Ok, to be clear, as a Javanese, my mother tongue is Javanese. As an Indonesian, our official language is Bahasa Indonesia. And, everybody who goes to school in more than 3 decades, learns English at school. I myself, learned French for two years, although did not continue. I might still be able to read and understand a bit of the meaning, but to speak, not really. My pronunciation In French is bad. My grammar is uncategorized, and my brain works to slow. Now I am studying Japanese. Somehow this could amaze them.
I still remember, one time Miyoko invited us to go for a weekend trip to a country house in a mountainside area, with an onsen. She also invited a friend of hers whose name I don't really remember now. Let's just call her Fumiko. After a while we arrived there, we had snacks and drinks and we had a chit chat about several things, and Fumiko asked what language is spoken in Indonesia.
I explained to her that... Indonesia has a lot of languages. More than 700 aboriginal languages. However we have an official language, our national language, called Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian Language).
And the conversation (with the help of Miyoko) went -roughly- like this:
Fumiko: So who speaks Indonesian?
Me: Everybody in Indonesia.
Fumiko: Where is Indonesian used?
Me: Everywhere. At school, in the books, in printing materials, on TV, on street maps. Everywhere. It is the official language, all over the country.
(Then Miyoko translated, and Fumiko nodded).
And then I explained, like I explained in the second paragraph. And then I added, "We also use English everywhere. We even have English magazines and newspapers."
I never know if Fumiko really understood what I said, but I have done my best to explain.
A few weeks ago, I had lunch with my friend Keiko. Now, Keiko is really good at English. Hers is one of the best English I've heard in Japan (when I say Japan, it meant this area). She studied in the States.
Keiko asked me the same question, how many languages I speak and I explained the same thing. She looked amazed.
I said, "It is not something special for Indonesians. Because each person was born with their mother tongue, except for Jakartans, they don't really seem to speak any mother tongue. And then the society speaks Bahasa Indonesia. At school we speak Bahasa Indonesia. And then at school too, we learn English. Many people then learn other foreign languages, like French, German, Japanese, Chinese, Dutch, etc."
And then Keiko asked me again, "Do you ever get confused with different languages?"
I frowned, trying to understand what that 'get confused' meant, in which way. Then she continued, "To me, learning Korean is not so confusing, it is easier than learning English. Because Korean is still somewhat similar to Japanese (in what way, I don't know)."
I tried to reflect to myself, if I ever had that problem. So I said, "Well, to begin with, Javanese is already very different from Bahasa Indonesia. They're totally different languages. They don't resemble each other, eventhough nowadays they borrow words from each other." Then I continued, "English is totally different. And now Japanese, is probably the most difficult language I have learned, because the grammar is different from either English, Bahasa Indonesia or Javanese."
Really though, every time I have this amazed look on people's faces about how I or my fellow Indonesians speak more than two languages, it often bothers me. "Why is it so amazing to you, people? What's so great about it?"
I then, told Keiko "Europeans are the same way. Some are born to a country with many languages, so it becomes natural for them to speak more than one language since they're young, and plus English."
It always amazes me how it amazes them to know that I speak three languages. Well, people, it ain't no great. I know some people who speak up to six languages, in university level.
Then, I think again. You can't blame them. It's a genuine amaze from people who live in a monolingual, mono cultural society.