Bali is a real jewel of a destination, replete with black-sand beaches and wild surf the likes of which you’ve never seen before. Every year, millions of people from around the world flock to its happening resorts and luxurious hotels. Thanks to that thriving tourism industry, English is widely spoken throughout the island. But learning a few basic Balinese phrases will get you a long way and garner some good kudos with the locals.
Bahasa Indonesia – the national language of Indonesia – is widely spoken in Bali. But lots of people here also speak Bahasa Bali, a regional language specific to the island. In fact, the majority of people native to Bali are trilingual; they speak Bahasa Indonesia, Bahasa Bali, and English.
It’s easy enough to get around in Bali speaking only English, but demonstrating your knowledge of the local language, no matter how basic, is sure to be received with warmth. If you’re planning a trip to Bali, why not brush up on some basic Indonesian phrases? Read on for a guide to all the essential Indonesian words you need to know for your visit to this tropical island paradise!
What language is spoken in Bali?
There are actually two main languages spoken amongst people native to Bali: Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Bali. Bahasa Indonesia is the official language of Indonesia. This is the language spoken in schools, in businesses, and by the government. Bahasa Bali, on the other hand, is the regional dialect that is used amongst Balinese people in daily conversation and formal situations, such as wedding ceremonies and religious services.
To make matters more complex, there are actually three versions of Bahasa Bali that people change between depending on who they are talking to. Halus (high) Balinese is a higher register used to speak to people of superior social standing or at special events like temple ceremonies. Madya (mid) is normally reserved for speaking to strangers, parents, or teachers. And Kepara (low) is used in daily conversations with friends.
On top of all that, English is widely used in day-to-day settings. That’s largely down to the booming tourist industry of the island, which is the most-visited place in the whole of Indonesia, no less. English is so widely used, in fact, that some even say it’s the third de facto official tongue of the Isle of the Gods.
In this guide, we’ll focus on teaching basic Balinese phrases in Bahasa Indonesia. There are a couple of reasons for that. Firstly, it’s the government prescribed official lingo in these parts. Second, it’s spoken by virtually all of the locals. Third, it will help with your language skills in other Indonesian destinations outside of Bali, over in the coffee farms of Java or between the orangutan jungles of Sumatra, perhaps.
A background on Bahasa Indonesia
Bahasa Indonesia is the main language spoken throughout Indonesia. It’s actually a standardized form of Malay that was made the official national tongue in 1945, when Indonesia declared independence from its Dutch colonial rulers. That move united 270 million people spread across 17,000 islands, many of whom previously spoke thousands of different and variegated regional dialects. Today, Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world, making Bahasa Indonesia one of the most widely spoken languages on the globe.
The move to make Bahasa Indonesia might seem a little unusual to some. Prior to independence, the most common languages spoken in this part of Asia were Javanese (nearly 50% of people) and Sundanese (just over 15% of people). However, Bahasa was chosen because the powers that be decided it was a more unifying language, capable of bridging gaps between peoples living across such a sprawling nation, one that spans over 3,200 miles from Sumatra in the west to Papua in the east.
The older history of Bahasa Indonesia can be traced back more than 1,000 years. It’s thought that the lingo emerged as a form of Old Malay after trade connections with the sultanates that made their home up the Malacca Strait. The language then changed significantly in the modern era, as new forms of modern Malay and standardized literary versions of the language came into force.
The Bahasa Indonesia alphabet
English speakers will be pleased to hear that Bahasa Indonesia uses the same 26-letter alphabet as the English language. It’s a relatively phonetic language, meaning that words are pronounced much in the way that they are spelled (except “c”, which is pronounced as “ch”). Vowels are pronounced as followed:
- A – ah
- E – uh
- I – ee
- O – oh
- U – ew
How do you greet people in Bali?
All greetings in Bahasa Indonesia begin with selamat (sounds like: “suh-lah-mat”). This roughly translates as happy, peaceful, or safe.
Good Morning: Selamat pagi (sounds like: “suh-lah-mat pah-gee”)
Good Day: Selamat siang (sounds like: “suh-lah-mat see-ahng”)
Good Afternoon: Selamat sore (sounds like: “suh-lah-mat sor-ee”)
Good Evening: Selamat malam (sounds like: “suh-lah-mat mah-lahm”)
Handshakes in Indonesia are much softer than the firm grip that is commonly used in the US and Europe. After shaking, it is customary to briefly touch your heart as a sign of respect. It’s polite to greet the most elderly in the room first, but avoid direct eye contact.
What are the basic Balinese phrases worth knowing?
You don’t need to know Indonesian to get by in Bali, but showing a willingness to communicate with people in their own language is a great way to connect with the locals and get to know the culture. Even if your pronunciation is slightly off or you forget some of the words, it’ll be appreciated that you made the effort to learn a bit of Bahasa Indonesia. The following basic Balinese phrases will help you introduce yourself and start a conversation with people.
Permisi: Excuse me
Selamat tinggal: Goodbye
Apa kabar?: How are you?
Baik-baik: I am fine
Terima kasih/Makasih: Thank you
Sama-sama: You’re welcome
Siapa nama anda?: What’s your name?
Nama saya: My name is…
Senang bertemu dengan Anda: Pleased to meet you
Saya dari Amerika: I am from America
Saya tinggal di Canggu: I live in Canggu
Maafkan saya: Sorry
Boleh saya bertanya?: May I ask a question?
Anda bisa bicara bahasa inggris?: Do you speak English?
Tolong bicara pelan sedikit: Please speak more slowly
Hati-hati: Take care
Semoga harimu menyenangkan!: Have a good day!
Santi: Toast (when sharing a drink).
Negara Indonesia indah sekali: Indonesia is a beautiful country
Basic Balinese phrases to sound like a local
If you want to sound like a local in Bali, it’s worth learning a bit of slang. Have a go at memorizing the following words and phrases to sound like a local in Bali.
Woles: slow down, used to tell someone to chill, or calm down. A piece of slang that suits the chilled-out island vibes of Bali.
Jomblo: Single person. Heading to Bali to find love? This word will come in useful if you’re wondering if that special someone is single. But be careful: this word is typically used to refer to someone who can’t find someone, rather than being single by choice.
Mager: Too lazy to move.
Nongkrong: Hanging out with friends, without a particular plan in mind. This is the perfect phrase for a lazy day spent at the beach with mates.
Sotoy: Know-it-all, this is a lighthearted phrase that can be used amongst friends without offense.
Best basic Balinese phrases to help you get around and sightsee
It’s likely that you’ll rely on ride-hailing apps and taxis to get around in Bali, so it’s worth memorizing a couple of basic Balinese phrases to help you converse with drivers and give directions. These phrases will also help you if you get lost or are in need of directions when you’re out and about in Bali.
Kiri – left
Kanan – right
Bagaimana saya bisa pergi ke [location]?: How do I get to [location]?
Apa benar ini jalan ke [location]?: Is this the right way to [location]?
Tolong antar saya ke [location]: Please take me to [location].
Tolong berhenti di sini: Please stop here
Di mana stasiun kereta api?: Where is the station?
Apakah ini bus yang benar menuju ke bandara?: Is this the bus for the airport?
Di mana bisa beli tiket?: “Where can I buy a ticket?”
Essential Balinese phrases to get by in shops and restaurants
The following phrases will help you to communicate your preferences when you visit restaurants and shops in Bali. Having a few killer phrases nailed will make all the difference when it comes to getting better service at a restaurant, or bargaining for a lower price in a market stall.
Minta air minum: Water please
Saya mau pesan: I would like to order
Jangan terlalu pedas: Don’t make it too spicy
Apakah anda memiliki hidangan vegetarian: Do you have any vegetarian dishes?
Di mana toilet?: Where is the toilet?
Saya alergi terhadap: I’m allergic to…
Makanannya enak sekali!: The food was excellent!”
Berapa harganya?: How much is the price?
Selamat makan: Have a nice meal!
Boleh sedikit lebih murah?: Can you make it any cheaper?
Oke, saya ambil yang ini: Ok, I’ll take it.
Basic Balinese phrases for emergencies
Here’s hoping that you don’t run into any trouble while in Bali, but should you need to communicate in times of emergency, it’s worth memorizing the below phrases to access the help that you need.
Panggil polisi: Call the police
Di mana kantor polisi?: Where is the police station?
Saya harus ke rumah sakit!: I have to go to the hospital.
Pergi sana!: Go away!
Biarkan saya sendiri!: Leave me alone!
Saya tidak mengerti: I don’t understand
Good resources for learning Indonesia
MasteringBahasa.com is a great free resource to learn Bahasa Indonesia. This website has pages for learning conversational Bahasa, key vocabulary, and grammar. It comes complete with exercises to practice what you’ve learned and tips for nailing the language.
Duolingo is another great resource for learning everything from basic Balinese phrases to developing an in-depth knowledge of the language. This free-to-download app has many different lesson plans to suit different learning styles and abilities. The game-style lessons are a perfect way to spend your downtime on the commute or while waiting for a coffee. We recommend downloading it a couple of weeks before your trip and you’ll be ready to try out all your new phrases and vocabulary as soon as you step off the plane.
Language online is another free resource for learning Indonesian. There are over 30 lessons, each with worksheets and interactive tasks to teach you Indonesian from a beginner level.
And once you’ve mastered the basics, why not try them out on some native Indonesian speakers? Lexody is a great resource for establishing language exchanges in your local city. Use the platform to find native Indonesian speakers in your area who are also learning English. You can meet in person, and spend 30 minutes speaking in Indonesian, followed by 30 minutes speaking in English. There’s no better way to master a new language than speaking it with native speakers!