languages, and their importance

some months ago, i read some Indonesian news that for the new curriculum year 2013-2014, English will no longer be a mandatory subject in elementary schools in Indonesia. actually, i read the headline on one of my friends’ FB page, accompanied with all sorts of cursing words and protests from fellow Indonesians.

curious, i went to read the news. and i know that by writing this, i would probably be hated by my friends/other Indonesians, but i have to say: i actually agree with the Indonesian Ministry of Education.

their reason for taking out English as a mandatory subject is so that students of elementary schools would first learn & perfect their Indonesians before learning foreign languages.

i’ve written here once, how much it GETS to me that fellow Indonesians these days can’t seem to speak or write good & correct Indonesian. and i meant every word, it worries me that one day, Bahasa Indonesia will cease to exist because nobody speaks it well enough to teach the next generation. i don’t know if it would actually help or not that they take English out of the curriculum, but at least the idea behind it is something that i also believe in.

one of  the first few things i learned after moving to Finland is how much Finns value their own language. i’m not saying  that the people here speak correct Finnish all the time, but how they appreciate their own language is different than in my own home country. movies here would have Finnish titles instead of the original English ones (not all, but most of them). translated books would actually cost more than the original English books, which means the translators here are appreciated, much more than the translators in my home country are appreciated. translated books in Indonesia cost much cheaper than the original English books, so you can pretty much calculate how much a translator make for every book; that’s just how much they are worth. although i guess, in a way, it’s good, because that means more people there would have the money to buy the Indonesian version of books, which means at least SOME people can still learn how to use good & correct Indonesian. but how many people are willing to work as a translator with a low payment? and these people who actually do it, how good are they? i’ve heard one too many stories from book editors in Indonesia, how the supposed “translators” actually have no idea what they’re doing, not understanding the very thing they are “translating”, and sometimes, it even seems like they use google translator to translate the book, and claim it to be their own work. how long will this keep going on? and if the editors aren’t even as good as these editors i know, how many “translated” books out there have taught Indonesians wrong?

another thing i learned in Finland is that people at the daycare centers here would keep pointing out to the parents (especially those from different national backgrounds) that mother language is the most important one for the child, no matter where you live. so in my case, my future child’s priority would be Indonesian, even though we’re living in Finland. kids will learn the country’s language from the schools here, and English comes even later.

when i went to elementary school, i didn’t learn English until i was at the 3rd grade. before that, i had no idea how to pronounce “bye bye”, let alone what it meant. after English was introduced to me, i began buying English children’s books, and listening carefully to any English TV series or movies that i watched, to know how the words are pronounced. i learned how to sing Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love Of All” with the right pronunciation without even knowing what the words really meant. as i grew older, i also bought some English magazines, and though i never went to any English language course nor go to school abroad, i think my English isn’t so bad.

i guess what i’m trying to say is, even if English is out of the curriculum of the elementary schools in Indonesia, it’s not going to be a problem for the kids in Indonesia to learn English. first of all, movies & tv shows in Indonesia are always shown in their original languages, which are mostly English. there are still thousands of English magazines and children books available in Indonesia for those who want to teach English to their kids. and for those who have extra money, there are still numerous English language courses available outside the school. really, the most important thing is in fact to let the kids learn their own mother language first before introducing them to other languages.

the next topic, inevitably, would be my explaining why i am writing all this in English instead. who am i to say the importance of Indonesian language to Indonesians if i don’t even use it myself? well, that’s right, i don’t use it to write on my online blog. i do use it, however, to talk to my family & Indonesian friends, and also to write stories, which i’m still hoping one day to be published. at one point i also wrote in my blog in Indonesian, but i decided some years ago that i will write blog posts only in English. the thing is, i want a broader audience than Indonesians for my blog, and so English was chosen. as simple as that. and why is it that i never write “I”s and the first letters of a sentence in capitals? because i’m too lazy to hit the Shift button. 😀 (i don’t do that when i write a short/long story though.)

i think i know my Indonesian well enough that i feel that it’s okay for me to write & speak in English. i didn’t study communication for nothing, after all. and though i can’t speak/write perfect English, i know well enough to say “i’m bored” instead of “i’m boring” like what most Indonesians say when they feel bored (i kid you not). or write “deadline”when i mean to say the point in time when something needs to be completed, instead of “dateline”. and “of course” for something that’s exactly so, instead of “off course”. i could go on forever. it bothers me so much that these people don’t write these words in Indonesian, and instead they use incorrect English words. not only for personal use (i couldn’t care less if it was only in someone’s blog), but journalists and editors very often write these incorrect English words in magazines and newspapers that are printed & published around Indonesia, when their intermediate language is supposed to be Indonesian.

so way to go, Indonesian Ministry of Education. please, PLEASE, teach Indonesians how important it is to master our own language before even learning foreign languages. i hope to one day see a good Indonesian magazine or newspaper that is free from English words (or any other language), using only correct Indonesian language, with the correct spelling and all that.

the next topic, which is also the last, has a bit to do with yet another article i read some time ago. it’s written by an Indonesian mother who lives outside of Indonesia, and upon meeting another Indonesian mother at a random park one day, she got so excited and started talking to this other mother in Indonesian. after a while though, the other mother deflated the first mother’s excitement when she confessed that she has forgotten Indonesian language, since she’s been using the intermediate language used in the country where she lives. i can’t seem to find the article now, unfortunately, but i remember the important points.

yes, it’s unfortunate that you might one day forget some words in your mother language. it happens to me sometimes, i can’t seem to find the perfect word in my own language, even if it’s already at the tip of my tongue. but from what i read in that article, it was almost as if forgetting some words in your mother language means that you don’t love it. and i again beg to differ.

moving to a different country permanently means you would have to integrate with your new living place. getting accustomed with the different customs, and of course, learning the language. i love my mother language, and will continue using it whenever i can, but i can’t lie and say that i remember my Indonesian perfectly well when i very rarely use it. i won’t ever completely forget my mother language, of that much i know, and i won’t even forget how to correctly use the language, but i guess my brain isn’t as good as when i was younger, for i seem to forget some words. so you have the privilege to speak with your kids everyday in your own mother language even when you’re living abroad, good for you. who do i have? i don’t have a child of my own (yet), nor do i meet any Indonesian friend here regularly. i’m exposed to Finnish speaking community almost 24/7, so is it really a sin if i sometimes forget a few words in my own mother language?

loving your mother language is good, i encourage that. but integrating with your new living place is also just as important in my humble opinion. after all, you live there, in your new living place, so isn’t it understandable that you also pay respect to the people in your new living place by learning their language? loving your mother language is good, but closing your mind from other languages, especially the language used in your living place, is in my opinion a bit rude. again, you don’t have to master this other language, but enough to be able to interact with other people outside of your own cultural background.

learn your mother languages well, but don’t close your mind completely from foreign languages. when you’ve mastered your own mother language, you will never forget it, and then it’s time for you to reach beyond and learn those other languages. all in time. 🙂


6 thoughts on “languages, and their importance

  1. Kalau gue 50:50 soal ini. Untuk alasan bahwa anak2 Indonesia harus kenal dan bisa bahasa ibu, gue setuju bahwa mereka harus belajar bahasa Indonesia dulu sebelum bahasa lainnya. Tapi di sisi lain, anak kecil belajar bahasa lebih cepat dari orang dewasa dan otak mereka memang mampu untuk belajar lebih dari 1 bahasa pada saat bersamaan di usia muda. Semakin lambat seseorang terekspos dengan bahasa asing, semakin sulit dia mempelajarinya.

    Saran gue sih pelajaran Bahasa Inggris jangan dihilangkan dari pendidikan dasar, tapi yang perlu diatur adalah penggunaan bahasa pengantar/sosial di sekolah. Yang banyak terjadi di sini, khususnya Jakarta, sekolah2 berlomba pakai bahasa pengantar Inggris (sementara kita juga gak tau apakah guru2nya mampu berbahasa Inggris dengan baik, apalagi Indonesia, mengingat masalah ‘i’m boring’, ‘dateline’, ‘worthed’, dan ‘thanks god’ yang masih sering terjadi). Dengan bahasa pengantar Indonesia (sehingga guru2 juga dipastikan harus bisa berbahasa Indonesia dengan baik), Bahasa Inggris kemudian bisa diperkenalkan di jenjang pendidikan dasar dengan cara yang menyenangkan. Tujuannya bukan proficiency di usia muda, melainkan pengenalan terhadap bunyi, pola, dll sehingga mereka terbiasa dan nggak kaget saat nanti di jenjang pendidikan lanjutan belajar bahasa ini dengan lebih serius.

    Menempatkan porsi dan prioritas aja sih, intinya, nggak perlu ekstrem. 🙂

    • heheh, sudah kuduga. 😀 seperti yg gue tulis di atas, gue ga tau apakah cara ini (menghilangkan bhs Inggris dr kurikulum wajib pendidikan SD) akan membantu atau ngga, tapi yg gue setuju adalah idenya. gue juga inget hal yg sama, bahwa otak anak kecil lebih mampu menyerap/belajar bahasa baru, dan semakin tua semakin susah. tapi ya kalau dipikir2, masih banyak sumber belajar bhs Inggris lain yg bisa dikenalkan ke anak2 dari sejak dini hari (selain di sekolah): les, buku2 Inggris, serial di TV, film2 bioskop. setidaknya di Jakarta (dan kota2 besar lain di Indonesia, mungkin?). akses ke hal2 ini cukup mudah, bahkan mungkin lebih mudah dibanding di Finland (secara di sini semua biasa diterjemahin.. bukunya J. K. Rowling yg terbaru aja gue sampe ga tau judul bhs Inggrisnya, taunya cuma bhs Suomi-nya 😐 yg gencar dipromosiin justru yg bhs Suomi soalnya). sebetulnya anak2 di Indonesia sudah terekspos ke bahasa Inggris lebih sering dari anak2 di Finland. tapi toh org2 Finland juga secara keseluruhan bisa dibilang fasih berbahasa Inggris. dikeluarkan dari kurikulum wajib juga bukan berarti sekolah2 dasar ngga boleh tetep ngajarin bhs Inggris, sepertinya sih, cuma pokoknya bukan termasuk 6 mata pelajaran yg wajib diajarkan di SD.

      hal lain soal kenapa diputuskan begitu (menurut berita yg gue baca), adalah juga karena kasihan kalau anak2 di-“paksa” belajar terlalu banyak hal sekaligus di usia muda. ini pun lagi2 gue setuju, hahaha… mungkin karena gue juga jadi biasa ngeliat anak2 di sekolah sini (Finland) belajarnya santai, ga dipaksa belajar ini itu dari kecil, yg lama2 tumbuh besar jadi ngga suka sama yg namanya pelajaran. menurut pengamatan gue, anak2/orang2 di sini tumbuh besar jadi cinta sama hal yg bernama “belajar” (brrr), padahal juga baru mulai belajar berhitung dll di SD, ngga di TK (gue inget pas gue TK udh diajarin berhitung lah, apa lah, bener2 belajar di kelas pake buku & pensil).

      balik ke soal bahasa, yg gue idamkan sebenarnya adalah bahwa org Indonesia pun bisa menghargai bahasa Indonesia sendiri. karena kalau bukan org Indonesia, siapa dong? memang bhs Inggris itu penting, tapi menurut gue, mencintai & membudidayakan bhs Indonesia dari usia muda lebih penting lagi. 🙂 banyak kok negara di Eropa yg aslinya berbahasa non Inggris dan kemudian bisa berbahasa Inggris dgn baik dan benar walaupun mereka belajarnya “telat”.

      • Nah, ini mesti balik lagi ke situasi kota dan keluarga di Jakarta. Benar, memang, anak2 Jakarta lebih mudah terekspos bahasa Inggris lewat film, dll. Tapi yang dibilang anak Jakarta bukan cuma yang punya tv kabel di rumahnya, yang bisa nonton ke bioskop tiap kali ada film keluar. Budaya baca aja masih kurang, boro2 ke toko buku. Ini baru Jakarta, ya. Belum di daerah2. Lalu, masalah anak Jakarta lainnya adalah kurang bimbingan orangtua. Kalau orangtuanya ada yang salah satunya tinggal di rumah, okelah, bisa belajar bahasa Inggris yang bukan dari sekolah. Itu juga dengan catatan orangtuanya mampu (baik dari segi materi misalnya masukin les atau apalah, maupun bukan materi seperti ngajarin sendiri misalnya) dan merasa perlu. Di sini kebanyakan anak2 ketemu orangtuanya secara berkualitas cuma weekend. Waktu orangtuanya habis, tua di jalan karena mesti ngantor (yg jaraknya jauh dari rumah) plus kena macet. Tentu aja idealnya pendidikan dimulai dari keluarga sendiri, tapi kondisi di sini yang nggak ideal.

        Seingat gue, waktu menteri ybs bilang soal pelajaran bahasa Inggris ini nggak diwajibkan lagi, ada tambahannya, yaitu diganti pelajaran agama. Hmm.. Kayaknya kebalik bukan ya? Agama bisa ‘diajar’ di rumah dan sama sekali nggak ada urusannya dengan akademik. Apa nggak lucu bahwa di sekolah2 itu agama justru ada ujiannya, sementara bahasa Inggris malah nggak? That’s my opinion ya.

        Kenapa gue bilang 50:50, karena gue nggak oppose the idea (kalau alasannya supaya anak2 bisa berbahasa Indonesia lebih baik) tapi lebih suka kalau kebijakan yang diambil nggak ekstrem. Ya sih, cuma ‘nggak wajib’, yang artinya silakan kalau sekolah mau tetap ngajarin. Tapi dengan nggak wajib justru kualitas pengajar/materinya yg akan dipertanyakan karena nggak ada standarnya.

        Soal supaya anak2 nggak terbeban dengan banyak pelajaran, nah itu tadi yang gue bilang dengan metode belajar yang menyenangkan. Masalah di sini ya itu. Semua materi diajarkan dengan metode benar-salah. Ya tentu aja anak2 kelelahan belajar. TK di sini itu sebenernya nggak boleh lho belajar calistung (baca-tulis-hitung), but still, TK berlomba2 ngajarin itu (Freya aja bahkan udah belajar nulis tegak bersambung yang tebal tipis! Something yang kita dulu baru belajar kelas 3 SD. We’re nuts like that here..) Kenapa? Karena some SD mensyaratkan itu untuk menerima murid baru. Dan ini berlanjut ke jenjang2 berikutnya. Ya jelas aja capeklah anak2nya. Goal pendidikannya dulu dibenerin, metodenya diperbaiki, baru deh ngomong mana yang perlu dikurangi dan ditambah. What’s the point anak2 itu jago matematika usia dini tapi kalau ketemu ‘bule’ (yang banyak bertebaran di Jakarta), cuma cengengesan dan ‘yes, mister’ aja karena nggak ngerti sehingga merasa inferior? Atau seperti dalam kasus Freya dan sodara2nya sendiri, jadi nggak berani ngomong, ngetawain, dlsb. Soal supaya anak2 bisa berbahasa Indonesia dengan baik, sama. Goal & metodenya diperbaiki. Gue yakin kalau kurikulum Indonesia nggak sok ambisius, bisa kok. Anak SD rasanya belum perlu kan, belajar majas? Nah, di sini udah. Ngapain coba?

        Menurut gue bahasa itu berkaitan erat dengan mengeluarkan pendapat dan mengekspresikan diri. Selama pendidikannya masih dengan cara menjejalkan materi ke otak anak, bahasa apa pun akan melelahkan. Tapi kalau menyenangkan, belajar apa pun nggak akan jadi beban. Itu PR-nya di sini.

        Nah, Finland punya sistem pendidikan terbaik di dunia, menurut berita terakhir yang gue baca. Dan gue pingin banget Indonesia kayak gitu. Beruntung gue nemu sekolah baru buat Freya nanti itu. Mereka punya ekspektasi anak bisa menulis itu baru umur 8, anak2 nggak dipaksa belajar dengan cara yang sama. Bahasa pengantar/sosial ada 2, bahasa Indonesia dan Inggris bergantian sehingga anak2 itu terbiasa menggunakan keduanya (praktik, bukan teori). Gue sempet liat mereka juga belajar bahasa daerah (dlm hal ini bahasa Bali), dengan cara bikin poster nama2 warna dalam bahasa Bali. Belajarnya dengan bermain. Di sekolah ini (sekolah Freya sekarang juga sih), nggak ada sistem grading seperti yang berlaku di sekolah pada umumnya, tapi ukuran kompetensi aja (highly competent, competent, dlsb). Anak2 sekolah nggak terbeban dengan nilai yang harus dicapai sehingga materi apa pun akan diterima dengan baik sesuai kemampuan masing2. Nantinya di kelas 6, sesuai peraturan, anak2 ini tetap ikut Ujian Nasional (dengan kurikulum nasional yang mengerikan itu). Tapi kalau nggak lulus ujian itu mereka tetap bisa lanjutin sekolah karena sekolah juga kasih diploma. Kalau di Indonesia bisa kayak gini semua, gue yakin pelajaran bahasa Inggris nggak perlu dibuat nggak wajib karena udah nggak lagi jadi ‘musuh’ bahasa ibu dan beban untuk dipelajari.

      • Btw, of course I’m with you soal kalau bukan kita yang menghargai Bahasa Indonesia lalu siapa? Itulah sebabnya gue betah jadi penerjemah dan berharap sedikit hasil buah pikir gue itu dibaca dan membuat perbedaan, syukur2 ikut mencerdaskan kehidupan bangsa. 😉

      • hmm, gue baru denger tuh soal diganti jadi pelajaran agama. waduh, semoga ngga kebablasan aja deh, seperti misalnya jadi ngajarin anak2 bahwa apa2 yg berbau Barat itu buruk atau bahkan dosa besar. :p hiiii.

        ngerti banget kalau kondisi di Jakarta (atau Indonesia bagian lain) mungkin saat ini belum memadai untuk mengajarkan bhs Inggris ke anak2 melalui media lain selain sekolah, dan seperti yg lo bilang, kalau saja semua sekolah di sana mau mulai mengubah cara mengajar anak2nya dgn metode yg lebih menyenangkan, pasti bisa deh tercapai cita2 “membudidayakan bhs Indonesia dari sejak usia dini”.

        mungkin gue terlalu naif, pengen percaya bahwa dgn cara ekstrem seperti itu pun anak2 Indonesia bisa jadi lebih cinta dgn bhs Indonesia, hehe. i guess we won’t know until the future arrives, apakah akhirnya berhasil atau ngga. tapi sementara itu gue dukung 100% sekolah barunya Freya! itu baru namanya sekolah efektif! 🙂 semoga makin banyak lagi nantinya sekolah di Indonesia yg mengikuti cara mengajarnya sekolah itu.

        dan ya, tolong jangan berhenti jadi penterjemah/editor, you are one of the best ones out there! seriously! inget pujiannya Mbak Wulan yg sering ngedit buku2 terjemahan lo. 😀 semoga mereka yg baca buku2 terjemahan lo bisa setidaknya jadi belajar kaidah2 bhs Indonesia yg baik dan benar (& mereka jadi tau kapan mesti nulis “di” disambung atau dipisah dgn kata berikutnya, hahahaha… kesalahan2 klasik yg selalu bikin gue gemesssss).

  2. Pingback: The Future of Language Loss and Diversity - Indonesia

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