Self-Study Starter Kit: Indonesian

Did you know that Indonesian is one of the easiest languages for an English speaker to learn?

Did you know it has more than 43 million speakers?

In fact, if you put Indonesian together with (mutually intelligible) Malay, which has 77 million speakers, more people speak these languages than speak Korean, French, or Italian!

By the way - a helpful tip. Many English speakers mistakenly believe that the Indonesian language is called "bahasa". However "bahasa" just means language: "bahasa Indonesia" is the correct name for the Indonesian language.

Indonesia has around 700 other "bahasa" that are unintelligible with Indonesian, including bahasa Jawa (Javanese) and bahasa Bali (Balinese).


Why Learn Indonesian?

Why wasn’t Indonesian on your radar before? Honestly, before the book “Eat Pray Love” and subsequent movie popularized the paradise island of Bali, not that many North Americans spent time on this paradise island (although it has long been a vacation spot for Europeans and Australians).

But as the country develops and modernizes, and Indonesia’s 255 million people flock to social media and online purchasing with their many successful apps (have you heard of Gojek?) the language is set to become more and more important.

By the way, Indonesian and Malay are pretty much as similar as Mexican Spanish is to Spain Spanish. Vocabulary varies a bit, but the two languages are mostly mutually intelligible, which means that if you learn Indonesian, you get Malay for free! That gives you access to Malay speakers from Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, East Timor, as well as parts of Thailand.


TL;DR: What were my most helpful Indonesian resources?

My two most helpful resources in this list were Cinta Bahasa and IndonesianPod101. You can read more about them below.

The Cinta Bahasa language school offers classes in Ubud but also online, and they are very well structured and move at a good clip. IndonesianPod101 helped me solidify my knowledge while making use of dead time…I would listen to their lessons whenever I was exercising, waiting for my Gojek, or anticipating my order of nasi goreng ?

Who wouldn't want to learn Indonesian in Bali when you can get views like this?


How Long Does It Take to Learn Indonesian?

Using the resources included in this study kit, and mostly relying on Cinta Bahasa and IndonesianPod101, it took me about a month to feel comfortable with most conversations.

The phonetic repertoire of Indonesian (its sounds) are very similar to English, so that part won't be hard. The grammar is also very straightforward: you don't even need to conjugate any verbs!

Of course, I like to say about Indonesian that is “easy to learn, but hard to master”. You can get conversational very fast (much faster than it took me to learn Spanish, French, Mandarin, or American Sign Language) but of course it would still take many years to become totally fluent.


My Favorite Resources for Learning Indonesian

Here’s your free starter kit, everything you’ll need to learn Indonesian: mostly online resources which I have found to be particularly helpful when I started learning Indonesian, as well as some onsite options in Indonesia.


Good news! Indonesian uses the Roman alphabet, just like English, Spanish, and French. You don’t even have to learn any extra diacritics like with Vietnamese. There are only a few differences to how we use it in English, but in fact it is even easier to learn than English, because one letter = one sound.

For example, the “c” letter in Indonesian always makes the “ch” sound: no need to worry about if it is a soft c or a hard c. You’ll pretty much be able to pick up the sounds of Indonesian as you go!



Italki: There are dozens of excellent tutors for Korean on italki. Get $5 off using my link!



Mondly: Similar interface to Duolingo, but more support for Asian languages. Very pleasing sounds and easy to use!

Memrise: Great for learning vocabulary on the go. Try this pack:



Pimsleur (I love to listen to their audio lessons while I workout or while I get my eyelashes done 🙂  You can also download their lessons on, this makes it more affordable, especially if you get a subscription!

IndonesianPod101 This really comprehensive online language app offers podcasts that are very carefully developed to suit each level, along with vocabulary flashcards and grammar explanations. This is probably the most useful tool I used when I was learning Indonesian.




I recommend getting a tutor on italki (see below) to sit with you (on Skype) and listen to you do your Glossika reps, sort of like a personal trainer. Get your discount for Glossika here



A great way to learn colloquial language.

Making Out In Indonesian

Like for most languages, it can be hard to get the Indonesians to actually teach you the language as it is spoken…they really want to teach you the formal version! This book was crucial to helping me understand colloquial, everyday conversation.

Lonely Planet Indonesian

This book was so helpful whenever I needed a quick check of a food item or grammar point. I carried it everywhere in Bali!



I picked this book up off the table of my Airbnb host. An hour later I had read and worked through a whole chapter and so many parts of Indonesian grammar that I was struggling with were suddenly much clearer. I couldn’t find the book in any bookstores in Indonesia, ironically, so I had to wait until I got back to the US and could order it on Amazon to have one of my own!

Bahasa Indonesia



IndonesianPod 101

Hmm, I couldn’t find any others that I actually found useful. If you have found any, please leave them in the comments!



If you want to practice your language, here are some places you can go to find a partner!







Honestly, the best Indonesian movies I have found with English subtitles are on airplanes! If you fly Garuda Indonesia or other Southeast Asian planes, definitely check out the movie selection. Here are some others that were recommended to me but I haven’t had a chance to check out yet myself (thanks Andy Roberts for the rec!)


Find Indonesian TV shows on Vidio:


Kutukan Cinta Sang Bintang



Done with studying on your own, just want to study Korean in a class in Korea? If you go to Ubud, (Bali) Indonesia, I can personally recommend:

Cinta Bahasa


Can you recommend any other resources?

Have any more suggestions? Please leave them in the comments! I’ll update this post as much as I can as I find new, great resources!

This post includes affiliate links, which don’t add any cost to you, but give me a small commission which helps me run this blog. I’ve only included products that I’ve tried myself and stand behind.