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Indonesian under grave threat

Paulina Sugiarto’s three children are fluent in English, however she is keen to keep Indonesian alive. Image taken from the New York Times
in Language Connect
Paulina Sugiarto’s three children are fluent in English, however she is keen to keep Indonesian alive. Image taken from the New York Times

Paulina Sugiarto’s three children are fluent in English, however she is keen to keep Indonesian alive. Image taken from the New York Times

Indonesia’s official language, Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian) is becoming an endangered species.  English is fast becoming the language of the growing upper and middle-classes of the fourth largest population in the world.

This demographic is opting for private education where their children are taught mostly in English, with very little time or importance given to Bahasa Indonesia.

It seems that a citizen’s command of the English language is increasingly seen as representative of their social standing. As a result, Indonesian has been relegated to second-class status.

Throughout the last century, Bahasa Indonesia played a vital role in unifying the Country. In 1928, nationalists seeking independence from Dutch rule chose Bahasa Indonesia, a form of Malay, as the language of Indonesia. Bahasa Indonesia became the preferred language of the educated.

Following the Country’s independence, Major General Suharto enforced the teaching of Indonesian and limited the use of English. This doctrine was upheld throughout his rule, up until his renunciation in 1998.

Aimee Dawis, Communications teacher at Universitas Indonesia says: “During the Suharto era, Bahasa Indonesia was the only language that we could see or read. English was at the bottom of the rung…It was used to create a national identity, and it worked, because all of us spoke Bahasa Indonesia. Now the dilution of Bahasa Indonesia is not the result of a deliberate government policy. It’s just occurring naturally.”

The Indonesian government recently announced that all private schools would be required to teach Indonesian by 2013. However, details of this law remain unconfirmed.



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