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Lesson: Indonesian Pronunciation

A vowel is a sound produced by the unrestricted flow of air in the vocal chords. Vowels are important because nearly every word has at least one. There are five letters that represent vowels in Indonesian, but there are eight distinct sounds associated with them. The difficulty for a beginner is knowing which sound applies to vowels that have more than one sound associated with them.

Vowel IPA Symbol Description
a ɑ Pronounced like the a in father
e 1 ə Pronounced like the a in about or ago. The symbol is called a schwa. This is the most common e sound when compared to the others (see below).
e 2 ɛ Pronounced like the e in bed or dress
e 3 e Pronounced like the ei in eight. Some older dictionaries will write it as , but the IPA symbol e is gaining more acceptance in regards to standardization. This is the least common e when compared to the others (see above).
i i Pronounced like the ee in meet
o 1 o Pronounced like the o in low. If a syllable ends with this vowel, then use this sound with one exception (see below).
o 2 ɔ Pronounced like the o in stop. If this vowel is in an unstressed, closed syllable, then use this sound. Also, if a syllable ends with this vowel and the following syllable also contains this vowel, then use this sound.
u u Pronounced like the oo in moon

A diphthong is the combination of two vowels. In English, these vowels often represent just a single sound. This is not the case in Indonesian because each vowel must be clearly pronounced when speaking.

Diphthong IPA Symbol Description
ai ɑi Pronounced like the a in father followed by the ee in meet. Both sounds should be clearly spoken.
au ɑu Pronounced like the a in father followed by the oo in moon. Both sounds should be clearly spoken.
io io Pronounced like the ee in meet followed by the o in low. Both sounds should be clearly spoken.
iu iu Pronounced like the ee in meet followed by the oo in moon. Both sounds should be clearly spoken.
ua Pronounced like the oo in moon followed by the a in father. Both sounds should be clearly spoken.

A consonant is a sound produced by the restricted flow of air in the vocal chords. There are twenty one consonants in Indonesian. While most are pronounced relatively close to English, some are quite different, like c and r. Some are silent depending where they are located in the word.

Consonant IPA Symbol Description
b b Pronounced like the b in bed. It's nearly silent when the last letter of a word.
c ʨ Pronounced like the ch in church. It never appears at the end of a word.
d d Pronounced like the d in dog. It's nearly silent when the last letter of a word.
f f Pronounced like the f in fat. It often represents the v sound as well.
g g Pronounced like the hard g in gun, but never like the soft g in germ. It never appears at the end of a word.
h h Pronounced like the h in happy. One must take special care to fully pronounce it when at the end of a word or the meaning could change.
j ʥ Pronounced like the j in judge. The sound is closer to the Dutch symbol dj. It never appears at the end of a word
k k Pronounced the same as in English, but never aspirated. It often represents the q sound as well. It's nearly silent at the end of a word.
l l Pronounced the same as in English.
m m Pronounced the same as in English.
n n Pronounced the same as in English.
p p Pronounced the same as in English, but never aspirated. It's nearly silent at the end of a word.
q k Pronounced more like a k rather than a q. Somewhat rare, words borrowed from the Arabic language most often use it.
r r Pronounced more like the trilled or rolled Spanish r.
s s Pronounced the same as in English
t t Pronounced like the t in tap or top, but never aspirated. It's nearly silent at the end of a word.
v f Pronounced more like an f rather than a v
w w Pronounced the same as in English except with less rounded lips
x ks Pronounced the same as in English. Somewhat rare, it often accommodates words borrowed from other languages.
y j Pronounced like ye as in yes or yet
z z Pronounced the same as in English. Somewhat rare, it often accommodates words borrowed from other languages.

A compound is two or more adjacent consonants in a word. In Indonesian, there are five distinct compounds.

Compound IPA Symbol Description
kh x Pronounced like the ch in the Scottish word loch. Many words borrowed from the Arabic language use it.
ng ŋ Pronounced like the soft ng in singing
ngg ŋg Pronounced like the hard ng in mango
ny nj Pronounced like the ny in canyon
sy ʃ Pronounced like the sh in shop