As one would imagine, a nation as wildly diverse as Indonesia is home to several hundred ethnic groups that speak several hundred languages. With all this Tower of Babel-ing going on, since the late 1920s, as part of its independence movement, Indonesia has been eager to promote a common language known as Bahasa Indonesia, which is a form of Malay. Indonesians use Bahasa Indonesia (“Bahasa” literally means “language”) in government, education and in the media, though only about 20% of the population speaks it as a primary language. Most, like the 75 million who speak Javanese, use their local language in the course of daily life, and speak Bahasa Indonesia when necessary.
A major upside for Indonesians and visitors alike is that Bahasa Indonesia is relatively easy to learn. It’s not a tonal language like Mandarin, Vietnamese or Thai, it’s written in Latin characters (thanks to the Dutch, who installed the so-called “ejaan lama” [Old Script] during their rule, and words are pronounced more or less as they appear.
In class we start learning Bahasa Indonesia by saying hello and goodbye:
goodbye: Daa daa