Of all the languages in the world, why learn Indonesian in particular? Assuming you’re not moving to Indonesia or interested in learning your romantic partner’s language, it may not be immediately obvious why you should study this language over a more widely spoken one like Spanish or Mandarin. Even then, it’s likely that if you’re learning the language to form closer bonds with family or in-laws, you’ll probably learn a more localized dialect, as Indonesian is a lingua franca designed to serve as a bridge between the 600 or so languages that have flourished across the 17,000 islands of the Indonesian Archipelago.
There’s a pretty good case you could make for adding this language to your vocabulary, though — just one of which is that it’s a pretty easy way to get a foothold into the rest of the Austronesian language family.
Why Learn Indonesian?
Reason 1: It started out as a rebuke to Indonesia’s colonial past
Indonesian (alternatively referred to as Bahasa Indonesia) actually hasn’t been around that long, and that’s because it’s a standardized national version of Malay that was devised to make communication possible among the country’s diverse array of populations and languages. Old Malay was once the language used to facilitate trade between the islands, and Dutch colonists were ultimately unsuccessful in forcing the native population to learn their language. Eventually, Indonesian became the official language during the nationalist movement of the early 20th century as a form of rebellion against the Dutch, and Indonesia gained its independence in 1945 after a brief occupation by the Japanese.
Though most Indonesians speak local dialects at home, Indonesia is one of the only countries that was able to establish an indigenous national language that almost everyone speaks to some degree following colonial rule.
Reason 2: It’s one of the easiest Asian languages for an English speaker to learn
Unlike most Asian languages, Indonesian uses the Latin alphabet, so if you’ve been interested in getting your linguistic bearings in that part of the world but have been too intimidated by the complex and unfamiliar character systems of languages like Mandarin or Korean, Indonesian might give you a much more manageable start.
It’s also one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn, period. The language is highly phonetic, meaning the words are pretty much pronounced exactly as they’re spelled. It also contains fewer words than most languages. The grammar rules are also very relaxed, and there are no grammatical genders or verb conjugations to memorize. All in all, this makes a compelling case for the “why learn Indonesian” argument because it probably won’t take very much time or effort at all (relatively), which makes it a bit of a no-brainer.
Reason 3: It’ll unlock your understanding of other Austronesian languages
Indonesian will give you a strong entry point into the Austronesian language family. It’s fairly similar to the Malaysian, Singaporean and Brunei standards of Malay, so you’ll be able to easily pick up Malay and other local languages from there.
This has a lot to do with the fact that Indonesian was designed to be a lingua franca anyway, so by learning it, you’ll be able to get around more seamlessly in that part of the world and converse with nearly 200 million people who speak it as a native or second language.
Reason 4: It’ll give you more excuses to eat Indonesian food
Two Indonesian dishes, beef rendang and nasi goreng, took the top two spots in a CNN poll of the world’s best foods. Obviously, you don’t need to speak Indonesian to enjoy the food, but language learning is one of those things that thrives on motivation — wouldn’t it be compelling to have a goal in mind that you’ll reward yourself for by treating yourself to a delicious meal?
Reason 5: Indonesia is a popular place to visit and live in for a reason
Whether you’re just a tourist or having dreams of being a digital nomad in Bali, Indonesia draws a lot of people in with its beauty, delicious food, and the kindness and charm of the people. Though this answer to the question of “why learn Indonesian” initially began with the premise that people might not necessarily choose this language if they weren’t trying to visit or live in the country itself, it turns out that visiting or living there is still a popular proposition.