Balandas and Bravery

Balanda  meaning N, People or person of European Descent. Balanda also refers collectively to the English speaking Dominant culture of Australia and all other ‘Western’ nations. Its origin comes the Macassan term ‘Belanda’ which is derived from ‘Hollander’ to describe the Dutch and is still used in Bahasa Indonesian today.

In Indonesia I am a Balanda.  When I heard the word I was surprised because I had encountered it before when reading about the Yolgnu people in Arnhem Land in Far Northern Australia in an amazing book by Richard Trudgen called Why Warriors Lie Down and Die. 

It has only clicked with me recently that the ‘Far North’ of Australia is actually the ‘Close South’ for Malaysia and Indonesia.

I haven’t seen another Balanda since I left the confines of the hotel in Jakarta. This has made me feel a heightened awareness of my Australian-ness, especially in the classroom.

Most native English speakers probably don’t notice the cultural nature of our language but language and culture are inextricably related. I have conducted a few very productive lessons with the English teachers that were explicitly about Australian and Indonesian customs, but mostly culture is integral to the language in every lesson and is more implicitly presented. For example, in most classes, amongst other activities, we have been working through Living in Australia, which is a very recent publication from NSW AMES.  The chapter is called ‘Now You’re Talking’ and the conversation examples are plausible and natural, and seem to be informed by discourse analysis. The examples of informal conversation are laden with Australian culture.

I have wondered at times about whether Australian English is suitable for these students.  For example should it be Global English, American English or some kind of combination of ‘Englishes’?  I have talked to teachers here and there appears to be agreement that, as our two countries are close neighbours, having an Australian teaching here is a good idea.

On bravery

I am pleased to report that the longer I teach here, the more relaxed the classes are becoming.  Sadly there are some people (teachers included) who find speaking in English in my classes too intimidating and so they rarely, if ever, attend. It takes a certain amount of bravery for Indonesian students and teachers to come to my English speaking classes even though I understand the challenges they face.  For those who are regular attenders, the benefits are showing. There is better communication, more smiles and laughter, and a discernible improvement in confidence levels. I feel better too, of course, as I observe the students understanding me more often when I am speaking and as I notice an increasing level of spontaneous use of English in class.

As I see the English Major students twice a week we have covered a lot of ground. They have examined and practiced the main elements of the informal conversations in the chapter and have now begun putting it all together in role plays.  It is demanding but they are clever, motivated students and so far the results are pleasing.  I am looking forward to seeing their progress over the next few weeks.


4 thoughts on “Balandas and Bravery

  1. Well done, Joanne. I am sure it is your bravery that is encouraging the bravery of others. This is always the way, I find, in interaction. It is a shame that some of the teachers are too worried about appearing to be failures that they don’t have a go.

  2. Thanks for your encouraging words, Richard. I have some lessons that are flops but if I don’t keep experimenting and being brave my lessons will probably very quickly become boring. When I have a bad day, then usually the next day it just takes a few good reactions in class (or even some happy greetings from around the campus) to help me dust myself down and keep on trying.

  3. Hi Joanne,

    I think that’s a really interesting question you raise about the cultural nature of language and wondering whether Australian-centric content is appropriate for your students. I agree that language is inextricably bound up in “culture” and in that sense ELT is inescapably political. I don’t know if you’ve read Robert Phillipson’s take on ELT’s role in “linguistic imperialism”, or Pennycook & Coutard-Marin on the different things that get bundled into ELT (from Christian Evangelism through to critical pedagogical positions that explicitly fight social injustice). Personally (when possible and if curriculum isn’t completely outside my control) I try to use a range of “Englishes” in my lessons – including non-native speakers – from sources like (But, you can’t practically create all of your content, and I don’t see any problem using the AMES book interspersed with other sources.) Glad to read your blog – it sounds like you’re having a really interesting time and doing a great job with your students.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments, James. I have located some journal articles as per your recommendations and will start reading them soon. You are right to refer to ELT as a political issue and I am looking forward to getting some fresh insights and deepening my understanding to help me throughout the rest of this year.

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