The sole official language is Indonesian
, known in that language as Bahasa Indonesia
. The Indonesian language has adopted a number of loan words from Arabic, Dutch, and Sanskrit. It is similar to Malay
(spoken in Malaysia
, and Singapore
) and speakers of both languages can usually understand each other.
The main differences are in the loan words: Malay was more influenced by the English language, while Indonesian was more influenced by the Dutch language.
Written phonetically with the Latin alphabet and with a fairly logical grammar, Indonesian is generally regarded as one of the easiest languages to learn, and A.M. Almatsier's The Easy Way to Master the Indonesian Language
, a 200 page small paperback, is an excellent starting point. It can be found in any Indonesian bookstore for less than US$3.
The language went through a series of spelling reforms in the 1950s and the 1960s to reduce differences with Malay and hide its Dutch roots. Although the reforms are long complete, you may still see old signs with dj
, or oe
Unlike in neighbouring Malaysia
or the Philippines
, English is generally not
widely spoken. That being said, hotel and airline staff generally speak an acceptable level of English, and English is widely spoken on the touristy island of Bali
. In addition, most of the well-educated upper class will be reasonably competent in English.
While Indonesian is the lingua franca
throughout the archipelago, there are thousands of local languages as well, and if you really get off the beaten track, you may have to learn them as well. Some ethnic Chinese communities continue to speak various Chinese dialects, most notably Hokkien
and Teochew in Pontianak
Most educated seniors (70 years/older) in Indonesia understand Dutch
, but realistically speaking English is far
more useful these days. Though Arabic
is not widely spoken, many educated Muslims, especially those who graduated from Islamic religious institutes, understand Arabic to varying degrees.
English language TV channels are available on most hotels. MetroTV (local TV channel) broadcasts news in Chinese from Monday to Friday at 7AM. MetroTV also broadcasts news in English from Monday to Friday at 7:30AM. TVRI (state owned TV station) broadcasts news in English from Monday to Friday at 4:30PM in the afternoon. All schedules are in Waktu Indonesia Barat (WIB), which is 7 hr ahead of Greenwich Mean Time and includes the capital city of Jakarta.