Education

Indonesia Language remains
important at TOP US universities

Although some 250 million people speak Indonesian, the language's global importance is often downplayed.

Indonesians might also think the same.

However, top US universities including the University of California-Berkeley still offer Indonesian language courses, proof that the language is quite influential.

Other universities such as Cornell, Yale, Stanford, University of California-Los Angeles, University of Texas-Austin, University of Colorado-Boulder, Northern Illinois, University of Hawaii -Honolulu, Arizona State University, Ohio University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and University of Michigan-Ann Harbor also offer Indonesian language courses.

Ninik Lunde, an Indonesian language lecturer at UC Berkeley for the past 15 years, shared her thoughts recently that Indonesian had something strong to offer. "If you speak Indonesian, you can communicate with hundreds of million people in Indonesia, East Timor, Malaysia and Brunei," she said. "For researchers or businesspeople interested in Southeast Asia, the language will help them understand and get along with the people."

That makes Indonesian a necessary language to teach at UC Berkeley, she added.

At the university, the Indonesian language course has been offered for almost four decades as part of courses in the Department of South and Southeast Asia Studies.

The course is divided into three levels: introductory Indonesian, intermediate Indonesian, and literature.

Between 10 and 15 students usually take each level of the course, which gives them an opportunity to attend more comprehensive lectures than in a bigger class. In those classes, students learn about oral and written Indonesian.

"First-year students begin to speak basic Indonesian," Ninik said. "Lessons for second-year students put more weight on a combination between speaking and writing. After that, they can start learning Indonesian literature."

Isabel F. Esterman, a second-year graduate student at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, also taking up Southeast Asia studies, said she learned Indonesian because she felt it would support her research on Southeast Asia and her plan to work in the region.

"It's important to connect with people using their language, not through a translator when you work there," she said. "And I think Indonesian is a growing language."

Esterman, who also speaks Tagalog, said it was true that Indonesian was simpler than English, but sometimes because of its simplicity, she found something was missing when using Indonesian.

David Hembry, a fourth-year PhD student at the School of Environment Science, concurred with Esterman.

He said learning Indonesian would help him easily communicate with his peers in Indonesia should he realize his plan to go there for his research on plants.

"I'm taking the Indonesian language course for my second year now after a break last year," said Hembry, who also speaks French and Japanese.

He added the language was relatively easy to learn, but he found it difficult when having to use too many passive sentences.

Editha Setiawan, an Indonesian citizen born and raised in the US, was tempted to learn Indonesian to better understand her roots, with her father hailing from Surabaya and her mother from Bojonegoro, East Java.

"My father has been working in the US for years, and they speak to me in Indonesian. But I speak in English most of the time because I grew up here. I could understand when people talked to me in Indonesian, but I was unable to respond properly," she said.

The fourth-year UC Berkeley undergraduate, majoring in molecular and cell biology, and in public health, said she went out of her comfort zone when she started taking Indonesian language class.

"I understand Indonesian better now," she said. "Besides, I always enjoyed my time in Indonesia, getting along with my extended family, so learning Indonesian will certainly help me have a better time there."

Ninik expressed hope the Indonesian language course at UC Berkeley would one day receive funds from private firms, just like the Japanese language course at the university, to boost the development of the course.

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