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Indonesian Alphabet and Its Pronunciation Posted by on Aug 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

The Indonesian language, officially called Bahasa Indonesia, is written in the Latin alphabet; the spelling is phonetically precise, as the words are spelled as they sound. It is the consistency in the one-on-one relationship between sound and symbol that make reading and writing the language relatively easy and simple.

Indonesian language standardization

The standard Indonesian spelling that is currently used has gone through significant spelling changes since its conception in 1928 and since its official recognition in the 1945 constitution. In 1947, the government’s Ministry of Education changed the Dutch-spelled “oe” into “u.” However, there was a major change made in 1972, when the Indonesian language went through a spelling reform, which is known as Ejaan Yang Disempurnakan/EYD (The Enhanced Indonesian spelling system or Perfected Spelling System). The primary spelling changes in the language included changing:

Phoneme Old spelling Current spelling
/u/ oe u
// tj c
// dj j
/j/ j y
/ɲ/ nj ny
/ʃ/ sj sy
/x/ ch kh

Despite these spelling changes, you still can find some Indonesian names with the old spelling, for example: Soeharto, Djoko Soemarno; Tjandra, and Chaerudin.

Spelling and pronunciation  

The influence of Dutch in Indonesian language is very noticeable in spelling and pronunciation of the letters due to the country’s history as a Dutch colony.  However, the Arabic also has similarities to the Indonesian language, as it was used for delivering the message during the time of the establishment of Islam, which is the majority religion in the country. Therefore, it is understandable why the Indonesian language uses the term ‘abjad’ for the alphabet and ‘huruf’ for the letter. 

Alphabet letter Pronunciation How to pronounce (English like) Sound
A a a ah Like a in father
B b be bay
C c ce chay
D d de day Like de in deli
E e e ay Like  e in bel
F f ef ef
G g ge gay
H h ha ha
I i i ee
J j je jay
K k ka kah
L l el el
M m em em
N n en en
O o o oh
P p pe pay
Q q ki key
R r er air
S s es es
T t te tay
U u u oo  Like oo in boot
V v fe fay
W w we way
X x eks eks
Y y ye yay
Z z zet zet

Compound consonants

Compound pronunciation sound
ng eng Like the soft ng in English
ny nye Like ch in Lochness
sy sya Like sh in shoe or ship. Only appears in words of Arabic origin.
kh kha Like ny in canyon. Only appears in words of Arabic origin.

The following YouTube video “How to pronounce initial Ng in Asian languages – Stuart Jay Raj” will help you learn to pronounce the “ng” sound correctly.


Compound vowels or diphthongs

Compound pronunciation sound
ai ai Like ie in tie; uy in buy e.g.: panda (smart)i, ramai (crowded, busy)
au au Like ow in how e.g.: pulau (island); kalau (if, unless, when)
oi oi Like oy in boy e.g.: sepoi

Tahu and tahu

 There is a word that written exactly the same, but it has totally different meaning in use; word that is quite a challenge for those who learn Indonesian the first time.

  1. Tahu means to know; the h is silent. It is pronounced like Tao.
  2. Tahu means tofu; it is pronounced as “tah-who.”

Let’s practice with the rhyme: Saya tidak tahu; tapi saya bukan tahu (“I don’t know, but I am not a tofu.”).


Most of Indonesian language vocabulary comes natively from Malay; the language used for trade in the Indonesian archipelago. However, the Indonesian language has also enriched its vocabulary with loan words from local languages and other foreign languages that have been modified into native Indonesian and perceived as the Indonesian words. These include words from Sanskrit; bahasa ‘language’, Satria ‘warrior/brave/soldier’; Arabic: Sabtu ‘Saturday’, Dunia ‘the present world’, alkitab ‘the book’; Portuguese: meja ‘table’, gereja ‘church’, Minggu ‘Sunday’; Dutch: buku ‘book’, gratis ‘free’, and Chinese origin—Hokkien/Mandarin: Pisau ‘knife’, loteng ‘upper/level’, mie ‘noodle’, and teko ‘teapot’.



1. Guide to pronunciation of Indonesian

2, Indonesian/lesson/pronunciation

3. Diphthong

4. List of loanwords in Indonesian

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About the Author: asimonoff

I’m an Indonesian language instructor, instructional material developer, reading test developer, and interpreter. I have been teaching Indonesian to adult students for 15 years, and have been teaching students from many backgrounds, such as private, military and diplomatic service employees. I’m Indonesian, but am living in the US now; my exposure to different cultures in my home country and in the US has enriched my knowledge in teaching Indonesian as a second language. I approach the teaching of the Indonesian language by developing students’ critical cultural awareness and competence. This method of teaching has been proven to be a key to the success of my students. Students become conscious of the essential role culture plays in the language.