The COVID-19 pandemic has created disruptions and uncertainties for thousands of Australian university students including myself. We have had to adjust to a new reality. Remote learning will never replace the authentic experience of traveling to Indonesia. But it has become a valid and somewhat certain option during this uncertain time. Aside from the pandemic, there has also been a steady decline in enrollments for Indonesian at Australian universities over the past couple of decades. In fact, around 712* Australian university students were studying Indonesian during 2019, down from around 2,000 during 1992.
Despite the current outlook, it is helpful to unpack some of the practical reasons and fun resources available for Australian university students to start learning Indonesian. Young people like Emma Roberts are sharing their experiences online in the hopes of persuading others to learn Indonesian. More broadly, communities and relevant organisations are also leaning in to provide support towards the teaching of Indonesian amongst young Australians.
Indonesian or otherwise known as Bahasa Indonesia, is Indonesia's official language. It is worth noting that there are over hundreds of languages, dialects and ethnicities across the Indonesian archipelago. But for the purposes of this article, Bahasa Indonesia will be referred to. You may notice words that are familiar or seem similar in another language. In fact, Bahasa Indonesia has been influenced by other languages over time such as Dutch, Portuguese and Arabic. This is noteworthy as these influences reflect the country's historical contexts and rich diversity.
Unlike other languages, the standard Indonesian structure is straightforward and therefore, easier to recall. While the grammar may appear intimidating, the structure is usually always consistent. For example, to make a plural word, the word is repeated. Such as Buku-buku, which means books. Another example is that when the subject changes in a sentence, the verb usually remains. Examples of this are Dia pergi meaning she/he goes and Kamu pergi meaning you go.
Some have noted that Indonesian can be informal with the repetitive use of slang. Depending on how you learn Indonesian, you may or may not be taught this detail. Either way, learning Indonesian slang is relevant in understanding the language’s modern variations and usage.
Education textbooks like The Indonesian Way are ideal for beginner’s as they provide a detailed guide for various topics in conjunction with exercises focused on reading, writing and oral skills. Online language-learning platforms can also be effective in supporting regular practice and refining pronunciation. For example, Duolingo. You can start at basics and make your way through various levels and topics. You can also compete with other participants around the world.
Another viable online learning resource is Quizlet. Creating an Indonesian vocabulary list alongside translations can allow you to memorise the spelling and definitions of words. It also means that you can differentiate words that are the same but apply in separate contexts. Initially, you can sign up for free to try them out and if interested later on, you can pay for a premium account. Because of the simple language structure and these education resources, learning Indonesian can be a fun and practical option for Australian university students.
Another benefit for pursuing Indonesian as an Australian university students, is that there are study organisations out there offering Indonesian language programs. What’s more, such organisations offer both in-person and remote learning options. For example, the Australian Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Studies (ACICIS) offers short term and semester language courses, study tours and internships through partner universities and institutions. In particular, the Flexible Language Immersion Program (FLIP) focuses on language training coupled with cultural classes offered by Gadjah Mada University. In response to the pandemic, ACICIS transitioned most of their programs online including language training.
In early 2021, I was fortunate to take part in the ACICIS virtual Indonesian Language Short Course. Despite the intensive course being online, the overall experience was excellent. There was regular contact with ACICIS staff, Satya Wacana Christian University staff and other participants throughout the program. We were also able to engage with local community members of Salatiga, Central Java.
Another study program option is the BIPA program or Bahasa Indonesia Untuk Penutur Asing (Indonesian Language for Foreign Speakers). Offered through various Indonesian universities, BIPA courses are tailored to meet the learning needs of non-native speakers. Furthermore, Unibridge Project is a group that connects Australian and Indonesian students via Facebook and their website, to exchange language skills. It’s fairly informal. Having online conversations with another Indonesian student throughout the pandemic has been helpful in building my confidence. There are various methods to connect including the completion of exercises together via video call (as demonstrated in the photo below).
There are also youth-led organisations that give opportunities for Australian university students to utilise their language skills in a professional setting. Such as the Australia-Indonesian Youth Association (AIYA), Conference of Australian and Indonesian Youth (CAUSINDY), Australia Indonesia Business Council (ABIC) and the Australia-Indonesia Centre. Such organisations provide online and in-person activities throughout Australian and Indonesian cities. Typically, membership consists of an annual fee so you can access regular content and attend events, social activities etc. An example of a language event, is the NAILA awards. It is the annual National Australia Indonesian Language Awards competition that encourages students from primary to tertiary education, to show off their language skills through various speech themes. 2018 winner Bryanna Wilson shared her NAILA experience with Asia Options last year. This event is significant because its driven by the need to increase awareness of Indonesian in the Australian education sector.
On top of language skills, membership also offers opportunities for Australian university students to build professional networks and career plans. For example, the Pathways Mentoring Program formed by CAUSINDY and AIYA. Undergraduates/graduates are paired with professionals from their field of interest to establish knowledge and skills relevant to building a career in the bilateral space. Mentees and mentors can come from either Australia or Indonesia. I found this program really valuable in gaining career insight from my mentor’s experience and identifying skills/goals/attributes needed in my field of interest.
Another example is the Australian-Indonesian Youth Exchange Program (AIYEP). This annual program is designed for young Australians and Indonesians to travel and study in each other’s country. Having Indonesian can be a valuable asset for this program, as students would ideally be expanding their career interest in the bilateral space.
Having any language, let alone Indonesian, is useful in today’s globalised world. But Indonesia is considered the 4th most populated country and the 10th largest economy regarding power parity. The ratification of the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA) in July 2021 was a significant move in strengthening bilateral economic ties and signaling future opportunities in the region. Lastly and most obviously, the geographic proximity between Australia and Indonesia is incredibly close. With these factors in mind, having Indonesian may be advantageous in influencing a students’ career trajectory and contribute towards Australia’s engagement with Indonesia .
All in All
Indonesian is a valuable and practical language option for Australian university students. From the language structure to the study programs to the professional associations, there are ample resources to guide and support students through their language journey.
Despite the pandemic and uncertainties of travel, it’s never too late to start learning Indonesian wherever you are!
*EDITED 1/4/2022 It originally stated that there were 178 students studying Indonesian across Australia. However, we have corrected this number to 712 since the initial 178 was a misinterpretation of a statistic in Hill’s article. Instead, the number of Australian university students studying Indonesian in 2019 was roughly 712. This is based on the following calculation; the number of EFTSL (Equivalent Full-Time Student Load) multiplied by about 4. This is a common error but hopefully, with more awareness, it means that the data can be better understood on a national level.
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