chandrasa.sjamsudin's picture
Editor, French Language Coordinator, Translator
October 1, 2015
Can children’s creative comments cause confounding confusion? Certainly!

When my two children and I lived abroad, I spoke Indonesian to them daily. Timewise it was definitely challenging. Why was it tough? Well, because I already left the house to go to work before the sun was up and came back only after the sun sets. Yes, really! When it was winter time. I’m also a firm believer of children having a good 9 or 10-hour of sleep daily (a rule I sometimes follow also since I have to be a good role model for my kids). This entails having all pre- and bedtime rituals completed before 8 pm so by then they’re ready to be tucked in bed to go off to Neverneverland.

When does that leave time for me to converse with my children in my beloved mother tongue? When I am cookin/ burning their dinner? During their French homework? During bathing time when the main activity consisted only of shrieking? When they’re sleepily ensconced under the duvets just before they doze off? Tricky, huh? Yep.

It’s no wonder that sometimes the three of us are lost in translation:

Story A. Why, why?

My son understands all the things I say in Indonesia, yet there was a time when he would only reply in French. I would try to trick him by saying: “N, can you please tell M to come down?” thinking all he has to do is to repeat whatever I just said. Easy-peasy. However, without any hesitation whatsoever he’d turn around and shout: “Kak M, tu dois descendre!” Argh.

I try not to let N’s refusal to speak Indonesian (at that time) bother me too much. He also had this opinion that if he gets Indonesian, surely everybody knows French also. Surely, that’s logical, right? This was of course a source of amusement for the Indonesian people living in Brussels. I guess it really, but really, confused his teachers when he started to go to an Indonesian school. More on how he adjusted there will be delivered in another article.

Story B. Shake It Up, Baby

M: “Mama tadi goyangin nintendoku??”

Me, puzzled: “Eh, what? Why would I? Ok, I get it now. No, M, I did not ‘move’ your game.”

French: “Maman, as-tu bougé mon nintendo?”

Story C. This is now, that was then …

When we were abroad

Me: “N, when we enter our house, what kind of greeting do we say? Aaaa… “

N: “Hakuna Matata”

Now that we reside in Jakarta:

During our bedtime storytime reading Goldilocks and the Three Bears, I encouraged N to recite the story with his own words:

N: "So, Goldilocks opened the door and said: Assalamualaikum!"

This particular story above warms actually my own heart - this is what was quite lacking when we lived abroad. Yes, there was the "Pengajian KBRI" that we regularly attended, but having such behaviour ingrained in a child's daily habit is not that easy. Just the other night both children were singing on top of their lungs a song from One Direction (one that was released after one of their members left the group - don't ask me the title, don't even try to enquire to me the name of the boy. These difficult questions were already posed by N to my chagrin). Right after both kids sang this song, they automatically switched and belted out shalawat melodies. Yeay, applause please.

Story D. Taking things too literally


Me: “Bye Cin, bye Ganteng. Mama cabut dulu ya.”

Both looking at each other in confusion: “Barang apa yang Mama mau cabut?”


M: “Mama, aku ga punya bengong”

Oh right, this morning I said: “M, ayo siap2 ke sekolah, ga pake bengong.”


Me: “Yuk, M, kita pungutin satu per satu.”

M: “Ma, lama donk, kita pungutin banyak per banyak aja”


Me: “M, emang betul terjemahan ‘avant-hier’ itu jadinya ‘tadi kemarin’ tapi lebih tepat kalo kita bilangnya ‘kemarinnya lagi’.

Story E. Mind-reading is not a language

N, clutching at my arms (and face), asks me with an utmost serious expression: “What does ‘huh-uh’ mean? I don’t get it, is that a yes or a no?”

I took the Indonesian language for granted assuming that not only would my offspring easily understand the slangs but also the non-verbal sounds. These exasperated questions from my children made me realize that contrary to what people think about our language, it is not that easy to learn! I say be persistent but stay ‘Zen’. It is and will be so worth it.

About the author

Chandrasa is an alumni of IPB (Bogor Agricultural University) and Vrije Universiteit Brussel. She has worked for the ASEAN Secretariat, AusAID, COST Office, GIZ, IBCSD, LB-LIA Bogor, and UNESCO. 

During her elementary until high school years, Chandrasa exchanged schools four times: from Korea back to Indonesia, then to Switzerland and finally finishing her mandatory education in Jakarta. She spent her more serious years in Belgium where she stayed a bit more than a decade there. In 2013, after having lived more than half her life abroad, Chandrasa returned to Jakarta. She can converse fluently in English, German and French in addition to understanding Dutch (Indonesian goes without saying, of course). This passion for languages has brought her to Polyglot Indonesia in 2013 and where she proudly remains until now ... and until ... infinity and beyond! 

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