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I found it interesting when most fellow Indonesians 'envied' my kids' ability to converse in Indonesian, but backed up once they knew the amount of work involved. They would usually say 'it's too difficult', or 'I cannot commit', or 'my kids don't want to', or the worst comment of all 'my kids are not talented unlike yours'. They would even ask if there was a fast way to get an instant result to raise multilingual kids.

Reactions toward my publications on multilingualism and coming across many Indonesians in 5 different countries (Indonesia included), made some points clearer to me. An 'Interest ' to raise kids in mother tongue differs from 'willingness'. A will doesn't mean they will actually do it. 'Doing' is not a guarantee for  'struggling until the end'. Therefore, it becomes obvious that my people's success in raising kids in vernaculars  might be achieved only when each (a) believes in his/her own strength, (b) understands that everything needs to follow a process (c) stands-up to any obstacle when somebody challenge his/her believe, (d) dares to do things individually (not only in groups).

Of course, it's every parent's right to raise or not to raise their kids in Indonesian language. I respect those who choose to speak foreign language to their children. I really do. However, finding uniformed reactions ('envious' but wants to do it only if it's fast and instant) has ensured me that, in fact, they didn't think it through when dropping the vernacular language. Until one day, they suddenly understood the logic behind it. Unfortunately, lacking of those (a) (b) (c) (d) brings many of my people merely halfway or even nowhere near the language acquisition.  

So after digesting these rather disappointing facts,  I'm again having the strength to write a detailed account on my kids' language progress, particularly on how to reach literacy in Indonesian within a foreign language environment.  

Although the emphasis is on Indonesian language, video clips, photos and explanations might also be useful for those who are serious in building a multilingual household.

Mind you, I'm no expert and merely share my family's experience.


At my kids' school (Joseph 7 yo, Louise nearly 4 yo), they learn every subject in French. Math, geography, history, science and what-not. They also get English lesson everyday and read from different books. Both languages are progressing in a lightning speed. I became worried when one day Joseph spoke Indonesian using many French and English nouns and verbs. 

From the multilingual parenting resources, I learned that reading is effective to keep the minority language above the water. The broader the subjects, the bigger chance it will survive. We therefore work on (1) books  with topics my kids like, and (2) books used in classrooms in my country. 

Below is a sample of Joseph reading a subject he likes

Other story books he reads:
A. Comics of his favorite action heros, Ben 10 and Transformers. He's eager to know the story, although the vocabs are way beyond his level. The pictures help him to understand.

B. Topics he didn't know before. Shown on the right are books on Indonesian classic tales (Baratayuda, Timun Mas, Si Kancil, Bebe si Lebah). On the left are  a children's magazine (Bobo), popular story (Upin and Ipin) and knowledge kids his age are curious about (The most disgusting science ever). All are fun and new and induce his curiousity.

C. Stories he knew from French and English. On the left are fairy tales (Goldilocks and Three Bears, The Red Riding Hood, The Frog Prince and The Little Match Girl), on the left Tintin, Yakari and Asterix series. I remember both Joseph and Louise would exclaim in surprise and say: Mama, Si Tudung  Merah juga kita baca di sekolah! (We also read the Red Riding Hood at school!). 

Beside all those leisure readings, below are three clips of Joseph learning from  a 'Learning Indonesian Language', used by pupils at schools in Indonesia.

In this clip, he learns the correct intonation in a conversation

Reading in syllables


A poetry.

I bought 'Learning Indonesian' books for 1st and 2nd graders on our last trip to Jakarta.

A. How do I motivate my kids to read Indonesian? 

Parents have to realize that the process is interesting yet  challenging, fun yet lenghty.

Raising multilingual kids is like building a house. We have to lay the foundation. The foundation should be strong enough to hold many layers above.

First thing to do, we should speak to them in the target language. Kids learn a language by listening to it regulary. After getting enough inputs, they will start to produce: the speaking part. With more efforts, kids might be interested in reading and then writing. 


1. I did my homework by reading a lot of books on multilingualism and raising multilingual kids. Two  crucial points: choosing a method and setting a goal.

2. My husband liked the idea of his kids speaking their father's and  mother's native languages. We both believe in the importance of knowing the mother tongue of their parents for our multinational/multiethnic/TCK/global nomad children.

3. We chose the One-Parent-One-Language Method (OPOL). Our goal has always been to make them fluent both orally and in writing.

4. We've been using  the OPOL since our kids were in my belly. Multilingualism has always been the norm in our family. Joseph and Louise never knew what it means to be monolingual.

5. Consistent and persistent. Husband only speaks French and I only speak Indonesian to my kids. We never mix the languages.  We kept on using OPOL even when people stared and gave the same comment as if we were some kind of carnival attractions, or a school teacher challenged our family's multlingualism, or a xenophobic doctor insulted me. We've been raising kids in 4 different countries and we keep on using OPOL. We are as stubborn as mules.

B. Our kids are at a French school, in Germany now in Australia, which are always bilingual with the local language. On one hand, the development of French and the local language are guaranteed. On the other hand, we have to work extra on the Indonesian language. So how do I prevent it from extinction? 

PRE-READING SKILL (from birth until they started to read in Indonesian)

1. While doing A 1 to 5 above, I read to them in Indonesian.

2. It's important to start reading in Indonesian early (even when they were newborns!). Written Indonesian differs from the colloquial and bed time or nap time or whatever time story introduces them to the richer vocabs and grammar of the 'high' Indonesian language.

3. I invested in children's books in my language. On each visit to Jakarta, I bought plenty. Families, relatives and friends also helped me to bring. 

4. True, collections of Indonesian books would never beat the French or English or German catered by the school and local libraries. But I never gave up and read Indonesian from French and English books, even  from German books to my kids, since they were babies.

5. I've been teaching him how to play the piano in Indonesian (although the books are in English)

6. Doing activities and games in Indonesian (using English books and teaching aids)

7. I learned that wisdom in many Indonesian fairy tales were not logical to my kids. It didn't matter. They didn't  know how to read yet, so I improvised many stories.

8. I looked for books that my kids like. When Joseph was 3 yo, he was crazy about Bob the Builders and Cars. I bought stacks of them. 

9. Introduced to themes new to my kids. Franklin the Turtles was a character Joseph didn't know and I introduced it through reading. When he saw Franklin on TV, he was surprised to see it existed both in Indonesian and English. 

10. Pre-reading in Indonesian also makes kids understand that Indonesian language is equal to any other language. It's very important for my kids to know that they can find nearly everything in my language. (Joseph and Louise learned about volcano at school and at home I read it also in Indonesian).


1. Joseph had enough Indonesian vocabularies and knew the Indonesian grammar when entering grade school.

2. I waited until his reading skill in French and English were firm. I supervised his homework and when he had less and less errors in spelling and read faster in both languages, I began to ask him to read Indonesian.

3. Reading skill is transferrable. Joseph knew how to read in German so I told him that Indonesian alfphabet reads like German. Also, he's used to cracking the codes of the other three languages, so reading Indonesian came with ease.

4. At the beginning he was unsure of himself, however, his vast knowledge in Indonesian vocabs and gramma enabled him to guess on how to read a word, which  boosted his confidence and motivated him to read more.

5. As shown on videos and photos above, I first chose topics he likes before moving to a completely new topic. After that, we began to work with the Indonesian academic books. This showed him that, just like the other two languages, there are also rules in Indonesian. He began to understand syllables, correct intonations, nouns and verbs.

6. Rule of the thumbs: I never pushed him.  Everything should be fun and relaxed





( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 25th, 2011 04:07 am (UTC)
Great to hear your children are doing well in Indonesian.
I wanted to do the OPOL sytle but we have 3 different languages to cover so ended up we did a mixture of all 3. The kids are strong in English and Mandarin but still a bit weak in their Cantonese.. I think they need more immersion in a totally Cantonese environment to make a mark improvement.

(From Dominique's Desk)
Jan. 26th, 2011 10:49 pm (UTC)
I guess you've been doing well in all as well. It'a hard to raise a truly balanced multilinguals. There will always be the more and less dominant.
Jan. 25th, 2011 08:21 am (UTC)
Wow. That's what only talent, stamina and perseverance can do!

Jan. 26th, 2011 10:49 pm (UTC)
Re: indonesian
Aaah Colson, you never fail to indulge me!
Jan. 25th, 2011 07:10 pm (UTC)
Dear Santi,

I see it is a hard work to bring the minor language always fresh for the kids.

I admire your consistency and hard work. Success ya!! I love to hear the voice of Louise who is always imitating Jo, in the background.

Jo, hebat nak, terus berbahasa Indonesia ya !!

regards, Anky

Jan. 26th, 2011 10:49 pm (UTC)
Re: Ausdauerarbeit
Thank you, mbak Anky. I'm a homemaker, this is the least I can do :D.
Jan. 26th, 2011 07:18 pm (UTC)
Santi, thanks for giving us this overview of helping kids be ready to read in the minority language! Griffin is only three, so this is all hypothetical to me, but it makes a lot of sense. It clearly takes a lot of effort from the parent, but hey, that's what we signed up for when we decided to start multilingual families, right?!

I work in the children's department of a library, where one of the key points of our "strategic plan" is sharing reading readiness techniques and activities with our patrons. One other pre-reading skill that we emphasize in our storytimes and our communications to parents of kids age 0-5 is
doing rhymes and fingerplays with children to help them internalize the sound and rhythms of the language. (I'm sure you have done that with Jo and Louise all along, but it's worth mentioning because it really can make a difference to kids' reading readiness!)

Jan. 26th, 2011 10:56 pm (UTC)
Sarah, after rereading my post, it does seem like a lot of effort to do. While actually, as you might have noticed from your own experience, consistency makes everything becomes natural. It's a step-by-step process, one layer after another until we see the result.

You know, I never did the rhyming or fingerplays! Did you explain it on your blog? I will check it out.

Feb. 13th, 2011 07:30 pm (UTC)
Oh, I bet that you've done rhymes and fingerplays at one time or another! Anytime you recite a nursery rhyme (like "Eency Weency Spider" or "L'araignee Gipsy") or sing a little song or rhyme that involves gestures (like "Where is Thumbkin?" or "Un petit pouce qui danse").

I assume they exist in Indonesian as well? Check with the children's librarian at your local library for recommendations for books and CDs in English. The best one I've found in French is "80 comptines a mimer et jeux de doigts" from Editions Eveil et Decouvertes (and it comes with a high-quality CD).
Jan. 27th, 2011 01:19 am (UTC)
So impressive the way you're helping your children's Indonesian develop. I'm especially impressed with your academic texts as I can imagine it's difficult for a child to be an educated speaker of that language without ever attending school in said language. In America, a lot of heritage speakers are lacking in their minority language, if they can even understand the language at all, and the parents don't seem to really work to develop it. I have a friend who's a Polish heritage speaker, and while she says her Polish is fine, she admits her grammar is a bit off and she speaks it with an accent, so now that she lives in Poland, people will speak in a way implying that they think she doesn't understand them.
Mar. 26th, 2011 09:05 am (UTC)
Hi Reve! You're right ... it needs a lot of efforts to create an educated speaker in the minority language.

For a multilingual person, speaking without accent might be tricky. Like my son speaks French with French accent, English with no particular accent, but Indonesian with a heavy French accent. While my daughter speaks the three languages with no accent at all. But yes, having a good grammar will make the natives appreciate them more (and ignore the foreign accent) . Good grammar is something the parents should try to build for the multi kids.
Mar. 18th, 2011 04:52 pm (UTC)
Jadi makin semangat nih!
Santi, makasih ya cerita2nya dg anak2! Aku kasi tunjuk video2mu ke Raphael, seneng dia dan ngerti juga ternyata! Sekarang baru aku liat perkembangannya bicara bhs Indonesia. Lancar abis! Seneng deh emaknya :) Kalo dia ngomong Prancis sama bapaknya, pasti dia terjemahin ke Indonesia, kalau2 emaknya nggak ngerti gitu! Sedikit problemku, aku sering koreksi bhs prancisnya kalo dia ngomong soalnya bapaknya kadang2 nggak 'ngeh' kalo ada salah. Yah, kena semprot deh sama bojoku (guyonan tapi!) kalo aku yg koreksi :) Satu lagi, susah juga nemuin kata2 bhs Indonesia yg bener spt jenis2 pohon, jenis2 bebek, jenis2 kereta api, alat2 memasak...kadang2 bingung juga :)
Mar. 18th, 2011 11:59 pm (UTC)
Re: Jadi makin semangat nih!
Hi Pinkan! Selamat ya sudah berhasil bikin Raphael ngomong Ind :D.
Trik supaya kita tahu kata2 bhs Ind, kita bacain buku ke mereka. Gw juga kalau ngga baca buku, ngga inget hal2 simpel, misalnya, bagian2 pohon (batang, akar, cabang, ranting) .. sekalian kita juga belajar.
Makin gede anak, makin banyak tantangannya, sehingga makin banyak yg harus kita lakuin supay bhs Ind ngga kelindes dgn bhs setempat/sekolah.
Sukses terus ya :D
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 16th, 2011 09:10 pm (UTC)
Re: Too late?
Hello Rentje,
Where do you live?

1. A good way might be to get him curious about everything Indonesian. Libraries carry books on Indonesian 'dongeng' in English. If your library doesn't have any, amazon.com have some. Read the dongeng regularly to your son. You could also tell him orally yourself (Kancil n Buaya got loads of versions even you could create new ones!)

2. Speak simple sentences in Indonesian. 'Ayo kita perg', 'mau makan apa?', 'mau baca buku apa?'. Do it slowly, one sentence per day.

Those two are the basics. There is no shortcuts to learn a language. It should be done slowly, gradually, patiently, repetitively and consistently.

3. It would be even better to enroll him to Indonesian course for kids. if any. Or pay somebody for 1 hour week to speak only Indonesian to your son.

So far the only online book store is kutukutubuku.com. They have plenty books for kids. However, the shipping cost will rip you off.

good luck

Sep. 11th, 2012 05:27 pm (UTC)
i really interesting about what your story and how you teach your kids how to learn more about Indonesian language...i don't have kid yet but i will try to do like what you have done to them....very inspiring story. bravo..well done. kiss
agnes wijayanti
Oct. 31st, 2012 02:38 pm (UTC)
Terima kasih mbak sudah berbagi pengalamannya...menambah kepercayaan diri kami untuk mengajarkan Bahasa Ibu selain bahasa bapaknya dan bahasa Inggris pada calon anak saya nanti :)
Oct. 31st, 2012 08:22 pm (UTC)
Re: Menarik!
Makasih. Sukses selalu buat kalian.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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