Problems for learners in Indonesia The two of us spent 2 years in
The two of us spent 2 years in Indonesia (1996-97) teaching English at a university. Prior to that we spent one year learning Indonesian in classes in Australia. We therefore, have a good insight into the difficulties both with English speakers learning Indonesian and of Indonesian speakers learning English with is the two sides of the same coin. We also found that linguistic problems seemed to be inevitable be bound up in cultural ones on both sides of the fence. Let us look at some of these problems.
Before we went to Indonesia we were introduced to people who had already been there (in fact the town of Salatiga). The English teachers/missionaries that we spoke to seemed blind to any difference in culture however, and this cultural blindness operates on both sides as we were to find. We had ourselves already experienced some problems with the language in our classes, but only some. It was only when we were well and truly engaged that we came face to face with the real problem of communicating in a foreign language with foreigners. Let us now look at the Indonesian side of things.
Grammar. The Indonesian language has the peculiarity, or perhaps the advantage, like many Asian languages, of not marking number, gender, case, mood, or tense. It is an almost completely uninflected language and rather uses position to denote the value of the word (as agent or object for instance) or else simply leaves the information(gender etc) out entirely. This means that when one is trying to teach an Indonesian student to say 'there are two men at the door', we have a problem. The Indonesian does not normally think in terms of 'men' but of 'persons' and not even of persons but of 'person'. The student thus will want to say something like 'person at the door'. Further, s/he will not be used to the article 'the' and will be tempted to say 'Person at door'. Needless to say, the words 'there are two' will come out as 'be two'. The sort of sentence one might expect from a student will thus be 'be two person at door'. Furthermore, the largely teenage students we had at the university had a diffidence about saying more than they needed. Therefore, the student would be inclined to reduce the English sentence given to 'person at door,' and far from feeling they had done a bad job, would feel deep satisfaction.
Vocabulary. There are similar problems with vocabulary. Indonesian is a synthetic language based on Trader Malay, but what the founding fathers seem to have done is to throw in as many synonyms as possible for each word, even quite simple and functional ones like 'but', so that at least one of them will correspond to the word used for that concept in any given community. One wishes that they had been more ruthless and less all embracing. What it means for the Indonesian student of English however is that the concept of one word, one meaning, (one nuance of meaning) is often absent from their language. That is, most of their synonyms are true synonyms, without any shade of meaning or colour such as synonyms have in English. For instance, 'I' translates as 'aku'or 'saya'. 'If' is 'kalau', 'jika', etc. This means that the use of English by an Indonesian student will tend to be a bit limp- wristed until such time as the student is really convinced of the importance of having just the right word. A similar problem faces English speakers when learning Latin, for instance. They tend to skim over those very important little letters at the end of the word and fail to get the meaning at all.
In summary then, the problems of teaching English to Indonesian speakers are not just the obvious ones of transmitting the right vocab and structures, but reside at a deeper level as well, and involve basic paradigms inherent in each society. Motivation thus becomes not just a matter of wrapping the package in interesting paper, but of getting the students to see the real differences of thought between the two languages.