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Bahasa Indonesia: the language of Indonesian business

By Josian Phillips, 

Selamat datang!

If the above looks more like a typo than a warm greeting, you’ll want to brush up on your Bahasa Indonesia skills before tackling the country’s thriving business economy.

Indonesia is a unique region of South East Asia which is home to 243 million people speaking more than 300 languages between them. To put that into perspective, you could speak a brand new language every day and it would take you about a year to cover them all. This leads many to attempt the simpler route of speaking their native tongue and hoping for the best, but this approach is doomed to failure.

Whilst many local citizens understand English as a second language, fundamental differences in the way business is conducted dictate that to be a success it is imperative you are able to communicate in the local language. But with so many to choose from, which one is the best option?

Choosing the right language

If you are targeting a specific region of Indonesia it would be prudent to adhere to the local dialects, of which there are many. Dairi, Acehnese and Toba Batak are spoken in North Sumatra. In South Sumatra they favour Lampung and Rejang. In Lombok there’s Balinese and Sasak. Around 85 million speak Javanese.

But what if you don’t want to target one specific area? What if you want to get your message across to all 243 million Indonesians with one language?

The solution is Bahas Indonesia (literally “the language of Indonesia”)

Commonly referred to simply as Indonesian, Bahasa Indonesia is a standardised form of Malay. Bahas Indonesia acts as a kind of transitional language or lingua franca that ties together all the different areas and languages that make up Indonesia.

Typically, locals will learn their region’s native language from a young age as well as the national tongue. It is not uncommon for them to learn a third or fourth language that is either closely related to those they already speak or a more widely spoken language such as English or Chinese. The fulcrum that unites everyone, though, is Bahas Indonesia.

Speaking the native language in a foreign land is always a sign of goodwill and respect, but in Indonesia it is especially important. This is because communication here is not the same as Western cultures, even when it comes to business exchanges. Emails are likely to draw a cold response or be ignored entirely. It’s just not their style. Instead, consider having all correspondence translated or if possible arrange a face-to-face meeting where you can demonstrate effort by learning a few choice native words.

Communicating via Social Media

Despite this, Indonesians are massive on social media. A study in 2013 from social marketing company Brand24 revealed that the country’s capital, Jakarta, was responsible for 2.4% of more than 10 billion tweets sent between January and March of that year. The city was rated the second most active on Facebook in the world, second only to Bangkok. Indonesia as a whole boasts some 29 million Twitter users. This is a nation that likes to make their voices heard. Unsurprisingly, our old friend Bahasa Indonesia is once again the predominant language that locals opt for when it comes to social media.

The benefits for businesses successfully integrating themselves into the country’s social media frenzy are self-explanatory. A well-judged tweet could reap untold rewards in terms of widespread, free publicity to millions of potential consumers.

These aren’t just idle tweeters, either. Investors have singled out Indonesia as one to watch. Termed a MINT country (the others being Mexico, Nigeria and Turkey), many experts believe Indonesia is on the cusp of an economic boom.

And with good reason.

Indonesia, the largest economy in South East Asia and has been growing steadily since the turn of the millennium now offers Indonesia offers huge potential for British exporters.

If you’d like to chat to Brightlines about how you can reach your global customers through professional translation do call 01225 580770 or email us [email protected] we are happy to help and advice is always free.

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