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JAKARTA (Reuters Life!) - The winner of the Miss Indonesia beauty contest has pledged to brush up on her Indonesian language skills after raising eyebrows for answering the pageant judges' questions in English.
Kerenina Sunny Halim, a 22-year-old teacher who has an American mother and an Indonesian father, beat 32 other contestants to be crowned Miss Indonesia last week.
Her brother, TV star Yusuf Iman, told reporters that she could not speak Bahasa Indonesia fluently because she was schooled at home and had few chances to practice.
"Weird, how come Miss Indonesia missed Indonesian?" said a blogger named Coro on Kompas.com, the website of one of the country's biggest newspapers.
"This is truly a tasteless joke!" wrote another blogger on the website of the Jakarta Post newspaper. "How on earth do the pitiful judges of this laughable beauty pageant justify their foolish decision? Imagine a Chinese beauty contestant who does not speak Chinese... Shame on the judges!"
Halim has promised to improve her Indonesian, saying it was an easy language to learn for those who are willing.
"It's been hard for me to speak Indonesian, because I use English every day," she was quoted by the Jakarta Post newspaper as saying. "But I will learn."
In 2006, the winner of the Indonesian leg of the Miss Universe contest, Nadine Chandrawinata, an Indonesian of German descent, was lambasted by the public and the media after struggling to answer the judges' questions in English.
Liliana Tanoesoedibjo, head of the judges panel, said Halim's English language skills would help Indonesia's chances in the Miss World contest in Johannesberg. "She can speak Indonesian, but has a bit of an American accent. But her Indonesian is good enough," Tanoesoedibjo said.
In the last decade, many Indonesians have been trying to improve their English skills and many English words have seeped into the local language.
Some bloggers expressed sympathy with Halim, saying foreign language skills were key to succeeding in today's world.
"For Bahasa Indonesia you need enough to get by. But these days, you need to be fluent in a foreign language, English at least," Memen Suprietmen said on a posting on Kompas.com.
Reporting by Olivia Rondonuwu and Aloysius Bhui; Editing by Ed Davies and Miral Fahmy