Are Balinese and Indonesian the Same Language?

Are Balinese and Indonesian the Same Language?

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Traveling to a new country for the first time can be thrilling and intimidating. Language barriers can concern many, but don’t let that discourage you from experiencing new cultures.

Languages are an essential aspect of cultural diversity and identity, acting as windows into the hearts and minds of different communities. Indonesia, a vast archipelago comprising thousands of islands, is home to a rich tapestry of languages, each with unique characteristics. The two main languages widely spoken languages here in urban areas in Indonesia are Balinese and Indonesian.

While these languages share historical and geographical ties, a deeper exploration of the national language is required to ascertain whether they are, in fact, the same language. 

Balinese and Indonesian Languages for Visitors to Bali

Do you typically learn a few words of the local language before traveling? It’s a helpful way to prepare for cultural immersion, make new friends, and signal scammers that you are savvy enough not to be an easy target.

Before traveling to Bali, it’s important to note that two languages are spoken on the island. While Bahasa Indonesia is the primary language in Bali, many locals also speak Balinese (Basa Bali) as their first or second language either.

Let us explore the depths of history.

As many people may know, the Indonesian language has many words influenced by the Dutch language. This is because Indonesia was once a Dutch colony for over three centuries, with the last century, particularly intense. The Indo-Dutch refer to this period as tempo doeloe, which has a somewhat negative connotation meaning the time of the past. However, many Indonesians do not share this sentiment due to negative experiences, such as the great famines during the colonial era.

In the late 1500s, the Dutch arrived in Batavia, now Jakarta. They came to the East Indies to trade for products not yet available in the Netherlands, such as spices, porcelain, silk, damask, gemstones, and gold. The Dutch entrepreneurs made a lot of profit from trading in pepper, cloves, and nutmeg.

Starting around 1900, the Dutch constructed significant infrastructure in Indonesia, including cities, roads, and railways. Though colonization has a painful past, it also marks the beginning of tourism in Bali.

Why these 2 Languages?

If you’ve traveled to Indonesia, you may have some knowledge of the language barrier in Bahasa Indonesia. This language originated from the Malaysian language and has been used in Indonesia for centuries, primarily for trade. In 1945, when Indonesia gained independence, Bahasa Indonesia became its official language.

In contrast, the Balinese language is a Malayo-Polynesian language primarily spoken in Bahasa Bali, but it is also said in some small communities in Java and Lombok. While Javanese is the most closely related to Balinese, there are still many differences between the two.

In rural villages in Indonesia, more than 700 unique languages are spoken by the locals in their daily lives with family, friends, and others. These languages are typically the first language spoken main languages in each area.


Balinese and Indonesian share several similarities due to their common Austronesian heritage. Both languages utilize Latin-based alphabets and employ similar grammatical structures, such as prefixes and suffixes, to convey meaning. Additionally, most widely spoken languages share specific vocabulary, especially in terms of essential words and expressions, owing to the historical influence of Malay on Balinese.


Despite the shared linguistic roots, Balinese and Indonesian exhibit significant differences that set them apart as distinct languages. One of the most notable distinctions lies in their pronunciation and phonetics. Balinese employs a more complex phonemic system, including unique consonant clusters and vowel sounds, which differ from the simplified pronunciation in Indonesian.

Furthermore, Balinese has a rich repertoire of honorific language, reflecting the hierarchical nature of Balinese society and religious practices. This feature needs to be present in Indonesia. While there are overlapping words and phrases, Balinese incorporates many specific terms related to Balinese culture, religion, and local customs.

Simple Indonesian and Balinese

It is recommended to learn some Indonesian language if you are planning to travel to Indonesia. The locals appreciate the effort made by visitors who can speak basic phrases like ‘Terima Kasih (thank you) or daily greetings like ‘Selamat page (good morning).

Learning Indonesian is simple; even if you only speak English and have a basic speaking level, people will still be able to understand what you mean.

Balinese can be challenging to learn because it has three different levels: low (basa ketah), middle (basa madia), and high (basa singgih). The level of language used depends on a person’s caste. While this is not always strictly followed when a foreigner speaks Balinese, it can still be embarrassing to accidentally use the wrong pronoun for someone of a higher caste.

Is learning Indonesian a challenging task?

Remember communication when planning your holiday. It can help resolve issues and provide assistance in times of need. Informal contact with locals will give you a more genuine experience of the Balinese people and culture.

Learning Indonesian, like other foreign languages, takes time and practice. Unlike other Asian languages, Indonesian is relatively simple because it only has one verb tense (present tense) and does not have gender-specific nouns.

There are no plural forms for words in Indonesian to simplify the language derived. Instead, you can repeat the word or add “para” before it – but only for living things, local people. For example, the essential words “students” can be expressed as “murid-murid” or “para-murid.” Plurals are not commonly used, particularly in informal conversations.

Learning Balinese can be challenging because it has three levels: low (basa ketah), middle (basa madia), and high (basa singgih).

How to Practice the Indonesian Language During your Holiday

When you visit Bali, you can have many chances to practice the new words you have learned. The most effective learning method is spending a whole day with a local. You might wonder if you are expected to approach a stranger on the streets.

If you’re eager to visit a specific place in Bali, booking a private guided tour is a great solution! It will allow you to spend more time with your Balinese guide, who will happily assist you in any way they can. As mentioned earlier, the locals are proud of their culture and heritage. They will appreciate it if you try to learn their native language, as it shows respect and interest.

By following this suggestion, not only will you have unforgettable memories and stunning pictures, but you will also gain new knowledge! Additionally, you may assist the other locals in enhancing their English language skills. Many Indonesians desire to learn English, French, or German. Thus, if you wish to learn and speak Bahasa Indonesia, propose exchanging universal language skills by investing time in each other’s language studies. This proposition is beneficial for all parties involved.

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