Indonesian is spoken by approximately 230 million people in Indonesia as either a first or additional language. It is a standardized form of Malay (an Austronesian language), which had historically been used as a lingua franca in the region. When Indonesia declared its independence in 1945, Indonesian became the national language, despite being only spoken by around 5 per cent of the population at the time. Today, the Indonesian language has become a strong marker of national identity in a country in which there are also many other prominent regional languages (such as Javanese). Indonesian presence in Australia began in the late 1870s when Indonesians were recruited into the Australian pearling and sugar cane industries. In the 1950s, many Indonesian students arrived to study in Australia under what was called the “Colombo Plan”. Migration rose significantly in the 1970s, and today there is a strong Indonesian community in Australia as well as growing numbers of young Indonesians who choose to complete their university studies here. Indonesian began to be taught in Australian schools and universities in the 1950s, as a result of government policy initiatives focused on economic and regional stability rather than to support language maintenance efforts of the Indonesian community. Indonesian continues to be a widely-taught language in all levels of education. While trade and security are often given as reasons for Australians to learn Indonesian, Indonesia – particularly Bali - is an immensely popular and relatively inexpensive holiday destination for Australians, which creates much more easily-accessible opportunities for in-country language use than exist for other popular languages. Indonesian is also a relatively easy language for native English speakers to learn, if the goal is to acquire basic competency. It uses the Roman alphabet, and has consistent rules for spelling and pronunciation – a feature very appealing to English speakers.

Number of people in Australia who speak this language at home: 55,861 (ABS Census Data, 2011)

Language Category: Asian Languages

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