A simply dressed Nurcholis, who runs his own small noodle stall called “Uncle Nur” in Pare district in Kediri, East Java may look like an ordinary noodle seller when he prepares the noodles for his customers.
But Nurcholis appears confident with his broken English even when talking to British Ambassador to Indonesia Moazzam Malik -- an arguably rare scene in Indonesia where English proficiency is lagging behind other countries in the region.
“There was time at 2004,” Nurcholis told Malik with confidence despite his broken English, answering to Malik’s question about how long he had been running his noodle business.
“I learnt English from watching videos on Youtube. I always speak English to my customers,” Nurcholis told Malik, who on Monday was visiting Pare.
Some meters away from Nurcholis’ stall, 28-year-old Asep later offered batagor (fried fish cake) to Malik also in English.
Asep also appeared confident with his English, just like many other residents in Pare, better known as Kampung Inggris (English Village).
“I try [to] use English because I like English. English helps me understand movies [on the] internet,” Nurcholis told The Jakarta Post while showing his noodle menu written in English.
Both Nurcholis and Asep said English helped them in running their business as the language offered an additional selling point to their customers, who were mostly students of language centers in Kampung Inggris.
Pare started to become known as Kampung Inggris after English learning centers mushroomed there years after local resident Kalend Osen established the Basic English Center (BEC) as the first language institution in the area in the 1970s.
There are currently about 165 language institutions offering various English courses and conversation classes -- some either with accommodation or a full board pesantren-like plan in Pare. Most of these language schools are located in Pare’s Tulungrejo and Pelem villages. Pare attracts about 3,000 to 5,000 students from across the country every semester.
Taking the opportunity of Kampung Inggris, the United Kingdom through its British Council Indonesia hosted a two-day training event for 100 teachers in Kampung Inggris, which was inaugurated by Malik on Monday.
The workshop was part of the UK's “English for Indonesia” campaign, which kicked off in October last year.
Malik said English was key to helping Indonesians be even more successful on the global stage, either in international politics, business, research or higher education.
“But Indonesia has to raise the quality of English training in the country as research has shown that Indonesia is behind many other countries in the region in regard to English proficiency,” he said.
Indonesia ranked 39th out of 80 countries in the 2017 English First English Proficiency Index (EF EPI) -- an annual report by international education company English First (EF).
With a score of 52.15, Indonesia is below the Asian regional average of 53.60 and in the Low Proficiency Band category.
Indonesia also ranked below its three neighbors -- Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Prior to Kampung Inggris, the UK had held similar workshops for 60 English teachers in Makassar and Jakarta.
Under the English for Indonesia program, the British Council also provides learning materials for English teachers on its website.
Malik said such programs were part of the UK’s “All of Asia” policy, particularly to engage more with Indonesia in education and culture.
“Yes, it is related to our All of Asia policy. We are committed to developing our relationships with ASEAN, especially with Indonesia. We intended to help Indonesia to communicate to the world,” he said, adding that London had also established stronger ties with Jakarta through the Chevening scholarship program.
The UK introduced its All of Asia policy last year and has since decided that it would appoint a dedicated envoy to ASEAN in its bid to boost engagement with countries in Southeast Asia.
UK Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Simon McDonald has said that as a young region, ASEAN was one of the most rapidly growing parts of the world economically. (ipa)