a long sound, like "o" in "so" e.g., "boleh" (may), "kotor" (dirty)
"u" is long as well, like "u" in humour e.g., "untuk" (for), "tujuh" (seven), "buku" (book)
"au" is like "ow" in "cow", e.g., "atau" (or), "kalau" (if)
"ai" is like the word "eye", e.g., "pantai" (beach), "pandai" (skilled)


"nol", "satu", "dua", "tiga", "empat", "lima", "enam", "tujuh", "delapan", "sembilan" (zero, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine)
"sepuluh", "sebelas", "dua belas", "tiga belas", "empat belas", "lima belas", "enam belas", "tujuh belas", "delapan belas", "sembilan belas" (ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen)
"dua puluh", "dua puluh satu", "dua puluh dua" ... (twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two ...)
"tiga puluh", "tiga puluh satu", "tiga puluh dua" ... (thirty, thirty-one, thirty-two ...)
"empat puluh", "empat puluh satu", "empat puluh dua" ... (forty, forty-one, forty-two ...)
"lima puluh", "lima puluh satu", "lima puluh dua" ... (fifty, fifty-one, fifty-two ...)
"enam puluh", "enam puluh satu", "enam puluh dua" ... (sixty, sixty-one, sixty-two ...)
"tujuh puluh", "tujuh puluh satu", "tujuh puluh dua" ... (seventy, seventy-one, seventy-two ...)
"delapan puluh", "delapan puluh satu", "delapan puluh dua" ... (eighty, eighty-one, eighty-two ...)
"sembilan puluh", "sembilan puluh satu", "sembilan puluh dua" ... (ninety, ninety-one, ninety-two ...)
"seratus", "seratus satu", "seratus dua" ... (one hundred, one hundred and one, one hundred and two ...)
"dua ratus", "dua ratus satu", "dua ratus dua" (two hundred, two hundred and one, two hundred and two ...)
"seribu" (one thousand), "dua ribu" (two thousand), "tiga ribu" (three thousand)

Cardinal numbers are formed by placing the prefix "ke" (towards) to any ordinal number after the first e.g., "pertama" (first), "kedua" (second), "ketiga" (third) etc.


"Jam berapa?" (What time is it?), "Jam sepulah lewat lima menit" (Five minutes past ten), "Jam sebelas kurang dua pulah menit" (Twenty minutes before eleven), "Jam sebelas lewat setengah" (Half-past eleven), "Jam dua belas lewat seperempat" (Quarter past twelve).