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Long time ago, an Indonesian lady gave comment when hearing me speak Indonesian to baby Joseph. She said it’s a lost cause to try raising our kids in Indonesian language abroad. It might work for a while but once at school, there will be no hope for the Indonesian language to survive.

Now 3rd grader Joseph still speaks Indonesian although he never lives in Indonesia and goes to American/French-German/French-English schools in three different countries.

The key is to teach him read and write in Indonesian once his literacy skill in the school language is strong enough.

The journey of Joseph reading in my mother tongue began around December 2010.

Our home library. It's a collection of Indonesian books we gather for almost 8 years. We bought them in Jakarta during our holidays and brought some at a time in our luggage.

Through reading, he gets to know words rarely used in verbal, like gunung berapi (volcano), buang air besar (going to the bathroom for number two), cacing tambang (hookworm).

He finds different levels of subject pronouns Anda-Saya (vous-je in French), Kamu-Aku (tu-je in French) cool as they are almost unknown in English.

Joseph and Louise discover many ways to amuse themselves through triliteracy. For example, they borrowed some titles of Tintin in French and English from the library and curiously compared them to the Indonesian ones we have at home. They found there were two versions of the Indonesian Tintin: the one translated from English where the names Thom(p)son and Snowy are used, and the one from French with Dupon(d) and Milo. They got very excited!

Another way is by using public media. For instance, on the Indonesian monthly magazine published in Sydney, Joseph got to know words related to our country's independence when playing the 'Finding Words' game. Proklamasi (proclamation), dirgahayu Indonesia (anniversary of Indonesia) are jargons used mostly in writing. If he didn't ask I might never remember to explain.

In the meantime, he's been learning spelling, grammar and essay writing in French and English at school. When Joseph wrote the Indonesian words kamu (you) and aku (me) in a mixture of French and English spellings (‘camou’, ‘uckou’), I knew it's time to write in Indonesian.

He started in April 2011.

Books to teach Joseph to write


On holidays, he does the exercise daily. During school days, he does it on Fridays and weekends. 

We follow the book lesson by lesson and now working on spelling and sentence building. Joseph reads some texts, copies the questions and writes down the answers. Sometimes a lesson asks him to retell a story in writing, arrange a jumbled sentence into a good paragraph and draw conclusion from a poem.

Besides, my kids learn some typical Indonesian school activities from these books. For example, pupils over there take turn in cleaning the class room, follow weekly flag raising ceremony and visit some touristic places on field trips ('Tangkuban Perahu' in West Java, 'Keraton Jogja' in Central Java, 'Taman Mini' in Jakarta).

To tell you the truth, my son is less eager to write. He often bargains to read more in exchange of writing less. I told him that if he works hard, he will be the only one in his class who knows how to write in Indonesian. So far it's enough to make him finish his exercise of the day :D.


1. What’s the key to raise kids in our mother tongue abroad?
Please see my January posting.

2. Does Joseph’s English develop like his French and English?
No. French is now his strongest language while English and Indonesian are more or less on the same level.

3. Why is it important to read and write in Indonesian?

a. When kids read and write in the school language, we should teach them to read and write in the home language. This way, our native tongue and school language will develop (almost) equally.

b. Literacy in Indonesian opens up a whole new dimension of the Indonesian language. It helps my kids (Joseph and Louise) to be fully aware of their Indonesian heritage. Literacy makes them appreciate things related to Indonesia in the the same way as they value everything about France. For example: when they learn the French flag and anthem, they could then read about Indonesian flag and anthem at home.

c. It will improve their Indonesian language and will serve as a foundation for more active use in the future. In this globalised world, it's a huge benefit for adult Indonesian to speak, read and write Indonesian.  For instance, instead of putting only 1 or 2 acquired language(s) on their resume, they would be able to put 3 or 4! It's known that major global employers tend to value their staff's multiliteracy.

4. How do we teach our kids to read in Indonesian?
Please see my January posting.

5. Aren't you pushing your kids too much?
No. Parents should understand that multiliteracy doesn't happen overnight. It is a long and step by step process. It will work out only if we commit ourselves to the goal. We also have to do it with patience, love and care. Please see my January posting.


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 20th, 2011 02:57 am (UTC)
Just wondering, have you thought about what kind of language exercises you're going to do with the kids when they're much older, like middle school to high school? Do you think you'll continue to use academic texts of some sort, possibly have an assortment of novels for the kids to peruse, maybe have them write essays?
Aug. 20th, 2011 05:07 am (UTC)
Your comment reminds me to add something on the posting.

Joseph reads loads of comics like Ben 10, Avatar, Asterix etc in Indonesian.

You're right, everything should be in conform to his age to keep up his excitement. I guess later on he will read some teen novels in Indonesian as well.

Essay, that's something he should work on. For now he's just copying questions and write down the answers from the text. Once his spelling improves, I plan to ask him to start a weekend journal.
Aug. 20th, 2011 06:21 am (UTC)
This is great! I wish I had learned more German when I was a kid. It has no real practical use here in Canada of course but would have come in handy when visiting relatives in Europe later in life. Also the more languages you know the easier it is to learn new ones.
Your children will be very grateful for this when they're adults. They might go through some periods in their teen years where they have some embarrassment about speaking their parents' language but later in life they'll be very glad they are able to.
Aug. 20th, 2011 06:56 am (UTC)
I'm not looking forward to those teen years :D. I heard ages 5-12 are the golden years for parents before the teen cyclone arrives.

Yeah it's easier to learn a language when young. I had a similar experience. I acquired Dutch as a kid and relearned a decade later. I can speak and read novels, but it's still hard for me to write.
Aug. 20th, 2011 07:59 am (UTC)
You already know you've convinced me of the huge advantages of multi-lingual education. I'm sure the children will greatly benefit from it.

The one time we met Joseph already really amazed me:).

Though to be successful there is this quintessential factor: parent(s) like you. One who is a very good teacher by his/herself and at he same time manages to do so very informed, very structured and very systematic.

Aug. 20th, 2011 08:21 am (UTC)
Thank you, Colson. There are many parents out there who raise their kids in their mother tongue abroad, unfortunately not some many are Indonesians. Probably my experience will encourage some.

Yeah, multilingualism is an advantage for a longer term. For me, it's nice to be able to read in Indonesian, English, Dutch, (some) German and (a little) French. It's a huge benefit to write in Indonesian and English. If I had enough time, I would be glad to work on my written Dutch :D.
Aug. 20th, 2011 10:31 am (UTC)
Great Job !!
Unbelieveable Santi ... even an Indonesian teacher in an Indonesian school, won't do the step by step content of the book at home with their children or even with their pupils at school, I assumed. Because the teacher in Indonesia are always stressed by curriculum targets and deadlines.

Will you accompany and do the indonesian literacy with them till they are in the high school ?? It's really a great job, how patient you are.

My Tara needs to do French as the compulsory subject now in her high school in Germany. So she has catched up the 2 years French subject matter in the last 6 months. She is doing very well but I cannot help her at all. I trusted her to the expert. I hope she will have no big problem at school later on.

Keep up the good work.
regards, Anky
Aug. 21st, 2011 10:15 pm (UTC)
Re: Great Job !!
*kaget* .. you're back in Aachen? When did you leave Jakarta? I checked on your blog sometime ago and thought you're still in Indonesia.

It's interesting to go through the materials in those Indonesian books. Different habits and sometimes rather weird logics :D.

I hope they will be independent enough by the time they are in high school. If the basic layers are strong I guess they will be willing enough to improve their Indonesian on their own.

Wow .. a-2-year program compressed into 6 months?? Your daughter must be very smart! French is her 4th language, right? In such a young age, I'm sure she will excel!

Thanks, Ky and enjoy your homecoming :D!
Aug. 21st, 2011 04:37 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much for this very inspiring posting!!! It reminds me of my duty next year, when my first child will go to school :) So far, they just "have to" play in the Kindergarten. Unlike in Indonesia, they don't have to learn to read and write yet in Germany. But things will probably change a lot when school starts.
Aug. 22nd, 2011 01:47 am (UTC)
Re: thanks
You know literacy is a transferrable knowledge. Once your kid reads well in German, it would be easy for her to learn written Indonesian.
Aug. 22nd, 2011 07:25 am (UTC)
Wow, I'm impressed with Joseph's book collection and your persistence to teach him Indonesian like a teacher would do. Reading lesson? Writing lesson? I know Joseph will reap it in the future - besides there are already 220 million Indonesian native speaker, it IS a big / important language to master.
Aug. 22nd, 2011 08:22 am (UTC)
Re: impressed
Thank you, Anon. The journey of my kids' Indonesian has just begun. I hope they will still cherish their Indonesian heritage as teenagers :D.
Jul. 29th, 2012 12:54 pm (UTC)
Santi, where are you....... seems like you are dissappearing. Hows your study?
Mar. 6th, 2013 03:06 pm (UTC)
Indonesian books
Hi, I homeschool, and we are starting Indonesianb can you tell me the name of the workbooks that you are using please? Thanks
Mar. 7th, 2013 09:31 pm (UTC)
Re: Indonesian books
Bahasa kita bahasa Indonesia. By: A. Malik Thachir, dkk.
Publisher: Esis
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