Java Travel

Learning Indonesian Progress Report – Understanding Accents!

Today, for the first time, I realised that I recognise accents in Indonesia. You might think that it’s no big deal, but for me it’s important because it allows me to understand when someone says a word that sounds different to the way I learnt how to say it. Wha? Example.

Pakai. This is the verb people use for “to use” (which is not technically correct anyway!!!) I learnt to say the “ai” part like an American would say “I”. People in West Java say the “ai” like a Brit would say the “ey” bit in “hey”. Then the rest of Indonesia quite often speaks informally and just says “pake” with the “e” sounding like “e” in “egg”. That same principle applies across all the words with “ai” in them and then a range of other words that mean you have no idea what someone is saying, even though you’ve learnt the vocab!

So it’s important. And I have only just realised that I am naturally hearing the different variations in pronunciations without having to think about them. That is fantastic! Real progress.

Pantai or Pantay?
Pantai or Pantay?

The next problem I have to work out is when people are speaking in a mix of English and Indonesian. Most of the time I have absolutely no idea what they are saying when they use English words because I’m concentrating on each word trying to convert each Indonesian word into English in my mind… and then someone gets tricky and slips in an English word with an Indonesian accent. For me, it just sounds like an Indonesian word that I haven’t learnt yet! Pure hell! I reckon it’s better for people to just use one or the other, particularly if their English pronunciation is not quite up to scratch.

Which leads me to my last point — Given that I often have problems understanding Indonesians using English, it’s important for me to make sure my Indonesian pronunciation is spot on if I want to be understood by the vast majority of Indonesians. So I’ll continue to work on that…

What’s your experience with accents in foreign countries?


6 replies on “Learning Indonesian Progress Report – Understanding Accents!”

I’ve been told it’s not correct. Generally, you should rarely use the root word on its own although when talking on the street, root words are the way to go because it’s casual. There are also some root words that you can’t really add the prefix to such as “tinggal”. That would be meninggal. Which changes “to stay/live” to “to die”.

It’s like “lihat”. Everyone uses it, but the proper verb is “melihat”.

Then there’s the words that you can add “ber” to… these are the ones that don’t need an object. Like “run” = “berlari”, “stand” = “berdiri”, “walk” = “berjalan”.

Anyway, that’s what I’m being taught at the moment!

I thought I was doing so well with my Spanish in Guatemala – now that I’m a couple of weeks removed from my lessons I’m starting to find it harder and harder to understand people as the accents change and people think my one or two sentences means I can speak Spanish and so speak to me in their own rapid fire accents!

It’s awesome you’re making such quick progress 🙂

@Megan – Yeah, it’s very difficult when people don’t understand that you can only speak a bit of a language… even when you tell them that you’re skills are limited and ask them to speak more slowly, it often fails here. 🙂

I hadn’t really thought about the variations in accent, but it would definitely be confusing, wondering if you’re a hearing a new word or a familiar one said slightly differently. I’m still trying to figure out how I’d like to relearn Spanish, and there’s no doubt I’ll encounter the same 🙂

@Heather – Yeah, I didn’t even consider that some words were ones I actually knew because the vowels being used were completely different. And I guess that’s why some English speakers in Indonesia find it difficult to understand my English because they’ve learnt a different accent.

I think learning a language is great to do in a country that has it as its national language. I think that way you’re forced to use it every day and that is where the real learning happens.

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