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80/20 language and culture learning (Indonesian): Lagu Anak (Kids’ Songs) #1

This is the first in a series of posts on high-leverage ways to learn Indonesian language and culture. The idea is to identify activities that will give an outsized return on investment in the way that they add to your feel for Indonesian culture and language.

Kids’ songs are a great place to start:

  1. They are short texts that you can master and memorise;
  2. The vocabulary tends be simple (great for beginners) but slightly poetic, so you’re exposed to a fresh set of words;
  3. You’re exposed to native-speaker pronunciation (especially valuable if you’re learning outside Indonesia);
  4. They’re packed with idiom, both in terms of phrases and cultural ideas;
  5. They give you a kind of insight into what it means to be a kid and think like a kid in Indonesian, at least according to the ideal of Indonesian childhood held by the writers and the producers of these videos;
  6. There’s an atmosphere of 90s karaoke and – to Western taste – a cutesy but occasionally sinister aesthetic to the videos and animation that captures something hard to define about Indonesian entertainment culture;
  7. They’ll give you a connection to a ubiquitous part of the culture that adult learners miss out on: if you spend much time in Indonesia – especially on the small streets, walking past schools or homes with TVs playing or kids sitting around watching videos on phones – you will definitely hear these songs, and you will grin and maybe even sing along, and feel like you know what’s going on.
  8. Not that we’re measuring in these terms, but you don’t need to know many of these to have a better grasp of Indonesian kids’ culture than most foreign language learners.

Burung Kakak Tua / Topi Saya Bundar

Good for: Interesting trivia (Kakak tua = “old sister”; the word for “perch”; non-sequiturs in Indonesian poetry; the trope of toothlessness (see also: ompong); Indonesian onomatopoeia; possessives.

Kring Kring Kring Suara Sepeda

Good for: More onomatopoeia; writer Pak Kasur is one of the great kids’ songs writers; that karaoke vibe; concept of rajin (roughly, diligent); gender roles; alternative word for cow.

Bintang Kecil

Good for: representative of unusually complex melodies in kids songs; wistfulness and wonder; unusual vocabulary (“menghias angkasa”).

Bintang Kejora

A second star-themed song to reinforce the first.

Good for: Good vocab (pandang, bertaburan, and especially seumpama); more onomatopoeia; phrase for morning star; Indonesian sentence construction; wistfulness; great voice too!


Good for: terrifying clowns; numbers and colours; vocab (rupa-rupa, meletus, erat-erat); use of kacau; Indonesian sentence structures (“Balonku tinggal empat”).
Note: the audio and music are on separate (left and right) audio channels, so you may lose one if you listen with a single headphone.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...