Blogger’s Language Questions


Since I began blogging a few years ago, this question has been surfacing again and again:

Should I write in Bahasa Indonesia or English?

Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian, the Indonesian language) is “my” language, that is to say although it is not my mother’s tongue, I have been totally immersed in it practically all my life that I have absolutely no doubt to call myself a native speaker of it. All things considered, I can even say that my Indonesian proficiency is better than that of my mother’s tongue, which is Javanese. I can write about anything in Indonesian more or less effortlessly — that is without any difficulties whatsoever with regard to language use; this is the thing that I can’t do with the same level of “dexterity” in Javanese. I suppose this has something to do with the way I acquired my literacy: I learned to read and write in Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Indonesia has been the most dominant medium in which I read and write. Javanese, on the other hand, has only been a medium of oral communication and social interaction for me. I speak Javanese to my parents, my family and friends, and only very rarely — to the point of almost never — do I read and write in it.

As with many Indonesian children, I learned and acquired English later, after I was very proficient in Bahasa Indonesia. I began learning it when I was in junior high school, at the age of 12. I had a lot of difficulties with it at first, but with strong self-drive I managed to overcome them and became very proficient in it. My English proficiency is, today, at par with my Indonesian. I can move forth and back, switch, effortlessly between these languages. I can even proudly say that my English has only very little — nearly undetectable — ‘accent’ of my native languages. I read and write in English as well as I do in Bahasa Indonesia.

With the level of eloquence in both languages (Indonesian and English), the language in which I want to express myself is only a matter of choice beyond the question of proficiency or comfort.

I began to blog in Bahasa Indonesia, but later switched to English when I realised that I could reach wider audience with, and get other benefits from it. But the choice is not as simple as that; there are times when I want to write only in Indonesian because I want to talk about issues that are more appropriately written in it, and there are times when English is a more appropriate choice. Audience, cultural, social, political, technical, “the voice within”, and sometimes other unexplainable concerns determine my choice.

I write in Indonesian when I want to address my Indonesian audience, and write in English when I want my voice, my thought, reach wider international audience. This is probably obvious enough. However, technical issues such as blog ranking and visibility can be a concern. Some friends say that bilingual blogs do not fare as well as those written exclusively and consistently in one language.

Some issues are local, while others are universal. This is also a consideration. Local issues do not resonate well with universal audience; therefore, writing in a language that is widely understood by a specific group of audience is more beneficial. Cultural issues are another question — jokes, humours and other folktales lose their grit when expressed in a language other than the one in which they were born, bred, and circulate. What a group of people consider a joke may be considered as an offence to others. A statement which is considered normal, acceptable, or even desirable in one may become an insult for others. The choice in these cases are always delicate and depends on the blogger’s cross-cultural knowledge.

Then there is a more intimate and personal reason: with a multilingual person like me, voices from within can emerge, surface, or speak out in any of the languages they are proficient in. This is especially true with “literary” voices, when out of nowhere I hear and am compelled to write words that have moved me from within.

So, the initial question of whether I should blog in English or Indonesian will always be there, will keep on resurfacing, and the answers to it will always depend on a delicate interplay of many things.

Thank you for reading. I'd love to hear from you.

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