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November 2, 2016
How NOT to Sound Bule (Part 2)
How to Not Sound Bule 3

This is the second of three posts in this series on pronunciation. If you're learning Indonesian and feel you sound like a Bule (foreigner), we're here for you! Check out the articles on Indonesian vowels and digraphs with audio included.

Tricky little differences

In the previous article, we discussed vowels and their pronunciation in the Indonesian language. Doing our best to not sound bule is our goal here. Even though humans have the very same mouth, the way we use it across cultures is quite different. We saw that in general, Indonesian pronunciation is much more sharp, staccato, and closed. At the end of the day, Indonesian is a phonetic language, meaning it is pronounced just as it is written. Other examples are Spanish and German.

In English, depending on the context, letters are pronounced completely differently! True, track, Timothy, tack. But in Indonesian, a T, is always a T (unless stopped.) Instead of being held in the mouth loosely, the tongue hits what is called the “alveolar ridge.” Just as in the word lot. As in, a lot. The consonants are not aspirated meaning that puffs of air do not leave the lips. Linguists call it a laminal denti-alveolar. Some Indonesian examples would be: selamat, tapi, tadi, terakhir, Danau Toba. Now on to consonants and digraphs:

As you may have seen with Indonesian vowels, they tend to be much “sharper” and shorter than in English. The same applies here for consonants. Even though these consonants may sound “sharper” than in English, the main difference is the lack of aspiration (extra air that leaves your lips) when producing sound. For fun, you can put your hand in front of your lips and feel the air leaving your lips as your pronounce English consonants CH, J, K, etc. as compared to Indonesian ones.

C (CH sound)

Difference from English :
One movement and not aspirated. Don’t move jaw forward. Always pronounced as a CH, except in foreign borrowed words.
Indonesian Example:“Cari” : To look for


Difference from English : A bit more guttural and not aspirated.
Indonesian Example: “Karena” : Because

K (Stopped)

Difference from English : Back of tongue stops on back of mouth
Indonesian Example: “Baik” : Good


Difference from English : Shorter and not aspirated.
Indonesian Example: “Parkir” : To Park

R (Rolled)

Difference from English : “Spanish R” Always rolled. Bonus: For emphasis, roll it longer.
Indonesian Example: “Resmi” : Official (adj.)


Difference from English : Pronounced on the alveolar ridge and not aspirated.
Indonesian Example: “Pertama” : First

T (stopped)

Difference from English : Tongue lands behind front teeth. Found at the ends of words.
Indonesian Example: “Tempat” : Place (noun.)


Difference from English : Jaw movement is up down, not circular.
Indonesian Example: “Jakarta” : Capital City of Indonesia

Indonesian consonants might be a bit difficult, but trust me when I say with time and practice you’ll be able to make these sounds too. It’s never too late to improve and grow!

Enjoyed this article? Check out the other ““How NOT to Sound Bule” in the series on Indonesian Vowels and digraphs.

If you are currently learning Indonesian, we at Polyglot Indonesia want to hear from you and answer any of your questions. You can also shoot me a personal message at

About the author

Born to a Jakartan Father and a Bandung Mother, Indonesian-American Fiel Sahir is a classical guitar performer, teacher, blogger and language enthusiast hailing from New York City. He is currently pursuing his Master’s under Joaquín Clerch in Düsseldorf, Germany. Being a language lover he speaks English, Indonesian, French, Spanish, German and Portuguese. He shares his thoughts with the world at

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