What are the Top 10 High Frequency Words in Indonesian?

If you had to identify a  list of no more than 10 Indonesian words that are absolutely essential for communicating with anyone in Indonesia, what would they be? 

We have been working on this list all year and hope to complete our first draft of it during the upcoming July school holidays. No doubt the list will be constantly tweaked as we progress along the TCI road. 

My list includes:

  1. punya – to have/own
  2. kasi – to give
  3. suka – like
  4. ada – there is/are
  5. bisa – can
  6. mau – want
  7. pakai – wear/use
  8. ke -to
  9. di – in/at/on
  10. ambil – get

Other words that I believe are also important (although could largely be communicated using body language) include:

  1. sudah/belum
  2. ya/tidak/bukan
  3. sedikit/banyak 

What do you think of the first list? I would love to hear your comments if you are an Indonesian teacher/learner.

Once the top 10 list is finalised, we will next identify the top 100 high frequency words which are pertinent and relevant for beginner Indonesian learners. I believe it is useful to know what these words are because they focus and guide teacher planning. When I look back over the thematic units of work I have done with past students, very few (the 4% ers) can recall much of the vocabulary we covered. Our new catchcry is narrow and deep unlike our previous method for which the catchcry in  hindsight seemed to be: shallow and broad. The top 10 essential words for communication will become the foundation for our current and future students’ aquisition. 

19 thoughts on “What are the Top 10 High Frequency Words in Indonesian?

  1. Sue Cooper says:

    Hi Bu Cathy,
    I love hearing your comments and reading your blog – lots of food for thought! While I think it is pretty much an impossibility to conceive of only 10 essential words in Indonesian, I applaud your efforts to find a “skeleton” vocabulary! Can I just comment that the word “kasih” is incorrect? Many Indonesians also make this error. “Kasih” means love, whereas “kasi” (no h) is a colloquial word for “give”. Many of my friends use the expression “kasi tahu” instead of the more formal “memberitahu”. But I’ve seen it spelt with an h many times!
    Selamat mengajar!
    Sue Cooper


    • bucathy says:

      Thanks so much for commenting!! I really love to get feedback and hear if what I am thinking rings true for others.
      I am gobsmacked though by the fact that kasi (to give) is spelt without an ‘h’ – I have just checked on google translate (do I confess that??) where it was confirmed.
      Astaga (as my students love to say) – terima kasih banyak for that spelling gem and I will fix the spelling right now!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Anne MacKelvie says:

    Hi Bu Cathy,
    Big fan of your work! I have a list of most frequently used verbs and also words, but don’t know how to post it here or email to you?? Doesn’t seem to be a spot to upload a document…


    • bucathy says:

      I am very curious to see your list of frequently used verbs. What is your email address? It would be interesting to compare your verbs with the ones that we have almost finished compiling.


  3. Mackelvie, Anne R says:

    I am finally getting over my addiction to the Hokey Pokey. It’s been hard, but I have managed to turn myself around, and that’s what it’s all about.

    Anne MacKelvie

    Indonesian Teacher

    Point Cook P-9 College

    18 – 50 Ponsford Drive

    Point Cook 3030

    Ph: 83487100


    Liked by 1 person

  4. Julie says:

    Such an interesting idea Bu Cathy! And a difficult challenge to come up with only 10 essential words – I think you’ve done a great job! I look forward to the final draft! 😉


  5. bryceallen100 says:

    Focussing on learning a handful of words and getting the absolute most out of them is an excellent idea! Using those as a “scaffold” to branch out to broader vocabulary, grammar and ideas while reinforcing those core words…
    I think “The Indonesian Way” by George Quinn and Uli Kozok, which was the basis for the first 9 months of my Diploma of Language, uses a similar idea of building up a core vocabulary rather than sets of unrelated concepts. It also reminds me of a phrase book I’ve seen: “Instant Indonesian: How to Express 1,000 Different Ideas with Just 100 Key Words and Phrases,” although I haven’t had a chance to see how effective that one is in real life!
    Personally, for every day conversation, I would say “ada,” “bisa/boleh,” and “ya/tidak/bukan/sudah/belum” are all very handy. Being able to use “apa artinya” and a few other enquiry words helps to expand ones own vocabulary.
    Finally, I think learning ini/itu, sini/situ and begini/begitu are all handy as a “set” of words, although that takes up 60% of the list straight away, ha ha…
    Good luck with developing the rest of the list!
    Pak Bres


    • bucathy says:

      Thankyou so much for your input and great suggestions. I totally agree with them too. I will also do some research on the methodology behind George Quinn’s book as well as investigate which 100 words (& phrases) were chosen for the 2nd book you mentioned!
      Once again, thanks for taking the time to add your comment on this topic. I really appreciate it.


  6. buannesblog says:

    I just googled the sweet sixteen TPRS words and they have added makes, says to, knows, sees, leaves and returns. Would we use membuat, berkata, tahu, lihat, (not sure about leaves?) and kembali. I think membuat might be handy with hands on stuff for littlies.


    • bucathy says:

      The idea of this list is they are the most basic group of words that help to create comprehensible input. The words above are high frequency – especially lihat (see) but the others fit nicely into our top 100 list. Did I share that list with you? It would be a great Google doc topic!!
      Thanks for this because I will print it off for next Tuesday’s meeting. Great topic that follows on beautifully with our discussion yesterday with Catharina.


    • bucathy says:

      Great question!! Maybe Its time to restart the conversation again. I still believe they are the foundation words and should be the base of every junior primary curriculum at least although I don’t use sudah/belum until year 3. Can you think of any that should be included?


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