8 Simple Strategies to Master Indonesian Pronunciation

learn Indonesian pronunciation

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When learning Indonesian, what you see isn’t always what you hear.

Obviously this is due to different ways of pronouncing the alphabets. Though Indonesian words are written in Roman scripts, but they are pronounced differently as English words for that matter. Some letters, like “e” in the word “bebek” and “lemah,” can be pronounced in more than one way in Bahasa Indonesia. Like every other language, these parts are both a necessary and an interesting aspect of learning a new language.

The reasons of practicing pronunciation are obvious: 

  1. A better understanding of pronunciation leads to less confusion, especially during conversations with native speakers.
  2. You can pronounce Indonesian names correctly, showing your signs of respect to the Indonesian(s) you are speaking to.
  3. Being able to pronounce Indonesian words correctly will give you more confidence when communicating in Indonesian.

In this article we are going to discuss practical strategies to learn Indonesian pronunciation.

(1) Don’t skip learning Indonesian alphabets

When you are about to learn a new language, you may be impatient with your process. This is normal, and is an experience shared by many language learners out there. But please be aware of this potential problem. Learning Indonesian alphabets is extremely important and is a step you should definitely not skip, but to master. It’s the building blocks that will help you to be able independently learn Indonesian much more quickly in the long run.

Mastering Indonesian alphabets means you are able to spell words in Bahasa Indonesia, which then will help you to learn how Indonesian words sound. Once you are able to spell correctly, it will be much easier for you to get the correct pronunciation of Indonesian words. Afterall, what makes up an Indonesian word? The alphabets. The ABCDs. Therefore in order for you to be able to pronounce Indonesian words correctly, you first need to be able to pronounce each letter correctly in Bahasa Indonesia.

Just a little tip: if there is only ONE WORD you need to be able to spell it right. It’s your name! Learn how to spell your name in Indonesian. Your future self will thank you, as you may encounter a scenario where you have to spell out your name – whether it is to confirm your hotel booking, etc.

(2) Copy the locals and practice sounding like them

There is no replacement for learning pronunciation from the native speakers themselves. So listen! Listen to Indonesian radio programs and watch televisions and movies in Indonesian. Imitate what you are hearing – even if you are not sure what they are saying yet. Just try to repeat those words and sentences you hear, again and again. And then compare if how you sound is as close to what you hear.

(3) Pay attention to intonation and stress

In relevance to tips #1 & #2, after you’ve mastered spelling in Indonesian, when you are trying to imitate how native speakers of Indonesian speak, concentrate on the word stress and intonation. Intonation refers to the rise and fall of the voice. Pay close attention to the intonation and stress of words or sentences, especially when spoken in different scenarios, to express different emotions.

The intonation, or tone of words, affects their meaning. Depending on which part of a word is stressed, and where it’s placed in a sentence, the word may have a different meaning in different contents. The key here is to listen carefully to how words are used by native speakers.

(4) Focus on words you have difficulty pronouncing

Do you notice that there are some Indonesian words that you PRONOUNCE that locals even ask you to repeat or clarify? Or are there some Indonesian words that you HEAR from locals that you need them to repeat slowly? Pay attention to those words. Take a note, because those are exactly the words and groups of words you may need to practice pronouncing more.

The next step is to break those words down, especially those longer ones, for example: “memperkenalkan.” Many non native speakers have trouble in pronouncing the “r” letter in Indonesian words. So break that word apart into pieces, and slowly put it back together: “mem-per-ke-nal-kan.” After you’ve broken the word(s) you find difficulty pronouncing down, practice to say these words slowly. It may be helpful to keep a dictionary nearby just in case.

For an English-Indonesian / Indonesian-English dictionary, we highly recommend getting this Tuttle dictionary. Click the picture below to see the details.

English Indonesian Dictionary

(5) Record Yourself

Record yourself using your phone or PC. It is hard to correct mistakes when you don’t even know where you make them. Don’t be shy. This is an inevitable part of mastering a new language. So let’s just get started on this practicing part!

The best part about recording yourself is you’ll get to keep track of your improvements. Speak loudly and clearly as best as you can, with the focus on words you have difficulty pronouncing.

If you’re just getting started in learning Indonesian, you probably don’t know which words you have trouble pronouncing in the first place. And for that reason, reading Indonesian books is always an approach we always recommend to our language learners. Pick up one of those books, and just straight read them up – even when you are not sure what they mean yet. 

Indonesian Books for Beginners


(6) Practice Indonesian alone

Sometimes problems in practicing correct pronunciation comes because we are afraid to make mistakes. If this is the case for you, it may be helpful to create a situation whereby you’re not afraid to make mistakes. Practice your pronunciation alone first, and more effectively, with the help of a qualified Bahasa Indonesia teacher.

The role of a qualified Bahasa Indonesia teacher is to pinpoint areas where you make mistakes and teach you ways to get better in ways that you’ll find effortless and easy.

Another additional tip, sometimes it also helps to create scenarios – meeting someone for the first time, asking for directions – then act out the dialogue. The more you’re familiar with different scenarios, the more confident you are when speaking out in public to native speakers. This approach works to first build your confidence.

(7) Practice Indonesian with Someone Else

Now comes the inevitable part. Eventually to practice your pronunciation, you have to practice with someone else that is not your teacher. This will allow you to get a real life experience. Do you happen to go to Indonesia often for work? That’s great! Practice whenever you have the chance!

If you have the chance to go to Indonesia to practice what you’ve learned in real life, or you don’t know any native speakers living near you, don’t let that get in the way of your progress. There are lots of great websites that allow you to connect with native speakers to practice what you’ve learned.

Another approach you can do? Find a language buddy, another Indonesian language learner to practice speaking and conversing in Indonesian!

(8) Slow Down

To show one’s fluency does not mean one has to speak fast. This is wrong. The point is to get the person you’re speaking to, to understand what you’re saying fully. Speaking slowly will give you time to breathe properly and think about what you want to say next. Because it gives you time to think while you are speaking, you will feel more relaxed and be able to concentrate on pronouncing your Indonesian words correctly.

Last Words…

It’s easy to get excited and start speaking quickly once you learn how a word is pronounced. Do not worry about sounding funny or speaking too slowly, especially at the start of your learning journey. To put things into perspective and for your encouragement. Remember what Amy Chua said: “Do you know what a foreign accent is? Bravery.”

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