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How Many Languages do Indonesians Speak?

How Many Languages do Indonesians Speak?

As one of the most diverse countries in the world, many Indonesians speak multiple languages.

There are more than 300 native languages spoken in Indonesia. The national language, “Bahasa Indonesia”, is spoken as mother tongue by around 7 percent of total population, according to University of Washington’s Asian Languages and Literature.

Bahasa Indonesia, which literally means the ‘Indonesian language,’ is spoken by most Indonesians as their second language as it is the “unifying language.” The official language of the country is used by the mass media as well as educational, business and governmental institutions. But despite the wide-spread use of Indonesia, some people, usually those in remote areas, can only speak their native languages.

Nonetheless, a study has discovered that 17.4 percent of Indonesians are trilingual, making Indonesia the country with highest ratio of people speaking in three different languages.

The most common combination of language that are being spoken in Indonesia include Bahasa Indonesia, English and Javanese.

The Javanese language is the most widely used regional language in Indonesia, considering that the Javanese people make up around 40 percent of Indonesia’s population. Many Indonesians therefore learn Javanese due to their frequent interactions with Javanese people.

Meanwhile, English is taught in the national curriculum as an official foreign second language, with Chinese (Mandarin) also joining the educational curriculum since a few years ago.

Most Indonesians are bilingual, according to various Indonesians’ opinions.

Here is what Jimmy Harijanto elaborated in Quora:

“1. If you (were) born in Jakarta, you only speak 1 up to 3 languages, [Indonesian] with standard dialect or Betawi dialect, plus [English, Chinese Mandarin/Hokkien/Cantonese]
2. If you (were) born in Surabaya, you at least speak 2 up to 4 languages: [Indonesian and Javanese], plus [English, Chinese Mandarin/Hokkien]
3. If you (were) born in Bangkalan, you at least speak 3 up to 5 languages : [Indonesian, Madurese and Javanese], plus [English, Chinese Mandarin/Hokkien]”

Jimmy adds that language abilities may be decided by where an Indonesian was born, excluding personal interest in learning other language.

“If you (were) born in a “really big” city (ie. Jakarta), you will be likely only speak at least 1 language (the national language), if you (were) born in an “average” city (ie. Surabaya, Bandung, Semarang), you will be likely to speak at least 2 languages, and if you born in a small city (and outside Java island but still nearby, ie. Bangkalan, Bali), you will be likely to speak at least 3 languages (the national language, the regional language, the heritage language),” writes Jimmy in the information sharing site.

Riza Saputra also thinks that most Indonesians are bilingual, though he adds two factors, besides birthplace, which decide one’s language capability.

“First is generation. Younger generation seems to be much more familiar with English,” writes Riza in the same sharing site as Jimmy.

Riza also states that marriage is a factor, although it is not always the case. “For instance, my father is Minang, and my mother is Sundanese. My father happened to be able to understand Sundanese through marriage (and even speak in it although that always sounds funny and make me laugh), but my mother don’t understand Minang language at all,” he wrote in Quora.

“So I think it’s safe to say that most Indonesian is at least bilingual (Indonesian + local for older generation, Indonesian + English for younger generation), and can rise up to be able to speak 6 languages (Indonesian + local + regional local + spouse’s local + English + personal interest),” Riza shared.

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