Because Indonesia has well over 700 languages, it’s very complex for foreigners who reside here and study the language(s). Many say Bahasa Indonesian is an easy language to learn. Maybe it is / would be an easy language to learn, but you can’t learn only one language here. You have to become familiar with an assortment of languages, because you are surrounded by them all day long.

When we went to language school we could communicate freely with the teachers there, but when we went outside the school, we couldn’t understand the people, because nobody in real life speaks formal bahasa Indonesia. It is referred to as “book language.” If you want to sound like a book, use the formal language. If you want to sound like a real person, you need to use the common everyday street language, which is very different, and totally disregards grammatical rules.

Another challenge is that you are in contact with people of many different ethnic groups. They will commonly mix their ethnic group’s language with Bahasa Indonesia, or even mix multiple languages when they speak.

Where we are living now, in the city of Jambi, on the island of Sumatra, all of our neighbors are Javanese, and when they speak with us, they frequently mix the Javanese language with Bahasa Indonesia. Then, the majority ethnic group in the Jambi Province, the Jambinese people, they have their own take on the language as well. When they speak, they change the letter “a” into an “o.” That really throws the foreigner who is trying to learn the language. You will also hear Mandarin used everyday outside your home (we hear it from morning till night, because our neighbors are Chinese).

To adapt to Indonesia life, you almost have to become acquainted with several languages. If you don’t, you will never be able to fully comprehend what is going on around you.