Executive Director

by mira.zakaria on 

August 16, 2014
"Roaming Bahasa" - Ignorance, Ego or Chance to broaden your horizon? (Perspectives of an Indonesian)

Is it actually funny when we see a foreigner talking in Indonesian and the person starts to make a mistake in expressing himself ? What would you do if you saw a foreigner talk in Bahasa Indonesia? Would you help him/her by correcting the sentence or would you rather teach him/her funny or misleading expressions by giving the wrong translation instead?

Would situation be the same when you would be living outside Indonesia? Would you be taught by the local citizens or would you be language-fooled by them? :) Would it be funny by the time you tried to say something, you'd had to act and use your known body and sign language further developing into a tarzan movement speech? Probably.....

Maybe in the beginning, this particular experience might appear entertaining, but after a while it will either get on your nerves or lead you towards frustration. As a result, you would be put in front of the decision to either learn the language, though you run risk to be laughed at, or to isolate yourself, by finding the likes of yours and finally refrain from the local language and culture. (Do note that this way is indeed chosen by some minority groups)

So, is it therefore important to understand other people? Is it important to speak a language aside of our mother tongue?

Answering this question is facing a blade with its two sides.... At the time that we are richly indulged with the exposure of products, services and entertainment from other countries and cultures, other languages such as English are just a common sight in our everyday. Also, we tend to mix English terms into Indonesian sentences or associating to things with English terms only because we are just so used to it! Aside, our social environment supports this, because we speak and understand these commonly agreed terms.

On the other side, our alter ego tells us to be more supportive cultivating our own language, our mother tongue. Interestingly, Indonesians do have a pretty high sense of nationalism in this view. We are still very proud of our culture, our nation and our Bahasa Indonesia and show high appreciation towards it, but at the same time, we face challenges in sorting out values of other cultures whilst trying to preserve the cultural values of Indonesia, including our common language Bahasa Indonesia.

A mother tongue is indeed to be maintained by each and everyone of us. But why is knowledge of our first language so important? Think about it. We learn meanings and associate feelings with certain memories. The memories and feelings that we have during the first times we try to perceive and understand a totally new thing or new piece of knowledge will repeatedly help us to learn or attribute meanings to new things throughout our lifetime. Also, when we learn another language,we will seek well-fitting translations in our first language, so that we can acquire a better and more confident understanding. From our first language, that we learn at a young age, we build a values system (moral values) that is based on the set of values nurtured from culture of origin. Therefore, in general, the individual identities of people will be based on the sets of values attributed to our mother tongue.

The Indonesian language comes with certain values, same is the case with any local language existing in Indonesia. The language structures shape our way of thinking, our attitudes and our view on things. This all, becomes the base of the most stereotypings, added up with the "flavours" of people's individual perceptions and their assumptions, it becomes a juicy stereotype that one may impose on something/someone/some group.

Language is a heritage that we need to preserve. "Language" can develop over time and with the people in a commonly agreed group of culture, and "language" is knowledge. And knowledge only goes with people.

Now, isn't this a strong argument for youth to preserve the languages we acquired by heritage? It's all in our hands!

Well, do you still choose to take a side, arguing about the use of languages? :)

Learning a language will never be a waste. Through learning languages, we learn the structure of a language that influences the way of thinking of the native speakers. Aside of that, language brings us to the understanding of principles and moral values and traits of paying respect expected within the related cultural group. Through that, we gain insight about a culture. An understanding that is built upon lived-through experiences based on the facts and situations we see, feel, hear or go through by ourself, will create a mind with a greater degree of tolerance. Tolerance - something much more worth rather than arguing about stereotypes on the base of assumptions only.

Borrowing the wise words of Madiba Nelson Mandela:
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

If we can establish positive relations by using a language that can be more easily accepted and understood by those we are communicating with (not only linguistically meant, but though adapting our language to the age/generation, region and way of expressing things), isn't this a strong reason to learn other languages?

So, do you still want to experience a "roaming" and "lost in translation" moment?

Image By Wikimania2009 Beatrice Murch [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

About the author

Mira grew up in Austria and moved back in Indonesia several years ago where she took her master degree in Corporate Communications. At the moment she works with GIZ, a public-benefit enterprise owned by the German Federal Government working for sustainable development worldwide. Other than her daily work and managing Polyglot Indonesia, she also involves in the activities of Abang None Jakarta, and Perhimpunan Indonesia Austria (PIA).

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