Opinion

How difficult is it to
learn Indonesian?

Indonesian has been taught for decades in various countries in the world, including in Australia, the United States and South Korea, to mention a few. This indicates that Indonesian is one of the foreign languages that university authorities have seriously noted and consider important for their students to take in their countries.

However, over the last few years, as far as the current information is concerned, a number of Indonesian classes in various countries, such as the three mentioned above, have either closed or been canceled due to a very limited number of students interested in taking the course.

This article will present some factual reasons for why foreign students might lose their motivation when learning Indonesian, based on my experience and an intensive observation at a particular private university in South Korea. This article attempts to provide some solutions to the problems that foreign teachers of Indonesian may frequently encounter in class.

The first factor why Korean students lose their interest in learning Indonesian deals with their teachers' degree of language proficiency.

As teachers play a significant role in arousing their students' motivation and in making the class lively and attractive, the teachers' lack of ability to communicate in the target language the learners are studying has a negative impact upon the learners' language acquisition.

In the case of Indonesian in Korea, teachers often speak Korean in class and this can definitely prevent their students from acquiring a communicative skill, a language ability essential for communication.

Teaching Indonesian in Korean may also make the students lose the great opportunity to observe, pick up and use the language naturally.

Korean university teachers often confront difficulty in using Indonesian as the medium of instruction in class interactions. Accordingly, when in class, they speak Korean most of the time and this leads their students to having little time to practice speaking the language and to become familiar with any expression of the language use they are studying.

Lack of practice in four language skills - listening, speaking, reading and writing - will definitely hinder the acquisition of the language skills the students are learning.

When looking closely into the teaching materials, particularly the reading texts, they scarcely present culture-based passages that may both broaden their knowledge and increase their motivation. Passages on Indonesian cultures may be essential for Indonesian classes as they have many functions.

First, learning a language is also learning its culture. Therefore, by having knowledge of some Indonesian cultures, students can also appreciate the people, their customs and beliefs, as well as their way of life and their language that they are studying. Cultures may also attract students' interest in learning the language, for students may appreciate the cultural values of the people having the customs.

Like other foreign language courses offered and taught in foreign countries, the learning environment of Indonesian classes is mostly not ideal in that the students mostly speak their own language inside and outside the class. This situation prevents or delays the students from acquiring the language they are learning.

With regard to teaching methodology, not many approaches are implemented to stimulate the students' learning activities. A communicative approach is scarcely adopted in class interactions, instead structuralism has a greater proportion in class practice. As the basic features of this approach concern repetitions, substitutions and language reinforcement with little or no exposure to language use, language is not presented in actual communicative contexts.

Accordingly, students do not learn how the language is used for real communication. Teachers seem not to be professionally acquainted with various teaching techniques in that their teaching style seems to be monotonous.

There are several ways teachers of Indonesian can overcome their problems.

First of all, they have to improve their Indonesian language proficiency and use the language in class. By using Indonesian as the only medium of instruction and communication, students will be greatly exposed to the use of the language, can learn the language naturally and pick up many language expressions useful and meaningful for real communication.

Second, students have to be encouraged to practice using Indonesian inside and outside the class. By so doing, they reinforce their learning, a factor badly required for the process of acquiring a language.

The textbooks the teachers use have to be attractive in terms of their content, well designed and based on an ascending-difficulty principle with respect to the complexity of language components and structures. The textbooks ought to be carefully selected with reference to the level of the learners' current language proficiency and hopefully have culture-related issues that may arouse the students' learning motivation.

Third, when learning a language, a variety of teaching approaches ought to be implemented in class to make the class lively. Repetitive teaching styles may easily lead to tedious class in which students can discernibly fall asleep and apparently lose their interest in active engagement in class interactions.

The writer was a visiting professor at a private university in Korea (2008-2009) and a faculty member at Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta.

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