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Bahasa Indonesia: Effective Ways to Study

Why do some people learn easily and others have so much more difficulty?

Whether you succeed or not really depends on what kind of a commitment you make to the learning process.

Age is not the issue! Adults not only have better habits for memorizing data, but they also are better at organizing and at studying in general. In the case of adults learning Bahasa Indonesia, the motivation factor is often very high: the difference between being able to communicate and not is obvious in one's daily life. Witness the average newcomer's frustration at not being able to tell a driver where to go or the same person's discomfort at being unable to understand what's happening in the office. Being at the mercy of a so-called 'interpreter' is not a condition most of us independent westerners feel comfortable with. Learning to communicate effectively is, then, something we feel will improve our ability to cope successfully with life in our new surroundings.

The disadvantage of being an adult learner is our reluctance to make mistakes, an area where children are much more comfortable. Adult learners need to tell themselves often that making mistakes is the way we learn and that without mistakes, little learning takes place. One teacher decided to substitute 'learning step' for the word 'mistake', thus putting his students much more at ease with normal errors.

Some people seem to have a talent for languages; for others, it seems that only effort is what makes the difference. Hearing is one area where there is a big difference: those who have a good ear, for music and tone for example, will have an easier time learning to speak since they can 'hear' and thus imitate more accurately. Another factor in successful learning is your attitude: are you open to the new culture and language? Looking forward to learning or dreading it? It can make an enormous difference in the kind of progress you make.

What kind of a person you are also influences language learning: people who are outgoing, extroverted and like talking to others will easily be able to harness their natural instincts in communicating in the target language. Chances are an extroverted person will also be less likely to be upset at making errors. Laughing along with the guys who laugh at your mistakes makes everyone feel better. Within one month of arrival I had ordered two kilos of traditional bras (kutang) instead of the potatoes I wanted (kentang). The entire household had a good laugh over that one!

When learning a language, a high tolerance for ambiguity also helps. As westerners, we tend to want to make everything black and white and very organized: a neat little list of what the language is. Often it isn't exactly that black and white; an acceptance of some gray will help in making your progress faster. Some things can be worried about later.

When you start out from zero, having a plan helps. Give yourself a schedule and some targets or objectives. Whether you choose to take a class, hire a private teacher or study on your own, some type of framework will make meeting your targets an easier task. So now, for the real hints:

  1. Set aside a certain time for study each day: after morning coffee, on the way to work, during lunch - whatever you can maintain without too much 'stretching'.
  2. Spend time with words: make flash cards and use them until you remember easily, then exchange them for others.
  3. Listen a lot: keep the radio on, watch TV. Even without being aware of it, you will be absorbing the sounds of the language.
  4. Ask others to correct you when you make mistakes. Most Asians don't feel completely comfortable with this, but at least try.
  5. Experiment with new words or new patterns. Even if you make mistakes, you need to use it before it really becomes a part of you.
  6. Be active: talk to everyone you meet. Taxi drivers are almost always ready for a conversation; people in shops and restaurants as well. Don't lose these remarkable opportunities for free practice.
  7. Make a 'hat rack' of words and build on it. See how words are related and how they fit together in certain ways. Keep a list or book of your new words and expressions and always have it with you.
  8. Look at where you make your mistakes. Are you making the same mistake over and over again? Why? Carelessness or real lack of understanding? Check it out and try again.

And that is the final point: try and try again, especially with a sense of humor. Enjoy the joke, even if it's at your expense!

Contributed by Susan Scherer, IALF.