Monday, November 18, 2013

Why Can't Indonesians Speak English As A Second Language?

That was the question asked by my Boss CO. He reminisced how he traveled to the small cities in the Philippines and asked directions to a scavenger, who surprisingly could speak English quite well. He said it's the same thing in Cambodia and Laos, where you could just stop any person on the street and he/she could speak English.

Since Southeast Asians share so many similarities, one can't help comparing an ASEAN member to another member. Let's just omit Singapore and Malaysia, who had the Commonwealth connection, from this discussion.

Does this mean we have less linguistic ability compared to our neighbors? No. When I went to Mt. Kelimutu in Flores island a couple of weeks ago, I met this lovely hostel lady who speaks English. She is a simple homemaker and learns the European language through daily interaction with her guests. So yeah, when demands are pressing, many Indonesians can speak any foreign language.

I've been trying to find the answer for the question in the post title and come up with several factors on the why English in Indonesia is an exclusive language spoken only by the young, the hip and the upper crust.

1. Most Indonesians have to learn many languages since early youth, and it confused them. Taking from my own experience, I have a Sundanese father and a Javanese mother, I spent my childhood with my Sundanese-speaking grandma then I learned Bahasa Indonesia at school.
FYI, there are two types of Javanese languages: kromo (the refined one, spoken when with the elders and people we respect) and ngoko (the casual, used amongst friends and like-minded company), while Sundanese has three types: (1) the one used for the elders, (2) the one used for people of the same age and (3) the one used for younger people (Other Sundanese-speaking people out there, please correct me if I'm wrong).

So, by the time Indonesians enroll at school, study Bahasa Indonesia and then study English, they have a mixed up comprehension on the grammar. Before they have a thorough understanding of their mother language, they have to learn the national language, which has a totally different structure.

I believe that if you want to master a foreign language, you should fully understand your own native language (whatever language that is). I had been very fortunate that D worked as a language editor at a publishing company as he had laid a solid foundation on my linguistic ability.

2. Indonesia is a vast archipelago and the distribution of competent English language teachers has been a bit dispersed compared to Cambodia.

3. Many international tourists usually only visit the tourist-packed places, such as Bali island (because it's more convenient in terms of transportation and accommodation, of course). But if they go to far-flung places and interact with the locals, I'm sure that the locals will be able to pick up a word or two from them.

Things have developed for the better. Let's hope that there will be more Indonesians blogging in English to spread the word out.

Anyway, instead of demanding Indonesians to be fluent in English, why don't we introduce Bahasa Indonesia to the tourists? Afterall, this link says Bahasa Indonesia is an easy one to master:).

What do you think? This random rambling is brought to you by the absence of Boss NPM (He's on a business trip to Poland for one week. Oh happiness, oh freedom!). Oh, and have a magnificent Monday! :)

No comments:

Post a Comment