Bahasa Indonesia was adopted to make communication easier across the vast Indonesian archipelago, but its simplicity has only created new barriers.

The woman stood in her roadside stall in a quiet neighbourhood in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta, chopping tomatoes, beans and spinach, plus one red chilli. Mixing everything in a peanut sauce, she handed the salad, called lotek, to customers who puttered up on motorbikes and waited on blue plastic stools. She was curious about me, full of questions, and the feeling was mutual. It was to chat with people like her that I had moved to Indonesia and enrolled in intensive language study. Yet after hundreds of hours of classes, I couldn’t understand what she was saying.

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