Session 5 : Your First Conversation – Learn Bahasa Indonesia

So let’s say that you have diligently followed my advices and read only the part recommended for beginners in the previous sessions. Now you should know how to :

  • Make a simple sentence, with the right subject.
  • Turn it into a question or a negation
  • Use past and future tense

In this session, let’s relax a little bit and try to wrap this up. I will take the exemple of the first conversation you may have with someone you just met.


Say hello

  • Halo, hi, (inf.) yo : hi
  • Selamat pagi [safe morning] : general greeting to use from 0:00am until 10:30am
  • Selamat siang [safe midday time] : general greeting to use from 10:30am until 2:00pm
  • Selamat sore [safe afternoon] : general greeting to use from 2:00pm until sunset (6:00pm)
  • Selamat malam [safe night] : general greeting to use from 6:00pm until 0:00am
    • The selamat part is very often omitted. So you can just greet someone with a simple pagi or malam.

Say goodbye

  • (inf.) Dadah : bye
  • Sampai jumpa lagi [until meet again] : see you next time
    • If you want to translate meet, use ketemu instead. Jumpa is very seldom used in informal Indonesia but in this idiom. Sampai ketemu lagi is quite common also.
  • Sampai besok [until tomorrow] : see you tomorrow
  • Selamat jalan [safe travel] : good trip (so you can say it only to someone who is leaving while you stay)
  • Selamat tinggal [safe stay] : an equivalent to say if you are leaving and the listener stay. Not very common even though it’s in every phrasebook.

The everyday conversation

As a foreigner, expect to be asked to same set of questions every time you meet someone new. Working this vocabulary will be useful every day. Please note that all those sentences are highly informal but that is what you will actually hear.

  • Siapa nama ? [Who name ?] : What is your name ?
  • Answer : Nama saya Elliot [Name I Elliot]
  • B(e)rapa umurmu ? [How much age you ?] : How old are you ?
  • Answer : Saya 26 [I 26] : I’m 26
  • Mister agama apa ? [Mister religion what ?] : What is your religion mister ?
  • Answer : Aku orang katolik [I people Catholic] : I’m Catholic
    • This question is very common are should not be regarded as intrusive. For Indonesians, religion is a very important part of each one’s identity.
    • Do not answer something like ‘Tidak ada[No have] (I don’t have) or ‘Aku tidak percacaya Tuan[I not believe God] (I don’t believe in God). This answer is simply unconceivable for 99% of Indonesians, you will embark yourself in a conversation that goes nowhere and in the end your listener is very likely to tell you he will pray for your salvation.
    • If you are a Westener, Katolik (Catholic) or Kristen (Protestant) are the answer expected. Being Muslim (same word in Indonesian) will bring you a lot of sympathy also.
  • Apa kabar ? [What news ?] : How are you ?
    • Gimana kabarnya can also be heard.
  • Answer : Kabar baik. Kamu juga baik ? [News good. You also good ?] : I’m fine. What about you ?
  • Answer (alternative) : Baik saja lah [Just fine ‘you know’]
  • Mau ke mana ? [Will to where ?] : Where are you going? (here mau is a future marker and does not have the meaning of want)
    • Extremely common question that doesn’t require a proper answer. Answering jalan jalan [walk walk] : I’m out for a stroll is perfectly acceptable.
  • Sudah nikah ? [Already married ?] : Are you married already ?
  • Sudah punya anak ? [Already have child ?] : Do you have children already ?
  • Sudah berkeluarga ? [Already “form a family” ?] : Do you have founded a family already ?
  • Ada pacar ? [Have girl/boyfriend ?] : Do you have a girl/boyfriend ?
  • Answer : Ya [Yes] or Belum [Not yet]
  • Dari mana mister ? [From where Mister ?] : Where are you from Mister ?
  • Asalnya dari mana mister ? [Origin you from where Mister ?] : From which origin are you Mister ?
  • Answer : Aku dari Perancis.
  • Tinggal di mana ? [Stay at where ?] : Where do you stay ?
    • Nginap di mana ? [Stay overnight at where ?] is also common
  • Answer : Aku di Homestay Agus [I at Homestay Agus] : I stay at Homestay Agus
  • Sudah b(e)rapa lama di Indonesia ? [Already how much long at Indonesia ?] : How long have you been in Indonesia ?
  • Answer : Udah 1 minggu. Aku baru datang [Already one week. I new come] : 1 week. I just arrived.
  • Sudah pernah ke Java ? [Already ever to Java ?] : Have you ever been to Java ?
  • Answer : Belum, tapi minggu depan aku mau ke sana [Not yet, but week in front I “will” to there] : Not yet, but next week I will go there.

Make it last longer

At this point, if you are running out of things to say there are some very easy tricks to keep on talking. It is especially efficient with taxi or bus drivers :

  • The suka / tidak suka technique. Ask someone his opinion about anything : you can go over all the cities you know (suka Jakarta ?, suka Surabaya ?, suka Makassar ? …), all parts of Indonesia you know (suka Madura ?, suka Sumatra ?, Suka Java Tengah ?…). Neighbouring countries are a good pick if you want some more unconventional reactions. I advise you to start by asking Suka Malaysia ? Works also with football players, football clubs, public figures, actors … Bagus / tidak bagus is also effective.
  • The ada / tidak ada technique. You start by asking someone where is he from and then you ask if there is anything you can come up with there : is there any mall there ? any theater ? any airport ? any special song ? any elephant ? any crocodile ? any snake ? There more unlikely the thing you ask for the better.

Pay attention to what the other say. Everytime you hear a word 2 times or more, write it down and ask for the translation now or later.

Instead of answering the questions above, you can use coba tebak [try guess] : try to guess.

Talking about your level in Indonesian

  • Kamu bisa Bahasa ? [You can Bahasa ?] : Can you speak Bahasa (Indonesia) ?
  • Answer 1 : Sedikit aja [Little just] : Just a little bit
  • Answer 2 : Bisa [Can] : Yes I can
  • Answer 3 : Aku tidak mengerti [I no understand] : I don’t understand

If you make some progress you might even get some compliments :

  • Pintar bahasanya [Clever bahasa you] : Your Bahasa is good
  • Udah lancar [Already fluent] : You are already fluent

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