In Indonesian, there are five phoneme vowels /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/ and /u/.
Diphtongs are made by combining one with another.
The Indonesian letter a, is pronounced like the English ‘a’ in ‘far’
Ada to exist
Note : a can combine with i or u to produce the diphthongs ai (as in the English ‘my’ and ‘tie’) and au (as in the English ‘cow’ and ‘bow’).
The Indonesian letter e has two different sounds. Oni is pronounced like the English ‘a’ in ‘ago’ and ‘again’. The second has a sound has a sound the vowel length of which is between ‘make’ and ‘mick.
E (as in ‘ago’) e (between ‘make’ and ‘mick’)
Emas gold enak delicious
Kertas paper edan mad
Serbu attack setan devil
Entah don’t know elok beautiful
Beras rice elit elite
The Indonesian letter i is pronounced much like the English ‘ee’ in ‘feet’, ‘meet’ and ‘be’.
Tadi just past
Note : i can combine with u or o to produce the diphthongs iu (no English equivalent) and io (as in the English ‘kiosk’).
Tiup blow biola violin
Siul whistle kios news-stand
Cium kiss pion pawn
Liur saliva pionner pioneer
The Indonesian letter o is different from the English ‘o’ in that generally the English ‘o’ in a open syllable is long, as if being followed by ‘u’ at the and. The Indonesian o is short, the nearest to English being ‘o’ in ‘go’ and ‘so’. In a closed syllable the Indonesian o is very much like the vowel sound in ‘more’, ‘saw, or ‘door’.
An open syllable has a vowel ending the syllable. A closed syllable has a consonant ending the syllable. For example, in ti/dur (to sleep), the firs syllable ti is open and the second syllable dur is closed.
O as in ‘go’ but short o like the vowel sound in ‘more’, ‘saw’, ‘law’
To/ko shop kotor dirty
So/to soup obrol chat
Ka/do gift botol bottle
Prang/ko stamp kosong empty
So/lo a town in Java roti bread
Note: If there are two os in a word, both should be pronounced the same. If in a word one ‘o’ is an open syllable and the other is a closed syllable, the ‘o’ in the latter is dominant.
The Indonesian letter u in an open syllable is pronounced like the English ‘oo’ in ‘tooth’,’boom’, or ‘shoot’. All us below are pronounced in the same way.
Note: u can combine with a to produce the diphthong ua (no English equivalent).
Suatu a or an
There are 24 consonants in Indonesian. The following terms are used to describe their pronunciation.
Aspirated - puff of air
Voiced or voiceless - with or without vibration of the vocal cords in the Adam’s apple
/t/ and /d/
Unlike the English /t/, the Indonesian /t/ is not aspirated when it occurs in the initial position (no puff of air) like the English sound ‘t’ in ‘time’. /d/ is the counterpart of /t/. /d/ is voiced whereas /t/ is voiceless. Note the contrast in meaning when one replaces the other in the following pair of words.
In this position the difference between /d/ and /t/ is hardly noticeable.
Abad age cepat quick
Murid pupil tempat place
Ahad Sunday kawat wire
Abjad alphabet sempit narrow
/p/ and /b/
As in English /p/ is voiceless and /b/ is voiced. The main feature of the Indonesian /p/ is that unlike the English sound /p/ in ‘pin’, it is never aspirated. As in English, in Indonesian /b/ is the counterpart of /p/. the /b/ is voiced whereas /p/ is voiceless. Note the contrast of meaning in the following pair of words when /p/ is replaced by /b/ or vice-versa:
Pagi morning bagi for
Peras squeeze beras rice
Panci pan banci transventite
Parang large knife barang thing
Puluh teen buluh bamboo
In this position the difference between /p/ and /b/ is hardly noticeable.
Tetap constant biadab uncivilized
Lengkap complete sebab cause
Sikap attitude jawab answer
Atap roof bab chapter
Cukup sufficient lembab damped
/k/ and /g/
The Indonesian /k/ when it occurs at the beginning of a words is different from the English /k/ in that it is not aspirated. At the end of at word /k/ serves as a glottal stop. As in English the Indonesian /g/ is counterpart of /k/. the /g/ is voiced whereas /k/ is voiceless. At the beginning of a word the pronunciation of the Indonesian /g/ is similar to the English /g/ in ‘game’. Note the contrast of meaning in the following pairs of words when /k/ is substituted by /g/ or vice-versa:
Kelas class gelas glass
Kakak older sibling gagak crow
Kalah defeated galah pole
Kosong empty gosong burnt
Kukur scratch gugur killed honourably
When /k/ is at the end of a syllable it serves as a glottal stop
Adik younger sibling
/g/ does not occur in final position.
/c/ and /j/
Indonesian /c/ is pronounced like the English /ch/ in the words ‘chair’, ‘cheat’ or ‘cheese. The Indonesian /j/ is pronounced like the English /j/ in ‘Jack’ or ‘Jill’. The difference between them is that /j/ is voiced whereas /c/ is voiceless. Unlike English, e.g. in ‘itch’ and ‘age’, these two Indonesian consonants never appear at the end of a word. Note the contrast of meaning below when /c/ is replaced by /j/ and vice-versa.
Curi steal juri jury
Cacar smallpox jajar parallel
Cari search jari finger
Cucur a cake jujur honest
Acar pickles ajar teach
The Indonesian /h/ is pronounced like the English /h/ in ‘hen’, ‘home’ or ‘hay’. It is found in initial, medial and final position. Attention needs to be drawn to the fact that in the final position, the /h/ must still be pronounced audibly otherwise the meaning changes.
Guru teacher guruh thunder
Buru chase buruh labourer
Dara pigeon darah blood
Muda young mudah easy
Kera monkey kerah mobilize
Flanked by two different vowels, the /h/ is optionally audible:
Tahu (written) or tau (spoken) to know
Lihat (written) or liat (spoken) to see
Lahir (written) or lair (spoken) to be born
Pahit (written) or pait (spoken) bitter
Sahut (written) or saut (spoken) to answer
When flanked by the same vowel, the /h/ is clearly pronounced:
These two letters represent one sound. It is pronounced much like the English /ng/ in ‘ring’ or ‘sing’. The /ng/ in the initial and medial position is difficult to pronounce for foreign learnes.
Ngobrol to chat
Bangun get up
Terbang to fly
Datang to come
Combined /ng/ and /g/ - /ngg/
This three-letter combination should be pronounced like the English /ng/ in the word ‘angel’, ‘congress’, and ‘tango’.
Singgah to drop in
Panggil to call
These two letters represent one phonetic unit. It is pronounced much like the English /ny/ in ‘canyon’ and ‘Kenya’.
The Indonesian /r/ is so different from the English /r/ that it is difficult to find an English equivalent. It is more akin to the rolled ‘r’ in the Italian word ‘signora’ or the Spanish ‘señora’. Phonetically the Indonesian /r/ is a trill, and to produce it the tip of the tongue taps repeatedly against the alveolar ridge. The best way to learn is by imitating and practicing over again with an Indonesian speaker.
Initial Final Cluster
Rasa kabar kraton
Rusak kasur traktor
Risau pasir prakarsa
Roda tidur drama
Reda sinar Sri
The Indonesian /w/ differs from the English /w/ in that is pronounced with much less rounded lips.
These two letters represent one phonetic unit. It is pronounced like /ch/ in the Scottish ‘loch’. It occurs at both the beginning and end of a syllable. Many of the following words come originally from Arabic.
Khawatir worried akhir end
Khianat treacherous akhlak character
Khusus exclusive makhluk creature
Khayal imaginary akhirat heaven
Khutbah sermon takhayul superstitious
/m/, /n/, /l/, /s/, /sy/, /f/, /v/ and /y/
The remaining Indonesian consonants are phonetically similar to their counterparts in English, though never quite the same.
/m/ in ‘mother’ (e.g. makan, minum, main, merah)
/n/ in ‘no’ (e.g. nama, nada, niat, nomor, nafas)
/l/ in ‘lip’ (e.g. lupa, lilin, lampu, lepas, logo)
/s/ in ‘cats’ (e.g. saya, siapa, asap, tugas, kupas)
/sy/ in ‘she’ (e.g. syukur, syair, Syarief, syarat)
/f/ in ‘fire’ (e.g. fulus, foedal, firma, arief, tarif)
/v/ is pronounced like the English ‘v’ but closer to /f/ (e.g. valuta, visa, varia, vaksin, veto)
/y/ in ‘yes’ (e.g. yakin, yang, yoga, yunta, yudo)