Before taking that dream Hawaiian vacation, take the time to learn a little bit about the language used by the locals. Although native residents speak English, Hawaiians also share traditional languages. Adding general pronunciation and a few words to your vocabulary in advance may make the trip more fun and enjoyable. 

Hawaiian Languages

Olelo Hawai’i is the traditional language of the islands, which is taught in schools along with Standard American English. The language is commonly seen in advertising, on signs, and on street names. Hawaiian Pidgin English was created by locals when working on plantations. The simplified version of the native language is also referred to as Pidgin. Hawaiian Creole English was established as a means of communication between native residents and the immigrants arriving from many Asian and European countries. Frequently used slang words have origins in a combination of all the languages. 

Pronunciation Tips

The English alphabet has a combination of five vowels and 21 consonants. On the other hand, the Hawaiian language has five vowels and eight consonants. Vowels are pronounced similar to those used in English and Spanish words as follows: 

  • a=ah
  • e=eh
  • i=ee
  • o=oh
  • u=oo

 Many words also have a combination of vowels. Each vowel is often pronounced individually as follows: 

  • ai or ae make the long i sound as in tide
  • ao or au are pronounced as ow as in now
  • ei is pronounced as a long a sound as in ate
  • eu sounds like eh-you
  • iu sounds like ee-you
  • oe is pronounced oh-eh
  • oi makes the same sound as found in voice
  • ou makes the long o sound as in tow
  • ui is pronounced as oo-ee
Common Hawaiian words 

Kapu indicates a prohibited location and often means keep out on a sign. Lu’au means feast, but lua means hole and is often used for bathroom or toilet. Mahalo means thank you. Makai means a direction toward the ocean while mauka is used to indicate an inland direction. The commonly used brau simply means bro. Most are familiar with aloha, which means hello. But, when leaving, guests might say a hui hou, which translates to when we meet again.