English is better than Bahasa Indonesia? No way!

Whether you realise it or not, if you’re an Indonesian and you love this blog, chances are high that you agree to the statement that says “English is more superior than Bahasa Indonesia”.

Not that I’m stereotyping all Indonesians here. Because honestly I used to think that way too, until I finally reached a conclusion that all languages are equal before God.

Just like race, religion, or sex, language is simply a cultural feature that could be used to trace the historical aspects of a particular society. Hence, since each culture in the world has their positive and negative traits, I do believe that there is no such thing called “the superiority of language”.

In direct contrast to the French, I have known fellow Indonesians to be “unproud” of their own language. They think that speaking English is the coolest thing on earth that one could ever achieve.

I don’t need to quote from Roy Morgan here, because I have examples of my own.

Here is one typical dialogue between me and a newly-introduced friend:

Friend: Lu sekolah di mana? (Which school do you attend?)

Me: Gua udah lulus. Dari SMA di Singapur. Tapi gua sekarang belom kuliah kok (I’ve graduated from a high school in Singapore. But I haven’t attended college yet as for now)

Friend: Iya? Kereeeenn!! Pasti Bahasa Inggrisnya jago dehh!! (Really? Cooooolll!! Your English must be really good!!)

Me: [smiled]

I used to be pleased to get such compliments in the past.

But as time went on, such compliments were too often repeated by many Indonesians from various backgrounds, be they teachers, students, taxi drivers, warnet (net café) attendants, Batak, Javanese, Balinese, Chinese, etc that leads me to ask myself:

“Why on earth do they think that the English language is really that cool?”

It is perfectly OK to adore English due to their widespread usage. The fact remains that English is the main lingua franca in the world, spoken by over two-third of the world population either as their first or second language. And most of those who belong to the other one-third could at least understand the meaning of “Yes”, “No”, or “Thank You”.

But I have one message to be carefully noted by all Indonesians here:

Tolong jangan pernah anggap Bahasa Indonesia sebagai Bahasa yang memalukan!

(Please do not treat Indonesian as a language to be ashamed of!)

Really, all of us should be proud to have Bahasa Indonesia as our mother tongue.

Linguists and other so-called experts have often criticised the national language of Indonesia, saying that Bahasa Indonesia is an artificial language, due to the fact that a heavy share of its vocabulary is borrowed from other languages, such as Dutch, Arabic, or Malay.

But I choose to see it from the other side of the fence. With such a heavy percentage of loanwords, I prefer to call Bahasa Indonesia as a flexible language; a language that can adapt easily to any foreign cultures without having to contaminate their own.

Such are the positive aspects that I see in the Indonesian language that I could now declare out loud that no matter what other people say; Indonesian will always be the best language for me. I am proud to be a half-Indonesian, and I am proud to be a native speaker of Bahasa Indonesia.

Now I could presume that some of you might be tempted to ask me this question:

“If you are really that chauvinistic with your own native language, why don’t you switch your Blog language to Bahasa Indonesia instead?”


I’m not chauvinistic, because doing that would mean that I’m contradicting my foremost stance above.

And to be honest, such an allure –the inclination to switch my blog language from English to my native Indonesian— has passed my mind more than once.

But for the greater good of Indonesia; the place where I was raised, the country where half of my ancestors descended from, and most importantly; the nation I love, I choose to ignore my own self-centred tendencies and continue to blog in English.

By blogging in English, I could introduce the beauty and fascinations of Indonesia to the outside world.

By blogging in English, people could know that Indonesia is unlike what they see in the CNN, with all the bombings, bloody riots, and dictatorships.

And I know very well that many Westerners out there who still think that the incumbent President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is more or less the same with the late former President Soeharto. Such is the pathetic assumption by the outside world of Indonesia that the Indonesian tourism grades so poor these days.

The statistics have shown that 20 million people visited the tiny state-island of Singapore in year 2007 in comparison to the 5.5 million people who visited Indonesia in the same year. And do you know how big Singapore is? It’s only a little bit larger than Jakarta!

Well, by blogging in English, I realise that I could introduce the real face of Indonesia to the outside world. The average Korean gamer and an officeworker in Spain –whose native languages are not English— could at least understand what is going on in Bandung if I am to discuss a topic about “Bandung’s tasty treats”.

And with all the multitudinous paraphernalia of the Indonesian life that I could discuss in my blog, I really hope that I could prove useful in my contribution to Indonesia.

I could safely assume that other native Indonesian bloggers who choose to blog in English also agree to my way of thinking. Because if they don’t think as such, then it’s a pity. They’re blogging in English for the wrong reason.

treespotter  – (27 April 2008 at 12:56)  

i think language is a communication tool. Let's not go too academic, but suffice to say that the language that enables people to communicate achieves its objectives. as simple as that.

I speak and write and understand more than three languages, but english happens to be the one i'm comfortable with.

Indonesian language is an infant language and arrived with built in limitations. To some people it could be very restrictive, to others it could be beautiful. It's not the language, it's how you use it.

try learning sign language and you'll get what i mean.

nice post tho :D

Rob Baiton  – (27 April 2008 at 20:46)  

Language, as Tree says, is a communication tool and the key is communication and not speaking or writing in the baik dan benar style (proper and correct) but rather being understood!

That is what discussion is about, communicating! If you want proper and correct language go to school and get a professional teacher to give you those tools!

Is English better than Indonesian, No! But the reality is that English currently assumes that mantle of being a (or perhaps "the") global language of business right now. This will change as the geo-political dynamics of the world change and other languges become more dominant. One should remember that the UN has more than one "Official Langugage"...

For Indonesians language is perhaps a status symbol and if you speak good English then this is indicative of someone from a higher class and well-educated! But it is a "perception" and not a "truth"...

I am at a point where I can operate in either language well but tend to mangle both in some circumstances mainly because there are some things I have only learned in Indonesian and do not know the equivalent in English without having to think first...

Maybe Indonesian or Javanese or Sundanese or Balinese or Chinese or French or just any language should be compulsory in "Western" schools so that everyone speaks at least two languages!

Interesting post!

Toshihiko Atsuyama  – (27 April 2008 at 22:04)  

@tree: yeah, i think i've focussed too much on the academic aspect of the language this time, haha

@rob: interesting to know that:

But it is a "perception" and not a "truth"...

thank u for pointing this out. I have obviously forgotten to mention this in my entry.

Yep, speaking good English has become an indispensable part of "becoming an elite" in the country that even the lower-class in Indonesia choose to emulate simple phrases in English in order to sound "high class".

For some (like me), the treatment of English as a "high class language" isn't a very good mentality to have, despite the global usage of the language.

If the Indonesians themselves aren't proud having Bahasa Indonesia as their mother tongue, who else are?

That is why I chose to write this post today, as a wake up call to all Indonesians and foreigners alike who love Indonesia as much as I do. :)

Thank u for your views and I'd be glad to have more comments from you guys again the future! :)

yonna –   – (28 April 2008 at 00:31)  

wah kalo gue sih cinta mati ma bahasa Indonesia hahaha,terbukti di blognya aja bahsa indonesia semua huhu. sampe dapet komplen dari turis asing yang berkunjung ke blog gw dan dia kuciwa karena menemukan artikel yang ingin dibacanya berbahasa Indonesia hahaha, sorry dah!

kalo saya emang seneng aja menulis pake bahasa ibu, lagian saya merasa privasi saya sbg individu terlindungi dengan menulis artikel2 dlm bahasa. jika dibandingkan dgn bahasa inggris mgkn akan lbh banyak blogger/netter yang tau apa aja yang saya omongin daripada dlm bahasa indo. jadi alasan nomer satu adalah privasi :)

kedua, saya gak merasa terpanggil untuk menjelaskan gimana negara dan masy Indo ke luar negri, kalo Toshi kan merasa terpanggil kalo saya sama sekali enggak hehe. alasan nomer 2 adalah gak terpanggil hehe.

trus saya cinta bahasa inggris, bahasa inggris adalah hal wajib nomer 2 setelah belajar ngaji dan menghafal doa. dengan persaingan ketat di dunia pendidikan dan dunia kerja yang mensyaratkan kemampuan bahasa Inggris maka saya pun menyadari hal itu. dengan mengunjungi blog yang sebagian besar atau seluruhnya berbahasa inggris maka saya bisa mengasah inggris yang cuma terpakai di dunia kerja doang.

tapi saya blm terpikir utk belajar bahasa asing lainnya, udah disaranin belajar bahasa Arab tapi entar dulu deh, hehe.

For some matter, English is better than bahasa, but it does not mean that bahasa is lower because it is better to have two-language-skill than one skill, as better as we have three, four, five language skill. the more we own that skill, the better opportunities we have to explore the beauty of the world.

bahkan gue aja demen ngomong campur aduk gini, mau gramatically error kek, mau gramatically disaster kek, bahasa dan inggris sama-sama aja hehehe.

bluesky  – (28 April 2008 at 07:06)  

A great site for ESL students is AIDtoCHILDREN.com.

AIDtoCHILDREN.com is a dual-purpose site for building an English vocabulary and raising money for under privileged children in the most impoverished places around the world.

Check it out at http://www.aidtochildren.com

Elyani  – (28 April 2008 at 10:22)  

I blog in English simply because it is easier to understand for my non Indonesian readers including my niece who only speaks a bit of bahasa Indonesia since she was born and grows up in Singapore. I'd never felt English is better than any other language. Speaking English does not mean I stop buying teh botol from the road side or do my grocery shopping in a fully air-conditioned super market only. I do not regard any Indonesians who can speak and write English flawlessly any higher than my favorite mbak Jamu who can communicate in Javanese language only. Like treespotter said, it is merely a communication tool. Saya justru merasa malu kalau tidak dapat berbahasa Indonesia dengan baik dan benar. I am proud to be an Indonesian even though bureaucracy required me to have SBKRI to proof that I am an Indonesian citizen. For someone who was born and grew up here and does not speak a word of Chinese at all, I call that an insult to my loyalty for this country. But that does not stop me from loving Indonesia.

Jakartass –   – (28 April 2008 at 12:36)  

Language is identity, and given that bahasa Indonesia was an integral part of the struggle to throw off the colonial chains, then Indonesians should certainly be proud of it. It's the key to the preferred pluralist society.

However, most (?) Indonesians also have the the language of their ethnic origin, a separate 'mother tongue', be it Batak, Javanese, Sundanese etc. etc. These too are of great value because they are the cultural roots which offer individual identity. These localised languages offer the songs, poems, oral history and mythologies which we hope to pass on to our children.

English is predominate because it is a vestige of 'our' colonial past. 'We' had the most widespread empire of any conquering force, mainly because 'we' also had the industry and machinery. Hence, India also has 'our' railway network, which is perhaps one reason why Indonesia was unlucky to have the Dutch.

Whilst 'we' were busy ripping off the resources of our colonies in order to feed our factories, we were also adopting various words, such as topee from Malay and bungalow from either Urdu or Hindi. That is one of the joys of English: it is very flexible and constantly adapts.

No living language can ever be 'pure'. And that should be how Indonesian is embraced; accept borrowed words if they are easier to understand and pronounce.

My criticism of language usage here comes about when English is used as some kind of status symbol. No language has a value if the meaning gets scrambled.

Bill Chapman –   – (28 April 2008 at 17:13)  

There's nothing wrong with English or Bahasa Indonesia. I would argue the case for the planned language Esperanto as a neutral second language for all. Esperanto has no country, or government or real money behind it, but has the support of a growing number of people world-wide. Take a look at www.esperanto.net.

Toshihiko Atsuyama  – (30 April 2008 at 11:16)  

@yonna: di sini yg dibahas bukan soal bs 2 bahasa mba, tp soal "penaikan pangkat" bahasa Inggris

menjadi "bahasa Dewa" yg menurut saya kurang pantes, hehe... tp emang ada benernya jg, kalo mau

privasi emang lebih bagus pake bahasa sendiri. Kalo barangkali ada niat pengen liat blog saya yg

personal (dalam bahasa Indo), boleh aja, tinggal PM aja :)

@bluesky: this isn't exactly the place to advertise, but nice site anyways. is it somehow related

to freerice.com?

@elyani: that's my point :D

Saya justru merasa malu kalau tidak dapat berbahasa Indonesia dengan baik dan benar.

Good. I honestly think the same way too regarding my native Indonesian :)


"Bahasa Indonesia is the key to the preferred pluralist society..."

That's a nice way of summing it all up :)

All British colonies were so lucky to have u people, which is a direct contrast to the Dutch

colonies like Indonesia which were fooled around during those unlucky days. Yep, I bet that most

Indonesians would certainly choose to be colonised by the Brits if they were given the preference.

Julian  – (3 May 2008 at 03:03)  


"Gua udah lulus. Dari SMA di Singapur."?

aw cmon, man.

gw aja ga malu gw lulusan O level dan drop out JC.

Toshihiko Atsuyama  – (3 May 2008 at 08:57)  

@jul: emangnya yg bilang gw malu lulusan o-level siapa? dasar. hehe

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