Useful phrases and tips for communication in Indonesian language

Believe it or not, there are 583 languages and dialects spoken in Indonesia, including languages of various ethnic groups of the country. Some of these languages are Acehnese, Batak, Sundanese, Javanese, Toraja, Buginese and many others. All of them are subdivided into dialects.

Even though the Indonesian language is the national language of this country, you can hear English pretty often, especially when it comes to tourist areas. You can also hear some German and Dutch in big cities if you are lucky enough.

In order to have successful communication with native people once you find yourself away from tourist centers, you should have at least elementary knowledge of everyday phrases. That is why we decided to supply you with a compilation of words and phrases in Indonesian which should be enough to perform typical day-to-day conversation in the local language. Besides being able to understand you, the locals will appreciate your effort and they’ll usually respond with a smile.

Indonesian is a very practical language to learn because its verbs usually do not have different forms for tenses, plural or grammatical gender. In addition, with just a little bit of practice, the pronunciation should not be problematic at all.

Hello, Indonesia!

As in any other language, there are different ways to greet somebody in Indonesian. In addition to salutations which can be used during the whole day, your greeting can also depend on the part of the day. Some of the most usual ways for you to say “hi” in Indonesian are following phrases:

Indonesian English
Hai (Halo) Hello
Selamat pagi Good morning (until 10.30 am)
Selamat siam Good day (until 14.30 pm)
Selamat sore Good afternoon (after 14.30 pm)
Selamat malam Good evening
Selamat datang Welcome
Selamat jalam Bye (if you are the one who is leaving)
Selamat tinggal Bye (if you are staying)

Let me introduce myself…

Following are some of the phrases which will help you in the basic introduction process when it comes to knowing language and understanding.

Indonesian English
Siapa nama anda? What’s your name?
Senang bertemu dengan anda. It is pleasure to meet you.
Apa kabar? How are you?
Baik-baik saja, terima kasih! I am very good, thank you.
Bagaimana dengan anda? And how are you?
Apakah anda bisa berbahasa (Inggris/Indonesia)? Do you speak (English/Indonesian)?
Sedikit saja. Just a little bit.
Apa maksudmu? What do you want to say?
Saya tidak mengerti! I do not understand you.
Saya tidak tahu! I do not know.
Maaf. Sorry.
Apakah itu dalam bahasa Indonesia? How do you say it in Indonesian?
Apakah arti kata itu dalam bahasa Inggris? What does that word mean in English?
Senang berbicara dengan anda! It was nice talking to you.

Speaking about professions and origins

If you would like to have a more personal conversation and to get to know more about a person you are speaking to, you should check out phrases from the table below.

Indonesian English
Dari mana asal anda? Where do you come from?
Saya dari US. I am from the USA.
Aku orang Amerika. I am American.
Anda tinggal di mana? Where do you live?
Saya tinggal di US. I live in the USA.
Apakah pekerjaan anda? Where do you work?
Saya seorang mahasiswa. I am a student.

Looking for directions

Asking for directions in Indonesian isn’t too difficult, as well. You can ask for help or give directions using the phrases from the following table.

Indonesian English
Bisa saya bantu? May I help you?
Bisakah anda tolong saya? Can you help me?
Dimana bandara udara? Where is the airport?
Lurus. Go straight.
Belok kiri. Turn left.
Belok kanan. Turn right.

Best wishes

If you want to say something nice to people who are celebrating some of the important events in Indonesia, you may find next table pretty useful, especially because they really appreciate the effort foreigners put into speaking to them in their own language.

Indonesian English
Selamat ulang tahun! Happy Birthday!
Selamat tahun baru! Happy New Year!
Selamat natal! Merry Christmas!
Semoga beruntung! Good luck!
Selamat! Congratulations!

In addition to these phrases, we recommend you to get a good pocket dictionary which you can have on you whenever you need it. Another useful option is to download a mobile dictionary application which you can consult without any need for internet access.

How to behave in Indonesia?

Even though knowing language has a great role in communication abroad, it is good to know which gestures you should avoid when talking to native people of Indonesia.

When you are meeting someone, shaking hands is a usual gesture, and it is often followed by a slight bow or a hand carried to the heart. In addition to these, you should also have in mind that it is polite to firstly introduce older people and to use their title while doing it, if they have any, since Indonesian people appreciate formality.

Many Indonesians only have one name that can be very long, so it is not uncommon for them to use a nickname. One more important thing that’s left to remember is that it’s rude to point your finger towards people or objects. You should use the thumb with other fingers folded under.

It is considered polite to verbally refuse a gift which is given to you before accepting it. You should do this to prove to people who are giving you the gift that you are not greedy. You should never give a sharp object such as scissors or knife to anyone because it means that you want to end the relationship between you. You should never give alcohol or non-halal food to Muslim people. Never give leather to Hindu people, since they consider cows as sacred animals.

A gift should be offered and received with the right hand only and it should never be opened in front of the person who gave it to you. When you are packing the gifts for Indonesian people, make sure that you don’t use gift wrap in dark colors, especially not black one. Bright colors are considered to bring people good luck, so better pack your gifts in red, yellow or green color.

Once you adopt some of these phrases and routines, you’ll be ready to completely enjoy your Indonesian experience. Who knows, maybe you’ll even want to stay there longer and improve your Indonesian skills to a pro-level.

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