Language Education Policy Studies
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Language Education Policies in Indonesia (2):

Indigenous and Foreign Language Education

Bahasa Indonesia has played an important role in nation building during the post-colonial period. The 1945 Constitution mandates (a) linguistic unity through Bahasa Indonesia, and (b) linguistic diversity via maintaining the diverse regional languages. However, the language policy focused mostly on developing proficiency in Bahasa Indonesia, sparing little institutional support for regional vernaculars. The concern is growing about the decreasing number of vernacular language speakers.

The languages which are spoken only by a few thousand belong mostly to underdeveloped areas in Indonesia (e.g. West Irian). For economic reasons, people in these areas tend to move to more populous areas where the official Indonesian language is more widely spoken and only a few people share similar regional languages. With the more frequent dispersal of members of such smaller speech communities, it is almost certain that these languages will disappear. Although Javanese, Sundanese and Balinese each have millions of speakers, there has been concern expressed over the declining proficiency of the younger generation in speaking these regional languages. The phenomenon is seen as a success of the language policy implementation.

There is an apprehension that English currently being pushed in the national curriculum might hamper the use of Bahasa Indonesia. However, There have been at least three spelling reforms in the 1940s, the 1970s and the 1990s respectively to ensure the authenticity of the language reflected by word spelling which avoided foreign sounding pronunciation. The use of foreign languages in advertisements and entertainment is also strictly regulated. TV stations are obliged to dub foreign programs into the Indonesian language before airing and billboards are restricted from using English. Although English has been believed by many Indonesians to be an important language to learn in order to participate in globalization, the government’s attitude does not show much support for including English as a part of its language policy. To the advantage of Bahasa Indonesia, the use will keep growing and consistent implementation of the language policy will ensure its continuing success.

  • Regional languages in Indonesia:


  • Dardjowidjojo, S. (1996). The socio-political aspect of English in Indonesia. TEFLIN Journal, 8(1), 1-13.
  • Lowenberg, P. H. (1991). English as an additional language in Indonesia. World Englishes, 10(2), 127-38. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-971X.1991.tb00146.x
  • Moeliono, A. M. (1989). A recent history of spelling reforms in Indonesia. In A. M. Moeliono (ed.), Kembara Bahasa: Kumpulan Karangan Tersebar (Language Anthology: A Collection of Papers). Jakarta: Gramedia.
  • Nababan, P. W. J. (1991). Language in education: The case of Indonesia. International Review of Education, 37(1), 115-31. doi: 10.1007/BF00598171



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This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as


Mun, Sue, & Lee, Jenny (2013). Language Education Policies in Indonesia: Indigenous and Foreign Language Education. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date). 

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