Monday, May 3, 2010

Surface Interval Language Lessons

A couple of weekends ago there was a day when Rantje wasn’t able to come out on the boat and I was the only diver who had booked. So, I went out by myself with Yunis and Undeng. I was a bit apprehensive about this because I thought there would be a language barrier. They don’t speak much English and I certainly don’t speak much Indonesian. Rantje told me not to worry and waved us off as the boat pulled away from the dock.

I sat by myself in the middle of the boat staring forlornly at the floor, missing Rantje and all of my other diving buddies. Then Yunis came over and sat next to me. By way of a conversation starter, he pointed to various objects in the boat and started naming them – mask, tank, trash can, etc. I caught on quickly and practiced these new words with Yunis the rest of the way to the dive site.

After the dive we came back on board for our surface interval. Usually, Undeng and Yunis disappear with the boat captain leaving Rantje and his divers alone to talk about the dive, snack, sleep or whatever. But the fact that I had no one else to talk to coupled with the fact that the boat was anchored off shore, conspired to help turn the ordinary surface interval into an extraordinary language lesson.

It turns out that Yunis and Undeng know just about as much English as I know Bahasa, maybe even a little more. This worked out perfectly because we could teach each other new words simultaneously. There was a lot of guessing, gesturing and confused faces involved, but by the end of the day, I could say the following random sentences with confidence:

Di mana tempat sampah?

Where's the trash can?

Saya mau pindah karena matahari panas sekali.

I want to move because the sun is very hot.

Sarah bisa bahasa Gorontalo karena dia bicara dengan muridnya.

Sarah can speak Gorontalese because she speaks with her students.

Saya tidak mau naik bentor ke Manado. Saya mau naik mobil atau pesawat udara.

I don't want to take a bentor to Manado. I want to take a car or a plane.

I was very excited about my language lesson with Yunis and Undeng, but the next day the boat was filled with guests from Japan so there was no time or space for a language lesson. The following weekend was the big ELF/ETA weekend when Mark, Jimmie and Anna were in town. Like I mentioned before, there were so many of us renting equipment that we had to stagger the dives. When they did their first dive on Saturday, I snorkeled (and saw a turtle!) When they did their second dive, I stayed on the boat for another language lesson with my two new favorite teachers. Here's a sampling of sentences I learned after my second lesson:

Saya barusan lihat banyak ikan.

I just saw a lot of fish.

Saya barusan lihat penyu.

I just saw a turtle.

Saya sudah lihat ikan hiu paus dua kali dalam Gorontalo.

I've already seen whale sharks twice in Gorontalo.

Saya lihat ikan hiu paus dua bulan yang lalu.

I saw a whale shark two months ago.

Empat bulan lagi saya pindah ke Yogyakarta.

In four months, I'm moving to Yogyakarta.

Empat bulan lagi saya pindah ke Yogyakarta tapi saya kembali ke Gorontalo karena diving di sini bagus sekali!

In four months, I'm moving to Yogyakarta, but I'll come back to Gorontalo because the diving here is very good!

Yunis predicted that if I take language lessons every day for a month, I'll be fluent in no time. As you know, I've really been lacking the motivation to learn Bahasa, but these surface interval language lessons have been a turning point. I really like having Yunis and Undeng as my teachers and we even talked about the possibility of us meeting up once or twice a week after the dive season is over to continue our language lessons. We'll see if that actually happens. I hope so!

Undeng and Yunis


  1. I thought "kura" was turtle. I've never heard "penyu" before. Maybe that's Garontalese?

  2. I found both words in my dictionary so I think they are both Indonesian. I asked some co-workers at lunch yesterday about the difference between the two and they thought it had something to do with size. In any event, "penyu" is the word Yunis, the dive guide, used for sea turtle so I'll stick with that too.

  3. Here's one for you: "Aku lebih suka mie dari pada nasi"-I like noodles better than rice. I love expressing preferences. Hahaha