This Saturday, I am going to Jogjakarta to study Bahasa Indonesia for a few days.
Here are some of the reasons why I am spending my fall break in a school, instead of in Thailand on a beach or on a boat off the coast of Borneo.
I see learning the language of the place you live a sign of respect. It’s like saying, “I know I am in your space, and I want you to see me as someone who can learn from you.” Perhaps it is because of the dynamic between races in the States, but being a presence in a space that is inhabited largely by people who are less financially blessed seems like an intrusion not only physically, but mentally as well. It seems as if basic competence in Bahasa Indonesia is a small price to pay for the potential of being able to “level” with people.
I hate hearing people say, “Well, you don’t really need to know Bahasa if you live in Kemang, because ‘everyone speaks English.'” It’s not about need. It’s about wanting to show people you care about their culture while living in their home.
2) Increase my awareness of my surroundings
It’s one thing to know where you are, and where you are going. It’s a whole ‘nother situation to be aware of what is happening as you get to and from those places. Not only would it increase safety, but it also assists in learning more about the place where you live. When you can’t read all of the signs, when the advertisements mean no sense, and when you can’t tell a local avocado from a local mango… that Bahasa Indonesia would come in handy.
3) Cultural Knowledge
I am a question asker. It’s just who I am. I want to know about places and people and history and tastes and the dos- and- don’ts. With no ability to communicate with non-English speaking Indonesians, I can’t even ask someone to unlock a door, let alone ask someone if they were able to travel home to their village for Lebaran. I want to know about the food, about the lyrics of the national anthem, about what they, the Indonesians, think about the current political situation.
4) Minimize Confusion
This seems obvious, but there are some really confusing moments when you don’t speak the same person as all of the workers at HyperMart, as the security guards who keep you safe, of the woman who cleans your classroom everyday… “Where can I find a coffee grinder,” and “Would it be more convenient if I paid in cash instead” would minimize so much confusion. Instead, I just stand there, like an unhelpful bule idiot, wishing that I knew another 100 or 200 or 300 words.
5) Linguistic Love
Bahasa Indonesia is a very simple language to learn. While there are numerous other factors that make actual true communication very difficult (accent, slang, speed, etc.), it is, in its essence, easy. From English, it is estimated that competence can be achieved in only 900 hours. (It’s Level III. To put that into perspective, the Level I languages are those most closely related to English. The level V languages are Arabic, Japanese, Korean, Cantonese and Mandarin, at 2200+ hours for competency.)
There is such a huge part of me that just wants to learn. I want to talk about prefixes and suffixes and why I shouldn’t use the word “dan” when listing items in a store and if I should use “bagus” or “baik” when I want to ask the DVD lady if the coughtotallylegitmatecough copy of The Great Gatsby is “good yet.” Languages are so interesting and immersion is really the only way to learn a language well. So, why not embrace the opportunity and learn as much as I can, while I still have the chance to be immersed?