Pronunciation in Indonesian: the Alphabet and Examples

It’s time to discuss the alphabet in Indonesian, using as many examples from our established word list as we can (can you remember what the meanings are as you follow along?).

In the table I’ve made, I’ve kept tried to keep things basic and cram every letter into a single format for quick review. A more comprehensive source that separates the letters with special rules and provides verbal examples is found at SEAsite, the Interactive Learning Resources for Southeast Asian Languages, Literatures, and Cultures.

Table format:
English letter : letter name in Indonesian, how it sounds in Indonesian using an English analog. ‘How it sounds in Indonesian examples.’

a : ah, as in father. ‘Anda, langkah’
b : bay, similar to English as in barn. ‘bumbu, Rabu’
c : chay, as in cello or chat (note the ‘ch’ – it is always pronounced this way in Indonesian). ‘celana, bencana’
d : day, similar to English as in dog. ‘diriku, Padang’
e : ay, as long ā like in apex or late. ‘enak, antre’
f : ef, similar to English as in face. ‘foto, efek’
g : gay, similar to English as in game. ‘garam, pisang’
h : ha, as in hat. ‘hidup, sehat
i : ie, as long ē like in feet. ikan, kembali’
j : jay, properly like ‘dy’ as in Goodyear. ‘Jum’at, kemeja’
k : kah, as in skate. ‘kamu, semangka’
l : el, similar to English as in land. ‘lauk, sambal’
m : em, similar to English as in moon. ‘makanan, bermain’
n : en, similar to English as in name. ‘nasional, Senin’
o : oh, close to a long ō like in ocean. ‘obat, batagor’
p : pay, as in spot. ‘praktek, sampai’
q : key, as an English k like in queen. ‘Aqua’
r : air (presents a special problem), r may sound like the tt in butter or gotta, or a rolled trill (like a subtle purr), similar to how it sounds in Spanish. ‘rendang, sayur’
s : es, similar to English as in safe. ‘sate, selamat’
t : tay, as in stop. ‘tulisan, batik’
u : oo, as in zoo. ‘umbi, durian’
v : fay, like an English v or f in between very or fairy. ‘veto, nova’
w : way, similar to English as in well. ‘warung, awas’
x : eks, same unique rules as English like in Xerox (note the difference between the starting x (like z) and ending x (like s). X words are extremely rare! ‘flax’
y : yay, similar to English as in yell. ‘yang, bayi’
z : zet, like an English z or j as in zebra. ‘zona, gizi’

Letter combinations with unique sounds in Indonesian:
ng, as in sing. ‘minggu, gunung’
ny
, as in canyon. ‘nyanyi, monyet’
sy
, as in the sh in shield. ‘syarat, asyik’

Did you notice the words we haven’t yet covered in the blog? Here’s a quick list of their meanings:

Asyik: engrossed, busy, fun
Awas
: warning
Bayi
: baby, infant
Efek
: effect
Enak
: tasty, delicious
Foto
: photograph
Gizi
: nutrition
Ikan
: fish
Monyet
: monkey
Nyanyi
: sing
Obat
: medicine
Syarat
: requirement
Umbi
: root
Warung
: small shop
Zona
: zone

I also snuck in Aqua (a private water company name), flax, veto, nova, and Xerox – they have the same meanings as in English.

I’ve updated the flashcards. Remember to check out SEAsite for better detail and recorded voice examples for each letter. I heavily referenced their guide in writing this post.