Although using an English 'hello' will certainly work, knowing how to say hello in Indonesian will land you a few smiles and helps to break the cultural ice which could lead to better interactions and even new friendships.
You really don't need to study the local language diligently before you arrive in Indonesia. Locals will gladly help you with new words, correct your pronunciation, and you can make up the difference with English and hand gestures!
A Bahasa Indonesia Crash Course
Bahasa Indonesia -- the official language of Indonesia -- is relatively easy compared to other tonal Asian languages such as Thai and Mandarin Chinese. Words are pronounced much in the way that they are spelled, and unlike English, noun sounds follow consistent rules.
Vowels generally follow these simple pronunciation guidelines:
- A – ah
- E – uh
- I – ee
- O – oh
- U – ew
Saying Hello in Indonesian
Greetings in Indonesia don't necessarily come in polite and formal variations as they do in other countries, however, you choose the appropriate greeting based on the time of day.
All greetings in Bahasa Indonesia begin with selamat (sounds like: 'suh-lah-mat').
Although technically not correct, the selamat is sometimes left out of the greeting just as we would simply say 'morning' instead of 'good morning' to friends and familiar people.
Unlike Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, the wai hand gesture or bow is not used in Indonesia.
Greetings in Indonesia
- Good Morning: Selamat pagi (sounds like: 'pag-ee')
- Good Day: Selamat sore (sounds like: 'sor-ee')
- Good Afternoon: Selamat siang (sounds like: 'see-ahng')
- Good Evening: Selamat malam (sounds like: 'mah-lahm')
When going to sleep or telling someone goodnight, use: selamat tidur (sounds like: 'tee-dure').
Note: When saying selamat siang for 'good day', be sure to pronounce the 'i' in the siang as 'ee'; The Indonesian word for sweetheart is sayang (sounds like: 'sai-ahng')!
Following up Your Hello
You can expand on your greeting with the common expression apa kabar which means 'how are you?'
The correct answer is baik (sounds like: 'bike') which simply means 'well' or 'good'.
Now that you know how to say hello in Indonesia, knowing how to say a proper goodbye will close the interaction on the same friendly note.
When telling your new friend goodbye use:
- If you are the one leaving: selamat tinggal (sounds like: 'teen-gal')
- If you are the one staying: selamat jalan (sounds like: 'jal-lan')
See more about how to say hello in Southeast Asia.