Hawaii is an amazing, beautiful, and unique state. It is the only state in the union with it’s own native language, musical style, and to be completely made up of islands. Here’s a look at the Hawaiian language and an introductory lesson on how to speak Hawaiian.
How to speak Hawaiian
From the names of hotels and even their concierges, to street signs and Hawaiian slang, trying to sound out Hawaiian words can be a bit intimidating. This breakdown is a start to understanding, pronouncing and outlines the basics of how to speak Hawaiian.
How to speak Hawaiian: Vowels
La = Lah. As in “Fa la la la la, la la la la”. The vowel “A” sounds like “Ah”
He = Hey. As in “Hey! What time is it?” The vowel “E” sounds just like the letter “A”.
Pi = Pee. As in what a dog is supposed do… outside. The vowel “I” sounds like two “E’s”.
Ko = Co. As in the first syllable in “Cocoa”. The vowel “O” has a heavy “Oh” sound.
Mu = Moo. As in the cow says “Moo.” The vowel “U” sounds like two “O’s”.
How to speak Hawaiian: Consonants
There are only 7 consonants in the Hawaiian language and they are:
H K L M N P W
A basic exercise for pronunciation and learning how to speak Hawaiian is to combine each consonant with the vowel and say the sound. Here’s what I mean for “H”: Try to say “Ha He Hi Ho Hu” by sounding it our like this: “Hah hey he ho who”. Or try it with “P” like this: “Pah Pay Pee Po Poo”. Fun right?
A tricky part of the language is when the “W” makes the sound of a “V” when it’s in the middle of a word. Like Waikiki and Haleiwa. The “W” in each of these words have a different sound.
How to speak Hawaiian: The okina
There is one last piece of the puzzle for how to speak Hawaiian, and it’s the okina. An okina is a hawaiian punctuation mark that looks like an apostrophe and is used to indicate the separation of two vowel sounds.
For example, the Hawaiian term for rough lava is “A’a”. How do you pronounce this? Just like you would with one “A” but say it twice: “Ah ah”. It’s easy to remember the name for rough lava because when you walk on it with no shoes you wind up saying “Ah ah ow ow!”
There’s also the windward town of Ka’a'awa on Oahu, and it’s the only word I’ve ever seen with 3 “A’s” in a row. Instead of one long “A” sound, the okina breaks it down like this: Kah-ah-ah-vah.
No one of the most famous (and most intimidating) Hawaiian words is the name of Hawaii’s state fish, the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a. But it’s actually really easy to say! Just take it slow and one syllable at a time:
Humuhumu = “Who moo who moo” then nukunuku = “new koo new koo”, then apua’a = “ahpoo ah ah”. Try say the whole thing: “Whomoowhomoonewkoonewkooahpooahah!”
Some common Hawaiian words you may see or hear are:
Mahalo = Mah-hah-low.
Waikiki = Why-key-key *Notice how the “W” is a “W” sound.
Kahala = Kah-hah-lah.
Kalakaua = Kah-lah-cow-ah.
Kuhio = Koo-he-oh.
Likelike = Lee-cay-lee-cay (Even though its spells out “like” twice)
Haleiwa = Hah-lay-eve-ah *Notice how the “W” is a “V” sound.
Kapiolani = Kah-pee-oh-lah-knee.
Kamehameha = Kah-may-hah-may-hah.
Ewa = Eh-vah *Notice how the “W” is a “V” sound.
Hanauma = Hah-now-mah
Another common misconception is that “Mahalo” means trash because it’s written on all the trash cans. Trash is actually “Opala” but we say “Mahalo” for putting it in the right place!
Hopefully this introduction on how to speak Hawaiian will help you on your vacation.
Have helpful tips of your own on how to speak Hawaiian on vacation? Leave a comment!