Indonesia consists of thousands of islands, and there are 300 different languages being spoken all over the country. Bali alone has 3 levels of the Balinese language, that differ depending on the caste of the person speaking, or being spoken to. It is a very complicated system of hierarchy, where the person from a low caste must speak “up” to a person of a high caste who in turn must speak “down” to them.
On first meeting a fellow Balinese, they will need to figure out the caste, in order to know which language to speak. This can be detected from the name. Agung, Gusti, and Ida Bagus are all high caste names. My husband comes from a high caste, but is very uncomfortable with the whole idea, and advised me to simply learn the more neutral language spoken throughout Indonesia. That is Bahasa Indonesia.
Bahasa Indonesia is the national language, used on TV, radio, and for instruction at school. A Balinese child would speak Balinese at home, and Indonesian at school. Everyone, with the exception of a few of the older generation, speaks Indonesian, so if you are looking for a language that you can use in all islands, that is the one to choose.
Bahasa Indonesia is actually very easy to learn. I love languages, and speak French and a bit of Spanish, and found Indonesia a breeze compared to those 2. There are no tenses!! Once you know a verb, all you have to do is qualify it with time, for example, the verb “go” is pergi. Saya pergi means I go, then all you have to do is add the time. Yesterday I go, tomorrow I go, last week I go..(kemarin saya pergi, besok saya pergi, minggu kemarin saya pergi) .its really that simple.
Learning from a book is very dry, and you end up speaking like a dictionary. The best way is to learn by listening. Ideally, by being here, and surrounded by people speaking Indonesian every day. Alternatively, I found listening to Indonesian music very helpful. My favorite was Iwan Fals, as he sings very clearly, but any slow love songs will do. Get a copy of the lyrics, and listen to how the words are pronounced, and then sing along! Learning a language can be fun, and the Indonesian people love it when we make an effort. If you are going to be spending any length of time in Bali, or any of the other islands, it is worth trying to learn a few basic words.
Give it a go, and let me know how you get along!