The languages of the Indonesian archipelago have been used in Australia since contact several centuries ago between the peoples of the islands now known as Indonesia and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of northern Australia. Trade between these peoples left lasting effects on languages, cultures and communities, such as in Makassar and Arnhem Land, which continue to this day.
Indonesian — or Bahasa Indonesia as it is known by Indonesian speakers — is spoken by approximately 230 million people throughout the Indonesian archipelago. Closely related dialects of the same language, usually called Malay, are used in Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and southern Thailand. Modern Indonesian and Malay trace their origins to Old Malay, which was used in the Srivijayan empire during the seventh century and later in the powerful trading kingdom of Malacca. As a language of trade, Malay spread throughout the archipelago. The colonial rulers of the Dutch East Indies used Malay for treaties, administration and, from the late nineteenth century onwards, education of the local people.
In 1928, Indonesia’s nascent nationalist movement declared that there would be a single national language as the language of Indonesian unity. Following independence in 1945, Bahasa Indonesia was adopted as the new nation’s official language; it became the medium of instruction and an area of study in all schools. Successive generations of Indonesians have now been educated in Indonesian, and for the majority it is one of a number of languages that are used for communication.
Following the countries’ experience of being allies during World War II, close ties were forged between Indonesia and Australia, and many Indonesians arrived in Australia to study as part of the Colombo Plan, which was designed to educate a professional class in order to advance a stable, democratic Indonesia. A number of Indonesians settled in Australia and formed small communities in various capital cities. These communities currently remain small but are steadily growing, with numbers of tertiary students and families from Indonesia living and studying in Australia.
The ties between Australia and Indonesia continue to develop, with an increasing number of Australians (almost one million in 2012) travelling to Indonesia, for leisure, business and education purposes; numbers of Indonesians visiting Australia are also increasing. Indonesia currently has Australia’s largest overseas diplomatic presence, and Australia is the only country outside of Indonesia to host two specialist Indonesian language and cultural centres, known as Balai Bahasa; these provide Indonesian language study for the Australian community.
Indonesian has been taught in Australian schools and universities since the 1950s. Today Australia is the largest provider outside of Indonesia itself of Indonesian language education for school-aged children. In fact, Australia is recognised as a world leader in expertise on the Indonesian language and Indonesian language education.
Historically the demand for Indonesian language study in Australian schools has been driven by the Australian Government rather than as a direct response to the language maintenance needs of local speakers of the language. Since its introduction, a number of government policy initiatives have supported the teaching of Indonesian, largely for economic and national security reasons. The introduction of Indonesian language studies in 1955 was in response to the Australian Government’s concerns about regional stability in Asia. During the 1990s, with growing national interest in trade with Asia, the Australian Government introduced the National Asian Languages and Studies in Australian Schools (NALSAS) Strategy, which enabled a major expansion of Indonesian in schools, particularly in the primary sector. Indonesian rapidly became the third most studied foreign language in Australian schools. The NALSAS ended in 2002; however, its aims to encourage young Australians to study one of four targeted Asian languages were reignited through the National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program (2008–2012), which renewed an economic and strategic focus on Asia. In recent years, the commitment of the Australian Government to the teaching and learning of Indonesian in schools has continued, as reflected in documents such as the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper (2012) and election policy announcements.
Indonesian is a standardised language that is the official language of government, education, business and the media. It has been and continues to be shaped (for example, in terms of lexicon, grammatical structures and idiomatic usage) by other languages, most significantly Javanese, Dutch, Arabic and English. Colloquial forms of Indonesian, such as bahasa sehari-hari and bahasa gaul, are used for informal daily interactions.
Indonesian is written using the Roman alphabet, and there is a clear correlation and a degree of consistency between its sound and its written form. This feature generally makes it easy for speakers of English as a first language to predict how to say, read or write Indonesian words. It has a number of sounds that require learning, such as the trilled r, the ch sound of the letter c, the combined vowel sounds ai and au, the distinction between ng and ngg, and the glottal stop k when it is a final syllable.
Indonesian grammar is characterised by a system of affixation where prefixes and suffixes attached to base words form new words belonging to different word classes or with changed grammatical function. The most common among these that are relevant to this curriculum are the noun and verb forms using the prefixes ber-, me-, pe- and ke-, and the suffixes -kan, -i and -an.
There is a significant distinction between oral and written, as well as formal and informal, Indonesian. Written language, for example, follows grammatical rules of affixation, whereas spoken language often drops affixes, and vowels are often reduced to single sounds; for example, the formal hijau often appears informally as ijo. Spoken language is also frequently meshed with local languages and slang forms.
A major feature of Indonesian is its extensive pronoun system, which can be quite simple in its initial stages (for example, saya, Anda, kamu) but becomes increasingly complex, with multiple forms according to situations and contexts of use. In addition, the use of object-focus construction is marked, and it is frequently used in both spoken and written contexts to create distance between the agent and the action.
Language features are strongly embedded in the cultural worldview that underpins and shapes the language. For example, Indonesia is a unified nation within which there are multiple languages; cultural, religious and ethnic groups; and geographical and political regions. The sense of diversity is reflected in the national motto, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (‘Unity in Diversity’).
Most recent figures show that there are approximately 190 000 learners of Indonesian in Australian schools, with the majority in primary schools: F–6 (123 538), 7–10 (64 333) and 11–12 (3713). These figures reflect a relatively strong base for Indonesian in primary schools in particular. The majority of students who study Indonesian at primary school do not continue with the language at secondary school due to factors such as lack of availability of the language or opting to study a different language. Secondary school also represents a new entry point for learners who have not previously studied Indonesian.
The majority of learners of Indonesian in Australian schools are second language learners, with smaller numbers of background learners and first language learners. The Australian Curriculum: Languages for Indonesian is pitched for the majority of the cohort of learners of Indonesian for whom Indonesian is an additional language (referred to in the Australian Curriculum as second language learners). The curriculum has been developed according to two main learning sequences for these learners, Foundation to Year 10 Sequence and Years 7 to 10 (Year 7 Entry) Sequence.
For students learning Indonesian for the first time in a school language program, a key feature of learning the language is understanding the cultural dimension that shapes and is shaped by the language. The curriculum is designed with an intercultural language learning orientation to enable students to participate in intercultural experiences, develop new ways of perceiving and being in the world, and understand themselves in the process.