Compared to Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic, Indonesian doesn’t tend to attract much interest from Italians looking to learn a new language.
Bucking the trend, Prof. Antonia Soriente has pioneered the teaching of Indonesian language and literature at her alma mater, Orientale University in Naples, Italy, since 2009.
One of her strategies is to require students who want to study Asian languages ??to also study Indonesian. Those who take classes to study Southeast Asia must automatically explore the Indonesian language.
“I developed the course of Indonesian and Southeast Asian studies. If you want to understand Southeast Asia and Malay, you must master Indonesian. Now, there are students who’ve graduated studying Batak script and there are doctoral students in ethnography and archaeology related to traditional shipbuilding in Sulawesi (Phinisi),” said Prof. Soriente in a webinar entitled “Indonesian as a Diplomacy Tool”.
The event, which was initiated by the Bintang Community – wives of diplomats from the Foreign Affairs Ministry – also featured Betsy Philips and Maria Rosarioningrum, each of whom has been teaching Indonesian to Australian and US diplomats for decades.
This year, Antonia continued, she is guiding doctoral students who study the language and behavior of Hadramaut descendants in Indonesia. She’s also using all available opportunities so that Italian students can receive scholarships to study in Indonesia.
Every year, she said, there are six to eight Italians who study at various universities in Indonesia. Efforts to introduce the Indonesian language and culture have also been carried out by inviting various groups to taste Indonesian cuisine.
Antonia, who earned a Master’s degree in linguistics from the University of Indonesia and a doctorate from Universitas Kebangsaan Malaysia, has translated a number of Indonesian literary works into Italian, such as the novels Saman by Ayu Utami and Not the Virgin Maria by Feby Indirani.
In recognition of her dedication, Antonia received the Language Diplomacy Activist award from the Indonesian Education, Culture, Research, and Technology Ministry in 2019.
Meanwhile, Betsy and Maria explained more about their experiences in introducing and teaching the Indonesian language to prospective diplomats who will serve in Jakarta. Australia and the US require their prospective diplomats to study for nine months.
“The timeframe is five days a week and four hours every day. That’ll be added to homework with a weight of four hours of lessons,” said Betsy, who has been teaching for 33 years.
As the closest neighbouring country, educational institutions including primary schools in Australia are teaching Indonesian and have been for a number of years. However, of late interest in the language is waning and several universities that offer classes in Indonesian language and literature are removing them from the curriculum.
“Maybe it’s because there are many Indonesians who are good at English, so Australians don’t feel the need to struggle to learn Indonesian anymore,” said Betsy.