This post was most recently updated on October 19th, 2023
[A collaboration post – all thoughts are my own.]
Have you wondered what languages are spoken in Bali? How many languages do the Balinese speak in their daily life?
First, Indonesia is not an English-speaking country. Bahasa Indonesia, or Indonesian, is the official language of Indonesia. Do you know that Indonesia is comprised of 17,508 islands in total? This is why Indonesia is a country with diverse ethnicities. After all, our motto is ‘Bhinneka Tunggal Ika’ which means ‘unity in diversity’!
Indonesia is rich in culture, including local languages. Indonesia has over 300 different native languages – while Bahasa Indonesia is spoken as a mother tongue by only 7% of the total population, and is used by 200 million people as their second language.
Although Bahasa Indonesia is the national language used in institutions such as schools, offices, and the government, don’t be alarmed when you hear people speaking in other languages besides Bahasa Indonesia.
As Indonesia has 34 provinces for the exact amount, the country is famous for one province named Bali Province. Bali is the most famous island to be visited by foreigners or visitors. Find out when is the best time to visit Bali here.
Then, talking about language in a province, what languages are spoken in Bali?
What is the official language in Bali?
If you’ve been to Indonesia, you might already be familiar with a bit of Bahasa Indonesia. Bahasa Indonesia only became the official language of Indonesia in 1945, when Indonesia became an independent nation.
What you might not realize before you arrive in Bali is that there are actually two languages spoken. Bahasa Indonesia is the universal language used throughout this island, but Balinese is most local’s first language.
How many languages are spoken in Bali?
Basa Bali – Bali language
Bali is the biggest Hindi Adherents in Indonesia, however, the province also has other religions and races who live there. They also speak Balinese or their original language because some of the people come from other provinces or regions.
Balinese speak the Bali language among the locals, and it is sometimes difficult for them to teach to a newcomer. Bali language is spoken in all regions of Bali provinces regardless of their races, religions, or where they come from.
Balinese is also taught and learned at schools in Bali because all around Indonesia must apply the lessons of the province language in each school in certain provinces.
Bahasa Indonesia – Indonesian language
As the official language of Indonesia, the Indonesian language is also spoken and used in Bali. This language is usually used when Bali people and other people from other provinces or regions meet together. In order to avoid miscommunication or misunderstanding, people decide to use the Indonesian language to communicate.
Since tourism has been one of the major sources of income in Bali, a large portion of the region speaks a decent level of English. Bali people also learn English at school or learn from the course or foundation in order to get the ability to speak English.
This language is also important for travel or accommodation marketers in Bali because people who involve themselves in this industry must have the ability to speak English.
Because of the other visitors, Bali is also the place for communicating with other provinces’ languages. Languages like Java, East Nusa Tenggara, and West Nusa Tenggara are also used because Bali is between those provinces.
The people may not use the language of the Bali people, but they speak often to their families or the people who gather in the same group in Bali.
Other than English, the visitors or the newcomers also speak the language of their origin countries. Languages such as Chinese, Indian, and Japanese are often used and spoken because most foreign visitors come from China, India, Japan, and Australia. The Australians speak English. Visitors from other countries of Indonesia must use their own origin languages to speak among them.
Is English widely spoken in Bali?
Bali has a lot to offer to every tourist, with its scenic beauty, rich culture, and heritage captivating visitors every year. The island has witnessed an influx of tourists, which has led to English becoming quite commonplace. If you’re staying in the more popular areas of Kuta, Seminyak, Ubud, and Sanur, you’ll get along just fine with knowing only English.
Hotels, restaurants, and bars can communicate in English, and locals can usually speak broken English. Since most Balinese are trilingual or at least bilingual (Indonesian language, Balinese, and English), you will even find signboards and menus with translations. The huge number of Australians who come to Bali every year has also given an impetus to this trend. In 2019, before borders shut, a record number of Australians visited Indonesia, with reports of 1.23 million Australians heading to Bali that year.
In recent years, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Korean, and French have also become known in Bali. This is largely due to the budding community of expatriates and foreigners residing in Bali, who have established their own businesses. Some restaurants in the more touristy areas of Kuta, Nusa Dua, and Legian also have menus in Chinese and Russian available upon request.
Despite the highest level of English skills, not all Balinese speak English. Some people may speak English extremely fluently, but some just speak English for interaction and are not very fluent.
English is widely spoken in Kuta, Nusa Dua, Seminyak, and Ubud where many foreign tourists stay. Outside these areas, many Balinese do not speak much English at all and many elderly people do not speak Bahasa Indonesia but only the Balinese language.
So, I would like to conclude this with 2 points. One, Bali is a province in Indonesia with the highest level of English skills beating Jakarta Capital Region and East Java. Two, although it has the highest rank, in fact not all Balinese speak fluent English. If you travel to an area in which most foreign tourists stay, you can easily communicate in English because English is widely spoken.
How do you say ‘Hello’ in Bali?
If you plan to travel to Indonesia, learning a little Indonesian language is a great idea. People are excited to hear visitors making the effort to even say ‘terima kasih’ (thank you), or daily greetings like ‘selamat pagi’ (good morning).
When learning Indonesian, I advise you to learn from video or audio – so you know how to pronounce it correctly. Indonesian is not a difficult language to learn and even if you can only speak on a basic level, people are likely to understand your meaning.
You can get help from Day Translation! Not only do they provide translation services for you, but they also can help with in-person interpreting or if you don’t really catch what’s being said in the video/audio when learning the Indonesian language, they can accurately and quickly transcribe any oral recording into its written version.
Balinese is a bit of a different story. One reason it can be difficult to learn Balinese is there are 3 distinct levels of Balinese – low (basa ketah), middle (basa madia), and high (basa singgih). The level of language spoken depends on the caste of the person speaking or being spoken to. Balinese has been written in two different writing systems: the Balinese script, and in modern times the Latin script. Below are the basic signs of the Balinese script.
Although this is not as strictly followed when a foreigner speaks Balinese, it can cause embarrassment if you accidentally call a person from a higher caste by a lower caste pronoun.
However, it is possible to learn simple Balinese that you can use while you’re on the island. Here are some simple words and phrases in English – Indonesian – Balinese:
- Good Morning – Selamat Pagi – Rahajeng Semeng
- Good Night – Selamat Malam- Rahajeng Wengi
- Thank You – Terima Kasih – Suksema
- You’re welcome – Sama sama – Suksema mewali
- I’m sorry – Maaf – Ampura
Are you one of those travelers who like to prepare for your trip by learning a few words of the local language? It’s a great thing to do to get yourself ready for the cultural immersion, helps you make friends, and also can be a signal to scammers that you aren’t a good tourist to pick on.