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June 2009

A recent item posted on Facebook relates how a national test of the language standard of Indonesian teachers of English reveals that, as we suspected, the standard is very low:
"Republic of Indonesia: Berdasarkan Test of English for International Communication (ToEIC), dari sekitar 600 guru sekolah rintisan sekolah berstandar internasional (RSBI) SMP, SMA, dan SMK di seluruh Indonesia, terungkap bahwa penguasaan bahasa Inggris guru dan kepala sekolahnya rendah."

The low standard of English remains one of the biggest barriers against Indonesia being internationally competitive. For example in academia, few lecturers, let alone students, can communicate effectively in English, meaning that writing of books and journal articles for international audiences is almost impossible. Many of my colleagues have raised questions about levels of English comprehension amongst students, for example those reading difficult theoretical texts.

Such language problems also mean that it is very hard to find good translators. I have been very lucky with a forthcoming book, my publisher, Larasan Sejarah, has employed Arif Prasetyo, a gifted poet, whose renderings of my English have been almost faultless (I think he got caught out by one Australian idiom only). Sadly for many other books being translated, this is not the usual, and given that Indonesian publishers do not usually pay copy editors and proof readers, the quality of many publications remains dubious.

Sadly, I have seem seem recent examples of translations from Indonesian into English, in which no native speakers have been involved (for example in a new Art magazine, ARTi). Defenders of communicative language would say that the resulting Englonesian (problems with plural, word order, conjugation, possessive etc) is acceptable as long as the results are intelligible, but unfortunately this is not the case. The big disappointment here is that such new art journals that have important messages to convey will not reach international audiences.

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