Basics of Indonesian Language (Bahasa Indonesia)

Whenever I have a conversation with someone about where I’m from and why I came back to India, people ask if I can speak Indonesian. Yes! I do speak! But still, I never got the purpose of the question. What difference would it make? -whether I knew how to speak Bahasa Indonesia or not. But anyway, considering the number of people that ask me this, let me write about it. Now that you already know I speak Indonesian, I’ll even let you know about some basics of the Indonesian language.

Say Hi!

Before we begin off with this, spoiler alert: this is probably one of the easiest languages you’ll learn! So you want to say Hi there? Guess what you’ll be saying… you’ll be saying Hi! Maybe when you write it down, it may sometimes be written as ‘Hai’. But if you’re trying to learn just to speak with locals there, then a simple ‘hi’ just the way you usually say it would be fine.

Greeting in Indonesia

Whether you are visiting Bali for a tour or just traveling for your own thirst, greeting one should be something to keep in mind. Now there are certain ways to do this. If you don’t wish to remember much, you can simply say ‘As-Salamu Alaykum’ (This is applicable to all) to everyone you meet. This can be the most respectful way to begin a conversation.

Or you can just go with ‘Salaam‘- that’ll work too. If you’re talking to a man, you can also add ‘Salaam pa‘. ‘Pa‘ is short for ‘Bapak‘ which can mean father or ‘Mr.’ in this case. Now if you want to greet with relation to the time, you can use one of the phrases below.

indonesian language basics

  • Selamat Pagi (Good morning)
  • Selamat Siang (Good afternoon). You can also use (Selamat Sore if it’s late in the afternoon… it won’t make much of a difference)
  • Selamat Sore (Good evening)
  • Selamat Malam (Good night)

If you think saying Selamat every time for a greeting is way to recursive, that’s alright. Instead of Selamat Pagi, you can just say Pagi Pagi. The same applies for Good night- you can just say Malam Malam. It isn’t generally used, but if you go out for a walk early in the morning and find sitting on the same wooden bench as yours in the park- you can try saying it.

Another thing to keep in mind is to bow. Don’t bow too much or disregard it completely either. Whenever you greet, bow a little while you’re greeting them. Even if you don’t know what to say, you can simply greet with a smile and a bow, that’s the simplest way to greet anyone you meet.

Phrases you’ll hear the most

Just like any other language, there are some phrases that one uses for day-to-day activities. These include simple ‘How are you?’s and ‘Thank you’s. So let’s see about some of these basics.

  • Apa Kabar– (How are you?) The first thing the person would ask after you greet would be Apa Kabar. Well, generally at least. Anyway, whenever they say it, you can say- Kabar Baik (I’m good). Or you can also say ‘Saya Baik‘ which means the same.
  • Terima Kasih- (Thank you) Given the hospitability of the people in Indonesia, you’ll hear a lot of thank yous for even simple stuff. You can reply by saying ‘Sama Sama’ -which means ‘You’re welcome’.
‘Where are you from?’
  • Dari Mana? –(Where are you from?)If they assume you’re a tourist, they might ask this. To be polite, (and if they suspect you know Indonesian), they can ask ‘Abang dari mana(where are you from, brother?)’ if you’re a guy. You can reply by saying, ‘Saya dari (I’m from)- and then followed by your country or city, whichever you think might sound familiar.’
  • Mau ka dimana? or Pergi dimana(Where do you want to go?)If you’re with your backpack, looking confused, or just booking a ride to your destination, you’ll mostly hear this question. It simply means ‘where do you want to go?’ You can just tell your destination’s name. Or if you want to bring it in a little smoother, you can add, ‘Saya mau ka (I want to go to)- followed by your destination’s name.’ For example, Saya mau ka Bali. 

For all the phrases that you learn, better keep in mind if you’re along with someone or not when you visit Indonesia. Instead of using ‘Saya mau pergi (I want to go..)’, you can use ‘Kita mau pergi (We want to go…)’. Here Kita can be ‘we’ or ‘us’. Not that it’ll make a big difference, it just might come handy at times!

Speak of food and restaurants

makan makan

I’ve just made a list of Indonesian words that might help you out if you’re eating out all by yourself. First, to ask someone (probably your guide, you can say- ‘Pak, disini dekat ada tempat makan? (Sir, is there a place to eat nearby?)’

Now once you make it to the restaurant, usually the transaction is simple: 1. You see the menu list 2. You choose from the menu list 3. And they get you the ordered food.

It’s as simple as that if you generally go to any restaurant in the world. However, there are times when you need to speak a little to get something specific. So here are some of the phrases that might help you out here:

  • Makan- eat
  • Nasi- rice. (Nasi Goreng- Fried Rice)
  • Tidak mau– I don’t want
  • Tamau (I don’t want…) continue with whatever you don’t want along with the dish.
  • Bisah cepat, ya?– Make it fast, alright? (Yep, I’ve said this on a number of occasions)
  • Mie– noodles
  • Hanya sayuran or sayuran saja– Only vegetables. If you’re a vegetarian, you can say this before you order.
  •  Minyak sedikit aja– just a little oil. To people who are concerned about their diet.
  • Tamau pedas (I don’t want it to be spicy) or Mau pedas (I want it spicy)
  • Saya suka ini– I like this.
  • Minta satu lagi– I want one more (of the dish). If you really like the dish, you can point at it and say this to order another one.
  • Ini enak kali– This is delicious. Here ‘enak‘ means delicious.

Asking for Directions

I don’t know why but I just thought could be useful at some point in time… even in the age of Google Maps these days. Maybe I put it because my battery dies at the wrong times of my travels. So here goes:

  • Kanan– Right
  • Kiri– Left
  • Lurus– Straight …. lurus aja– keep going straight
  • Ini dimana?– Where is this?
  • Dekat– near. This can be used to ask or tell the landmark close to the destination. For example- Itu dekat Bali (It’s near Bali)

Counting Numbers in Indonesian (and Shopping)

If you’re in Indonesia on a vacation, then I know it for a fact that you wouldn’t get out without some shopping. Sure, the currency is a little complex, given the extra three zeros in front of anything you buy. But you still wouldn’t want to miss out on anything now, would you?

Let’s start with the easy ones, shall we?

  • Satu (one), Dua, (two… and it goes on), Tiga, Empat, Lima, Enam, Tujuh, Lapan, Sembilan and Sepuluh (Ten).
  • And then there’s thousand- ‘Ribu‘. So to say three thousand, you just prefix the three in Indonesian to ‘Ribu‘- Tiga Ribuh.
  • But if you want to say thirty thousand. Add ‘puluh‘ in between these two words. Thus it becomes- Tiga Puluh Ribu.
  • For three hundred thousand, instead of ‘Puluh‘, you put in ‘Ratus (hundred)’. That is- Tiga Ratus Ribu.
  • Next comes a million if you know your numbers right. Satu Juta is one million… The same way, three hundred million can be said as ‘Tiga Ratus Juta‘.

Don’t worry if you’re confused about it a little. The moment you start speaking it out, you’ll find it pretty easy. You can learn this in less than 10 minutes if you put your head into it a little. 


Sorry to keep you waiting for this one!

  • Harga (Price)
  • Ini Berapa? or ini berapa harganya? (How much is this?)
  • Ini Mahal kaali! (This is very expensive)
  • Bisa lebih murah ya? (Can it be cheaper?)
  • Bisah kurang? (Can the price be reduced)… if the seller says ‘Tak bisa (can not)’, you can try your bargaining skills by continuing with ‘Bisa La!’ I never did bargain much, but I’ve seen my parents doing it a certain number of times :)

Other words that might come in hand

These are simpler words that you can just keep in mind. But you’ll get to know all of these within a couple of days of your stay there anyhow.

  • Tidak apa apa or gapapa (It’s okay/ Nothing to worry about)
  • Maaf! (I’m sorry)
  • Hati-Hati (Be careful)
  • Tolong! (Help!)
  • Jam berapa? (What is the time?)

If you’re really heading out to Indonesia for a vacation for some time, then my best guess would be Bali. Sure, all that I’ve provided here will help out in Bali. But I can assure you it will help out if you go to any part of Indonesia. Maybe accents and a few words may sound different here and there, but it’ll still be the same.

I do hope that helps. If you have any doubts or something particular you want to know about, you can comment down below and I shall respond right away! That’s all to the Indonesian Language basics or Bahasa Indonesia as we officially know it.

Sampai Jumpa (Bye Bye)!





Hi there! I'm an 18-year-old dude who loves to travel. Well, still too young for that, but I travel around whenever I get a chance- and I never miss out writing on any of 'em! Being experienced in the writing world, I also write reviews of writing agencies and companies.

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