Skip to main content
“The Courtship of Language and Culture”
International conference on Language and Culture (2001)
  • Wayan P Ariati, PhD, SIT Study Abroad
I have been teaching Indonesian language to American colleges students for about ten years now. During that time I made a lot of mistakes and experienced many misunderstandings when I tried to get my message across. I couldn’t understand why, because I thought that I was speaking English or Indonesian clearly, but there was often something missing in our communication. From that experience I started to become interested in making a personal observation of students, teachers, relatives and friends who are native speakers of English. The most difficult thing for me while teaching language to foreigners was learning how I should explain simple topics so that students could get both a real understanding of the meaning and a sense of appropriate usage. For example we often find that beginning students of Indonesian have difficulty learning that silahkan “please” is only used when we are offering something to someone, not when we are making a request. We often seen an Indonesian waiter or waitress look puzzled the first time they hear a student reply Kopi silahkan, "Coffee, please (accept it)” to a question about what drink they want to order. Normally they are too polite to correct the Westerner, and can understand what they mean, so they just get the drink that was ordered. For the students the problem seems to be that English has only one word (“please”) that makes either a request or offer sound more polite. We can see from this that in terms of language learning a student who uses silahkan for both forms of “please” in Indonesia still needs to master the cultural context, not just memorize the words.
Publication Date
Citation Information
Wayan P Ariati. "“The Courtship of Language and Culture”" International conference on Language and Culture (2001)
Available at: