When I first arrived in Jakarta, I gave myself a year. Then, I’d be “lancar” “pintar” Bahasa Indonesia, and it’s easy to think you’re kicking arse when your tukan ojek gets excited because you know how to say “apa kabar”.
But a year has passed, two weeks ago now, and still I am dismal. My formal Indonesian is near nonexistent. I’m totally guessing when I pull out the “meng” and “mem” “kan”, etc
You’d think it would be easy to learn a language if you lived in the country it’s spoken, right?
I could always study it at university back home, “ya, aku mau belajar bahasa Indonesia di Australi,” Cinta Laura-style.
I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, I’m told, because some people still don’t speak after years here. And I work with all English speakers. Maybe, as I was advised to, I should have found myself an Indonesian boyfriend who didn’t speak English to really ramp up the practice. It’s funny how English, a very difficult language, is just expected to be known, and no credit to non-native speakers if they do know it. Meanwhile my dismal linguistic adventures in Indonesian are celebrated like they’re some brilliant achievement.
I’m never going to learn if people don’t stop being so nice. So, I’ve voluntarily given myself a taste of my own medicine. After a year of correcting Indonesian speakers’ English for work, I’ve ramped up the bahasa practice and started a blog— in Indonesian. (Says the person who continues to be crap at blogging commitment in English. Let’s see how long this actually lasts.).
Some may disagree that what features on the blog is actually the Indonesian language. It is pretty, pretty bad. But this surrender of the ego is in desperation. I can’t ever see myself progressing beyond “minta this,” and “saya mau” without some serious abuse directed toward my dismal language skills.
To Om’bak readers I ask this simple question: What’s the best way to study a language when you’ve plateaued at just above an elementary, survival-skills level? Suggestions, advice, sought below. Tolong.