So you’ve booked a holiday to Indonesia. Excellent – you’re going to love it there! We hope you’ve got some great plans: which beach to go to, which sights to see, which temples to visit. But even though a lot of locals can speak English, it’s always nice to be ready with a few basic Indonesian phrases.
The Indonesian culture is built on kindness and respect, and taking the time to learn some basic phrases will show the locals how much you respect their culture. Over the next few minutes, we’ll take you through some words and phrases that you’re going to find useful for your Indonesian vacation – including the single most important word you’ll ever need.
If you can learn a few of these not only will you feel good about yourself, but you’re going to see a lot more of the famous Indonesian smile…
What Language is spoken in Indonesia?
There are over 300 different native languages in Indonesia, but don’t let that worry you! Bahasa Indonesia is the official language and everybody can speak it, so you only need to learn ‘Hello, how are you’ once.
(BTW If you’re going to Bali, you may have read that their language is called Balinese. That’s true, but they also speak fluent Bahasa Indonesia – it’s the main language for business, education and the media throughout Indonesia, so everyone needs to know it.)
The locals will love it if you can say ‘Good Morning’ in Indonesian – and what could be a better start to the day than making a new Indonesian friend? Let’s get to the greetings in a moment, because there’s actually a more important phrase to learn first.
The Single Most Important Phrase in Indonesia
Permisi (pehr-mee-see) – excuse me.
This is the most important word to know. It starts every statement and every question. It’s useful to think of it as asking permission to do something – and it even sounds a bit like the word ‘permission’, so maybe that will help you remember it.
Permisi is usually fine on its own, but if you want to be totally correct then you should add a second word, depending on who you’re talking to. But if you don’t remember these, it’s not going to be a problem: people will still be happy you’ve taken the time to learn their most important phrase. Here are the second-word options:
- Permisi mas (to young males)
- Permisi adek (to young females)
- Permisi pak (to older men)
- Permisi ibu (to older women)
So an example might be “Permisi Pak, diaman pantai?” which means “excuse me, Sir, where is the beach?”
The Next Most Important Balinese Phrases
These are the phrases you hope you’ll never need. But let’s make a note of them, then move straight on to the friendly stuff again.
- Saya tidak mengerti. (SAHY-yah TEE-dah/ mng-GEHR-tee) – I don’t understand
- Bisa bicara bahasa Inggris? (Bee-sah bee-chah-rah bah-hah-sah Ing-griss) – Do you speak English?
- Sya dalam masalah (SAHY-yah duh-lum MAH-sah-lah) – I’m in trouble
- Butuh bantuan Anda (BOO-too BUN-t’wun ahn-duh) – I need your help
They say that good manners cost nothing, which is of course true for everywhere and everybody. In Bali and throughout Indonesia, good manners are seen as the height of respect and courtesy, and you’ll be amazed at how easily the impossible gets done if you show the proper respect. Please and thank you are little words, but they mean a lot!
- Tolong (TOH-long) – Please
- Terima kasih (Tuh-REE-mah KAH-see) – Thank you
- Sama-sama (SAH-mah-sah-mah) – You’re welcome
- Ya (EEyah) – Yes
- Tidak (TEE-dah/) – No (when pronouncing this, cut off before the hard ‘k’)
So from this we can also get ‘Ya, tolong’, which means ‘yes, please’, and ‘tidak terima kasih’, which means ‘no, thank you’. See: three minutes in and you’re already learning full phrases! Here are a few more polite words:
- Maaf (mah-AHF) – I’m sorry
- Maaf can also mean ‘excuse me’ for when you want to get attention
- Maaf, permisi (mah-AHF, pehr-mee-see) – Excuse me (begging your pardon)
Selamat (S’LAH-maht) is a word that means ‘good’, ‘good wishing’ or ‘to wish someone well’ so you’ll always find it at the beginning of a greeting. Actually, the original meaning of selamat was ‘to be saved’, so you can see how it kept the ‘well-meaning’ aspect throughout the years.
So selamat pagi means ‘good morning’, but really in full it means ‘I offer you my comfort and wish you well for the beginning of the day’. Very respectful. Here are some daily greetings:
- Selamat pagi (S’LAH-maht PAH-ghee) – Good morning
- Selamat siang (… SEE-yang) – Good day (or good afternoon)
- Selamat sore (… SOH-ray) – Good evening
- Salamet malam (… MAH-lahm) – Good night
- Selamat tidur (… TEE-door) – Good night (when going to sleep)
Other Common Greetings
There are also some other common greetings you should know:
- Halo (HAH-lo) – Hello
- He (Hey) – Hello (informal)
- Selamat tinggal (S’LAH-maht TING-gahl) Goodbye
- Dadah (DaH-DaH) Goodbye (informal)
- Sampai jumpa (sahm-PAHY D’JUM-pah) – See you later
Apa kabar? (AH-pah KAH-bar) – How are you? (literally ‘what’s news’?)
To which the reply is Baik, terima kasih. (bah-EEK, TREE-mah KAH-see) – Fine, thank you.
- Apa kabar? Can also be used informally, to mean ‘What’s up?’ (literally ‘what’s news’?) The informal reply, in this case, is Kabar baik (KAH-bar bah-EEK) – I’m good (literally ‘news is well’).
- Senang bertemu anda (Se-NAHNG berr-teh-moo AHN-dah) – Nice to meet you. Namamu siapa? (NAH-mah-moo see-AH-pah) – What is your name?
- Nama saya (NAH-mah sahy-yah) – My name is
You already know how friendly and inquisitive the Indonesians are. So when you meet some on your travels, don’t be surprised that they’re going to want to know all about you! Probably the most common questions you’ll get asked will be ‘where are you from?’ and ‘where are you going?’ The locals will always be happy to help you explore their country, so here are a few travel phrases that you should make a note of:
- Dari mana? (DAH-ree MAH-nah)– Where are you from? (literally ‘from + where’)
- Mau ke mana? (MaH-oo kuh MAH-nah) – Where do you want to go? (literally ‘want + to + where’)
- Permisi, Saya tersesat (pehr-mee-see, Sigh-er terser-Sat) – Excuse me, I am lost
- Saya dari (sahy-YAH dah-ri) – I am from (also ‘I have come from’)
- Permisi, saya pergi ke ____ (pehr-mee-see, sahy-YAH pehr-GHI kuh) – Excuse me, I want to go to ____
- Permisi, di mana toilet? (pehr-mee-see, Dee MAH-nah toilet?) – Excuse me, where is the bathroom/toilet/WC?
Talking of travelling, at some point you’re bound to find yourself in the back of a taxi – they’re so cheap in Indonesia! As always, especially if you’re travelling solo, you should always take extra care in a taxi. Check out our guide for some important tips on how to stay safe in Indonesia. Here are a few phrases that should make the taxi experience a whole lot easier:
- Taksi! (TUKS-see) – Taxi!
- Tolong Bawa aku ke ____ (TOH-long BAH-wah ah-KOO ke ___) Take me to ____, please.
- Kiri (KIH-ree) – left | kanan (KUH-nuhn) – right | terus (TE-ruhs) – straight
- Dari (DAH-ree) – from | Ke (kuh) – to
- Dekat (D’cut) – near | Jauh (DJOW-oo) – far
- Di dalam (di DUH-lum)– inside | Di luar (dil-l’huar)– outside
- Di sini (di see-nee) – here | Di sana – (di SUN-nuh) – there
Some Common Signs and their Meanings
You’re bound to encounter a few signs and signposts as you travel around the built-up areas. Most of them are usually accompanied by a drawing or graphic to help you understand the meaning, but here’s a list of some of the more common ones.
BUKA – Open | TUTUP – Closed
MASUK – Entrance | KELUAR – Exit
DORONG – Push | TARIK – Pull | TEKAN – Press
WC – Toilet | PRIA – Men | WANITA – Women
AWAS – Caution | DILARANG – Forbidden
HATI HATI – Caution, take care (but, literally, it means ‘heart heart’. Awww!)
Other Great Translation Resources
Tr-ex.me have a great Indonesian translator with examples, and the online dictionary from Cambridge University Press has an excellent reputation. We’ve also found a very good source of Indonesian words and phrases on the wikitravel Indonesia site, which covers a lot of useful topics and is well worth a read before you get there.
Now we’ve noticed, towards the bottom of their page, that they have a list of phrases that could be handy if you ever got in any, er, serious trouble.
This really made us laugh because, if you read just the English phrases in the bold font, they seem to be describing one man’s absolutely terrible day. And at the end, he even tries to bribe the police! No need to visit the site, we’ve reprinted it here:
Let’s hope you never have to use any of those particular phrases! But subscribe to our blog, so you’ve got a link to them just in case. After all, you never know…
We hope this brief guide has given you some useful phrases to use on your Indonesian vacation. If you have time, why not say them out loud a few times per day – maybe you’ll surprise yourself with what you’ve learnt by the time you arrive!
We’ve been travelling around Bali and the rest of Indonesia for many years, and we never get tired of it. There’s always something new to see. If you haven’t finalised your itinerary yet, we’ve produced some great guides on where to go and what to see, so please feel free to take a look. And if you want some more travel advice about Indonesia, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. We love to talk and we love to help!
“Selamat bersenang-senang!” (Have fun!)
Below are some of the guides we’ve produced for Indonesia. Please take a look through (they’re free!) or find all our guides by typing ‘Indonesia’ into the search bar. Thank you.