English and Indonesian shared some sounds in consonants and vowels, but English has more vowel sounds than Indonesian. English has 44 phonemes in total (24 consonants, 12 vowels, and 8 diphthong phonemes), while Indonesian has only 35 phonemes (24 consonants, 7 vowels, and 4 diphthong phonemes). In Figures 1 and 2, the similarities and differences between English and Indonesian rely on at least four aspects: phonemic oppositions, aspiration (the way it is articulated), transcriptions, and individual phonemes (Andi-Pallawa & Abdi Alam, 2013).  According to phonemic oppositions, English and Indonesian words mostly have initial, medial, and final phonemic positions, for example, in consonant phonemes of /p/, /b/, /t/, /k/, /g/, /f/, /s/ (with a change to /z/ if pinched in between vowels in some English words), /l/, /r/ (with variations in the final position of English words depending on the dialects), /m/, and /n/. These similarities can be seen in some words beginning with /p/ in /per/ (pair) and /péna/. Regarding vowel phonemes, both English and Indonesian are similar in /ɪ/, /ʊ/, /ɜ/ (/é/ in Indonesian), /a/, /ɔ/ (allophone of /o/ in Indonesian), and /o/. 

Figure 1. Indonesian Phonemes
Figure 2. English Phonemes

Although they share some consonant phonemes, not all of them are articulated in the same way. For example, /p/ in the word ‘pair’ is aspirated, but in the word, ‘pena’ is constantly unreleased. In terms of sound transcriptions, there are some sounds in both languages written in different transcription symbols. For example, /ʧ/ in the word ‘chunk’ sounds the same as /ĉ/ in the word ‘cicak’, but they are written with different symbols. Some consonant phonemes are absent from the Indonesian phonological system such as /v/, /θ/, /ð/, /ʒ/. Meanwhile, /ɲ/ in Indonesian does not exist in English. The distinctive features in the vowel phonological system in both languages are related to the length of vowel sounds in English but not in Indonesian. English has more vowel phonemes than Indonesian because the word meaning counts the stress of the word pronunciation. While Indonesian does not have i.e., /æ/, /ʌ/, /i:/, /ɑ:/, /ɔ:/, /ɜ:/, /u:/ which are present in English. The pronunciation of /i/ in sheep /ʃiːp/ and ship /ʃɪp/ in English can lead to different meanings if pronounced improperly, while Indonesian only has one /i/ phoneme as in the word ‘itik’.

We often leave the comparative phonological system in both Indonesian and English when learning English. In Sastra Lingua’s language class, we make sure our learners grab a basic understanding of the comparative linguistic system between languages. Learning to read demands greater bilingual learning. This comparative language resource is a helpful tool for you to learn! Join Sastra Lingua’s English course now, and get comprehensive bilingual approaches for your learning!


Written by  Imamatul Khair I Director of Sastra Lingua Indonesia

Andi-Pallawa, B., & Abdi Alam, A. F. (2013). A Comparative Analysis between English and Indonesian Phonological Systems. International Journal of English Language Education, 1(3), 103–129. https://doi.org/10.5296/ijele.v1i3.3892

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