Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Do Indonesians Speak English Well?

Recently a couple of questions where asked about how well Indonesians speak English. A lot of Indonesians may feel that the quality of Indonesian English is generally low, but I have found otherwise. I elaborated on my feelings in the following answers.

How good are Indonesians in speaking English, their accent and fluency?

Previously Indonesians in the public school system used to study English starting from SMP-SMA (Junior-Senior High School) then schools changed it to start at SD 3 (3rd Year of Primary School) and then for quite a while it has been obligatory since SD 1 (1st Year of Primary School). For private schools, they were usually a few steps ahead with when their students started learning English, most private kindergartens already start giving English from playgroup with songs and chants, but not all.
There is an interesting phenomena here though where students can 'learn' English for 12+ years but still not be able to communicate with it. This is due to a number of reasons such as:
  • A one track curriculum, where if you fall behind there are no more entry points. This also leads to multi-level classrooms that are unmanageable for teachers.
  • Poor teaching quality (either with pedagogical knowledge, content knowledge or both)
  • Too many unrealistic competencies which are the same for city schools and schools on a mountain in the middle of a jungle. That leads to poor teaching.
  • Some people feel motivation is also a factor but I feel with realistic expectations and well trained and facilitated teachers motivation will not be a major issue. Sure if students are self-motivated learners they will do well, but they will do well without classes too.
It is a very general question when referring to 'Indonesians' but as a whole those who are given the right environment usually learn English very well, I have seen in general the Indonesian tongue and mind is very well suited for English, usually well trained Indonesians have a lovely accent and if they are of the younger generation have good grammar too. The options for Indonesians wanting to introduce their children to this international language have increased with many more schools using the Cambridge curriculum for their Maths, Science and English subjects including Islamic schools. Previously if the Muslim majority wanted to have their children schooled well and speaking English they had to send their children to Catholic schools, now though many Islamic schools have improved in regards to English, although they still haven't yet got the experience to overtake Catholic schools in general.

What do people from other countries think about Indonesian accents (when speaking English)?
I feel I am qualified to answer this question because I have been teaching English to Indonesians almost exclusively for around 10 years. I am an Australian who lives in Jakarta and also a Toastmaster (public speaking organization), so I hear a lot of different English accents coming from Indonesian English speakers.
In general, Indonesians adapt their pronunciation to English very easily. Sometimes when they have studied English poorly this is not the case but after receiving good instruction early on they have very few long standing difficulties, in fact I would be hard pressed to mention any.
An exception perhaps are people with a strong Javanese accent in Bahasa Indonesia, I have found a lot of the time their accents stick thickly when they learn English. This is not to say that some can't master English pronunciation and intonation or that those who don't can't be understood. Even Javanese English learners find English easier than Japanese, Chinese, Thai or Korean English learners. Mainly because of the similarities between Bahasa Indonesia and English.
Inter-language (mixing the two codes of mother tongue and new language) can be an issue but again with proper instruction this can be easily overcome.
The important stage is Threshold stage, where the learner begins to become independent in their language production. If they have good resources to learn from and a good guide they will do fine, if they have poor resources and a poor guide (maybe the teacher isn't proficient themselves) then this can lead to fosilisation of a poor accent and inter-language.
So in summary you will find most Indonesians do not speak English, there are many though who can though and many who can speak English quite well, especially if you are dealing with big companies from Jakarta, most international companies only hire Indonesians who can speak English (for obvious reasons).
The above are edited excerpts from my Quora answers. You can see more questions I've answered on Quora from my Quora profile here!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

How will English help you in your career and future

For English Learners,

As an Indonesian university student or employee you may wonder how much English is going to help you with your career. Certainly if you have already been an employee for a while now you would know that in applying for jobs a lot of companies ask for great English skills and to find staff who speak English well is very difficult.

Even in India where the English speakers are proportionately a much larger number when compared to countries like Indonesia, the employee who can speak English well earns an average of 30% more that their non-English speaking counter parts. This is 30% extra for the entirety of their career. That is a big difference. Not only does it command a higher salary there but it also opens up more opportunities, somebody who speaks English well will be able to secure a position or promotion sooner, also they will be able to acquire different clients and make different connections than their non-English speaking counterparts.

Also for professional development English provides a competitive edge because all of the latest materials for your industry are probably released in English. In Indonesia, the case is even more impressive than that of India in that people of certain professions who can speak English can sometimes earn up to double their non-English speaking counterparts. This is for the same work, the same hours, having the same qualifications and the same experience. What a huge cutting edge English gives to your career!

If you're confused where to start in learning English don't be! If you already have a basic communicative ability in English you've already won half the battle. Perhaps as many as 90% of learners of a foreign language don't continue to be able to communicate in that language. Just take the graduates from High School around Indonesia as an example, how many of those that you went to school with can speak English well? How many of those that came from the local government high school can speak English well? You'll see that in Indonesia there is a huge skills shortage when it comes to English, which is why as in India people with English skills here command such great opportunities for themselves.

So as somebody who wants to go from being able to communicate to become fluent in English there has never been a better time to start than now! For those who cannot communicate confidently yet then for you also there is good news, to get from not being able to communicate to being able to communicate confidently will only take 6-12 Months of serious study, and for those who want to get from communicating to professional fluency you're looking at around 2-3 years.

How can you get started on your English journey? Well for the beginner the best thing to do is to start formally studying the language. If you have access to a good English course this is a great way to get started, but that by itself is not enough. You must also have a discipline routine to practice daily, so that you can improve steadily. For the person who is looking to get to an advanced fluency a lot of what you will do is self-study quite often structured courses will not take you exactly where you need to go because the more advanced you get in English the more tailor made the approach needs to be. The person who best knows your weaknesses and who best knows what more you need to learn are yourself and if you can a personal coach to assess your language needs.

 So the key phrase for people looking to reach advanced fluency is "guided learning". It is very useful to have somebody look at your individual situation and be there to mentor you and guide you as you progress on your language journey. For somebody who is looking to just reach communicative competence in the language the key phrase is "a structured course, with lots of practice in your own time". If you can commit to these things, set aside the money and the time needed I'm sure that you can reach your goal of getting better English for a better future.

 Don't forget that learning English can be fun, and if you relax and make a good habit out of it you'll learn much more easily. Okay I hope that this has helped you in your quest to continue your language journey and that you'll have the best of success with your English and in your life.

Kind regards,