Ami Lestari: Saving the Balinese Language

Ami Lestari was born in Denpasar and spent a happy childhood there. In 2001, she graduated from the English Faculty of Letters at Denpasar’s Udayana University with a minor in Public Relations. Her interests in her own education and professional development enabled here to find satisfying employment in the marketing, education and hospitality industries. In 2007, Ami worked for High/Scope Indonesia Bali, Green School and ARMA Museum & Resort. Presently Ami’s passion is keeping the Balinese language alive. In corroboration with, she initiated the Facebook group Raos Bali to encourage Balinese parents to communicate with each other using their own language.


What is the mission of Raos Bali?

Our goal is simple. “Raos Bali” means simply “to speak Balinese.” The main idea behind our group is to encourage young parents to communicate in Balinese in their family and work environments. Our Facebook page is growing not only among young parents but also among younger generation Balinese. The group is for everyone to teach, study and express their own ideas. We try to include lots of topics – festivals, celebrations, foods and places members have visited. Topics may even include learning to count in Balinese for beginners and learning to write the Balinese alphabet.


How did you become involved in the group?

The story began when I was a member of ARMA’S team in a Saraswati Day event hosted by ARMA and BASAbali. This was a simultaneous celebration of the Balinese Day of Knowledge in nine countries. As a result of this collaboration, BASABali merged with the ARMA Museum and it was there where I met the people from BASAbali.  We agreed that a simple way to encourage young parents to speak Balinese between themselves and their young children was through a Facebook page, an easy and cheap media platform to get up and running.


Are you alone in your efforts to preserve the Balinese language?

Myself and seven other committed administrators run the Facebook page in coordination with BASAbali. All of the administrators are Balinese and we all are willing to spend a portion of our time making it work. We have a big interest in attracting “Likers” who are curious and want to become involved.


Why are so many topics covered in your Facebook page?

 We want everyone who “likes” the Raos Bali page to be able to post freely based on his or her interests. The group is a place for Balinese language speakers to share their ideas and creativity. If we created a daily topic, it would discourage people to participate since the subject may not be of any interest to them. We want to make the page easy and attractive in order to stimulate interest so that anyone will be willing to express themselves freely and enthusiastically.


What’s your specific job at Raos Bali?

My role is to manage the site together with my co-administrators, create events such as the Balinese video competition, to add words to the online Balinese-English-Indonesian wiki dictionary which BASAbali started a few years ago and to connect and network with other non-profit organizations who are also involved in preserving endangered languages for future generations.


Why is it important to preserve a minority languages?

Sadly, young people understand Balinese less and less. Most young parents as well as the young generation pride themselves in speaking a second language such as English. Nothing is wrong with that. However, Balinese are starting to forget their mother tongue – what we call Bahasa Daerah. If this trend continues, there will only be a small and ever dwindling number of people who will be able to speak or even understand the Balinese language in the future. I personally don’t want this to happen to my language!


Is Balinese difficult to learn?

The Balinese language is not an easy language to learn, even for the Balinese themselves. The most difficult part is learning the three different speech levels. For example, there are three different words for the word “eat,” depending upon the circumstances and who you are addressing. In the highest and most refined language, Basa Bali Alus, it is ngerayun. The second level, Basa Bali Madya, the word for eat is ngajeng. The word for “eat” in the lowest, most common form, Basa Bali Kasar, is ngamah.


Have you met any Westerners who are fluent in Balinese?

I’ve met several who speak Balinese but not fluently. They are only able to count in Balinese and say basic Balinese phrases and greetings. Though it is difficult, if Western students are highly motivated and apply themselves, they are able to learn Balinese. The easiest way is to have daily conversations with Balinese. They need to be committed to learn a minimum number of words daily, always taking note of the way to pronounce each word.


Are different levels used for different people?

Yes, different vocabularies are used depending upon whom you are speaking to. When you speak to a priest you use Basa Bali Alus to show respect. When you speak with someone you know but not closely, you use Basa Bali Madya. If you’re talking with a friend or sibling, you mostly use Basa Bali Kasar. For Balinese it’s easy to recognize the different speech forms because we learn them from childhood.


What learning methods and language aids do you recommend?

Sitting in a class and practicing Balinese with a teacher I feel is too hard. The best and easiest is to engage in daily conversation with the Balinese people. This holistic approach to actively go in “the field” and learn with the people should be done on a daily basis. BASABali also has innovative software available that will help people to learn the language in context.


How can each of us help preserve the Balinese language?

Every Balinese should just communicate every day in Balinese with their children, family members, friends and colleagues. Everyone can help by contributing new words, sentences and pictures with Balinese explanations to our Raos Bali site. We also welcome donations.


Where can one learn more about Raos Bali?

Please “like” our Raos Bali Facebook group. Help spread the word about the work we do. My email: or tel. 081-138-03303.


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