In Indonesian English classes, an expatriate lecturer once stated her opinion that Indonesians speak English better than people in neighboring countries. She had been involved in several international forums and realized that some countries cannot even diminish their accents. It made their English sound unnaturally.
“Singaporeans, for example. They often add ‘lah’ when speaking English—it is something so-called ‘Singlish’,” she added. That is true: In Indonesia, no one speaks English like Singlish.
Singaporeans speak its national language of English. Just like the Philippines, they use English as their second language. However, speakers from those two countries still use accents. If we move our focus to East Asia, we can even see a clearer example of this accent in the way Oppas and Unnies speak English in South Korea, as well as people in Japan.
It turns out to be affected by the way English has been taught for many years there to students. In addition to them being taught using the country’s native alphabets—Korean and Japanese characters—most students spend a lot of time just memorizing the word lists. Practical skills are not emphasized, and it answers the question of why so many people are not encouraged to speak English.
Does this flexible Indonesian tongue mean that all Indonesians can speak English without even a single local accent?
The answer: No.
The process of “forming” the tongue with an accent takes a long time. At a certain point, some people may no longer be flexible to switch between two known accents.
However, we should still admit that the Indonesian tongue is much more flexible to use foreign languages regardless of some “haunting” local accents. It’s not just English—we can devour other foreign languages too: French, German, or even Arabic. On the contrary, if we pay attention, some foreigners on TV do not even speak Indonesian fluently! Wonder why?
In Indonesian language itself, we do not know the concept of grammar as in other foreign languages. This makes their struggle to speak Indonesian understandable.
For example: In Indonesian, do we know the laws of tenses, plurals, and even masculine and feminine words? No. We only talk about “satu apel” and “dua apel”, while in English they are written as “an apple” and “two apples”. We also only mention “Senin” (Monday) and “menara” (tower), whereas in French they are written as “le lundi” and “la tour”. Complicated!
The good news: Indonesians are considered to be good at using languages. Many Indonesians speak at least two languages: Indonesian and one local language, such as Javanese or Sundanese. In fact, a study states that Indonesia is the country with the most people who can speak three languages (English, Indonesian, and the local Javanese language). Several polyglot communities are growing well in Indonesia. An online polyglot community has even embraced more than 10,000 members—a fantastic number!
If we talk about Indonesian language, there are presences of explosive consonants (the sounds /k/, /g/, /c/, /j/, /t/, /d/, /p/, and /b/) which make us much easier to adapt to foreign languages in the learning process. This phenomenon is not found in many other countries, thus it makes the Indonesian tongue much more flexible compared to other countries.
In comparison, Russia Beyond reported that Russians actually had difficulties in speaking English. Through some researches, this problem arises due to the different sounds of letters between these two languages. One of the most common problems is the mixing of “s” and “th” sounds when Russians speak English.
It is said that during the period of learning English in Russia, students learned the English alphabet. However, the sounds requested by the alphabet have never been made in Russia— that is why the sounds produced are actually different. So, how do the Russian people deal with this?
Well, for some times, children in Russia do things that our Indonesian tongues often do: make Russian words sound like English.