“Pak, what is buah dada?” asked a student as she leafed through an Indonesian women’s magazine. Everyone listened intently as Dr. Gumilar, their lecturer, explained the answer in Polish. Nobody smirked or joked around, as this was a serious class, even though buah dada means breast in Indonesian.
Gumilar was the only Indonesian in Poznan, Poland’s fifth-largest city, working toward his doctorate at Adam Mickiewicz University (UAM) when he was asked to teach the first-ever Indonesian class at the university in 2004.
Interest in studying the language is steadily — albeit slowly — rising in universities across Europe. While some universities, such as Italy’s Universite Degli Studi di Napoli l’Orientale (UNO) have offered Indonesian classes since 1964, others have only recently taken interest, including Poland’s UAM and the Tashkent State Institute of Oriental Studies in Uzbekistan, where classes started in 2004.
Some might wonder what would make European students decide to study Indonesian, but the teachers at these three universities all agreed it was the country’s culture that drew students into the language.
“The students’ interest is rooted in the beauty and diverse nature of Indonesia, its culture and popular tourist destinations like Bali,” said Temur Mirzaev, a lecturer at TSIOS who was among the first three Uzbeks accepted into the Indonesian government’s Darmasiswa program.
The Darmasiswa scholarship, offered by the Ministry of Education, invites foreign students to the country to study the native language and culture for a full year.
“We’re very grateful for the Darmasiswa program,” Mirzaev said. “But teaching materials, new programs and lecturers from Indonesia are needed and will be much appreciated.”
Teaching materials for Indonesian language teachers in Europe are scarce. There is no university-level Polish-Indonesian dictionary, for example, which means teachers are forced to rely on a hodgepodge of textbooks from Australia, the United States and Indonesia, with additional material sourced from the Internet to keep up with the most recent trends.
Teachers say a shortage of native speakers and qualified teaching staff is the biggest problem hindering the students’ speaking and listening skills. But Gumilar remains positive about the development of interest in the language.
“My students are happy to take the initiative,” he said. “One student is creating an Indonesian–Polish dictionary. Another is writing about the Indonesian film industry and modern literature. One is even working on a Sundanese–Polish dictionary, complete with grammar! This is all very new to Poland and opens a lot of opportunities for students to develop it.”
Antonia Soriente, the sole lecturer in the language at UNO, is working on an Indonesian course book with a retired professor. She has had to teach everything — from language to anthropology — with only a single Indonesian by her side to help with conversation classes.
Antonia, who holds a doctorate in linguistics, became interested in studying the language years ago, precisely because she did not know anything about Indonesia.
“A lot of Italians don’t know anything about Indonesia,” she said. “Maybe Bali or the  tsunami. Indonesia is not a part of our culture or history, like it is with the Dutch. So it is not seen as big and important and consequently the language is not seen as important, even though it is used by hundreds of millions of people.”
She said that although some Asian Studies students at UNO initially took the class for so-called easy extra credits, a lot of them ended up taking more interest as they learned more about the country.
Soriente said she was aggravated by the myth that Indonesian was an easy tongue to master.
“I always challenge my students. Why aren’t they fluent if it’s easy? From a linguist’s point of view, there’s no such thing as an easy language,” she said.
In fact, the language seems to present unique challenges to students from different language backgrounds. Polish and Uzbek students have problems understanding its sentence structure and logic, whereas Italian students constantly add tenses and gender to their sentences.
Soriente and Mirzaev believe that Indonesian is simple in some ways, yet complex and filled with nuances at the same time.
Mirzaev quoted an Uzbek idiom to describe the richness of Indonesian prose: “It makes you sweat down to the last hair.”
Despite the hurdles, the teachers say they always do their best to engage and stimulate students’ interests. One of the things they all said they do is incorporate Indonesian popular culture, such as movies, music and literature, into their lessons.
The Indonesian embassies and envoys in each country also play a very active and important role in popularizing the language by donating books and magazines and conducting interesting programs.
UAM holds an annual Indonesian Day, which is fully supported by the Indonesian Embassy in Poland, while TSIOS regularly receives consular staff for cultural events and traditional dance workshops.
“The embassy is full of ideas on how to popularize Indonesia and its culture [in Italy],” Soriente said.
“Last year, they had a cultural event in Rome and Venice with Dwiki Dharmawan and a dance troupe from Bandung and we managed to secure a performance and conduct a workshop in Napoli as well. That was a great success. The embassy also offers a lot of speakers. We had one Islamic expert from Makassar who held a talk about Islam in Indonesia,” she added.
However, Gumilar reported having trouble receiving similar support from Indonesia’s Ministry of Education to do more to help spread and codify language instruction.
He said he had contacted the ministry via the embassy for such support and although his letter was accepted by the ministry, he has heard nothing from them for two years.
“It’s very unfortunate,” he said.
In the end, he contacted Malaysia, which almost immediately sent over a professor to UAM to talk about future collaborations between the two nations — including visiting professors and sending source books and multimedia lesson materials from their country.
Opportunities for cultural exchange are further limited by the fact that Indonesia does not have international cultural centers like France’s Centre Culturel Francais or the Netherlands Erasmus Huis, nor a standardized course of study to assist Indonesian teachers in Europe.
Mirzaev said he hoped an Indonesian cultural center would be established sometime in the near future to help promote the language on a much wider scale, including outside of the university.
He argued that such a cultural center would eventually help establish an Indonesian proficiency assessment system, similar to the Test of English as a Foreign Language used to assess non-native speakers of English.
Each of the teachers we talked to had to develop their own Indonesian language curriculum based on what they perceived to be their students’ needs.
Their hard work seems to be paying off. All of them reported that most of their students, 80 percent or more, were able to meet the expected level of proficiency.
The next challenge the teachers have to face is finding future employment opportunities for their students.
“In general, there are financial expectations from learning a foreign language. At the university level it is not merely a hobby. The institution prepares its students for the real world, the work pool,” Gumilar said.
And that pool is not exactly big.
Soriente acknowledged that there were not many career prospects for European students of Indonesian. Business ties between Indonesia and countries such as Poland, Uzbekistan and Italy are few.
Most students are not interested in an academic career and opportunities for translation work are limited.
Although applying for jobs in Indonesian or Malay speaking countries is encouraged (two Uzbek graduates are working in the tourism industry in Indonesia and one Polish graduate now works at the Indonesian Embassy in Berlin), Gumilar doesn’t think it’s feasible for a lot of his graduates.
But it’s not all bad news for language learners keen on Bahasa Indonesia.
Asean is striving to be an important political, economic and cultural power on the world stage and Indonesia is set to play a major part — not to mention Indonesia’s presence in the G-20.
“Aside from military and industrial power, innovations, cultural and religious influences also affect the image of a language,” Mirzaev added.
In the meantime, don’t be surprised if a local says “selamat siang” (“good afternoon”) to you in Uzbekistan, Poland or Italy.
News Source : The Jakarta Globe
Photo Source : shutterstock.com
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Posted on February 27th, 2011 at 12:03 am by Farah Fitriani