4 We Tried: We Search for the Best Ways to Learn Hawaiian Online for Free
Hawaiian is one of our state’s official languages. Brush up on your skills or learn something new with these great online resources.
Every year we seek out the best food, shopping, services and more for our Best of HONOLULU issue to celebrate what makes this city so great. There was a time when the Hawaiian language and many parts of the culture were banned. But in the 1960s and 1970s, there was a renaissance and resurgence of the language and culture. Let’s continue to build on that. We have such a rich history in the Islands, and learning the Hawaiian language and about the culture is just one of the ways we can better appreciate this place we call home.
Here are some of the top contenders for best free Hawaiian online classes. Find out who won by picking up the issue in late June, on newsstands or at shop.honolulumagazine.com. Subscribe to the print and digital editions now.
Kamehameha Schools’ Kulāiwi
Produced by Kamehameha Schools and the state Education Department in the mid-1990s, Kulāiwi has been a staple for learning the Hawaiian language for decades. There are 24 video lessons, each about an hour long, and the first 12 come with downloadable workbooks.
‘Ekela Kanī‘aupi‘o Crozier, a Hawaiian studies resource teacher, is an entertaining, friendly and interactive host and kumu. She takes us through slides that teach us proper pronunciations and meanings of familiar words—like streets named after ali‘i—and then we follow along as a tūtū and her mo‘opuna (grandchildren) use those words and phrases in context. Crozier also drills into us the importance of the ‘okina and kahakō—just like how there, they’re and their have completely different meanings, so do kala, kalā and kālā (a fish, the sun and money, respectively). And unlike those other words, kala, kalā and kālā are also pronounced differently.
She’s also patient and thoughtful while answering viewers’ questions. And although the videos are a tad old, they remain educational and relevant.
UH ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i Initiative
More than 200 people filled the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s Campus Center Ballroom to attend free ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i classes in January. The Associated Students of UH began offering the weekly, noncredit lessons during the spring semester, taught by two graduate students fluent in Hawaiian. When campus closed in March due to COVID-19, all classes went online.
If you missed the beginning lessons, all 14 livestreams, each about one hour, are on ASUH’s webpage. You can also download slides starting from the second class. Similar to other language classes, teachers begin with the pī‘āpā (Hawaiian alphabet) and sentence structures, and even have the group break up into smaller clusters to introduce themselves in Hawaiian.
The good news is that teachers Paige Okamura and Ākea Kahikina are extending the popular classes during the summer. (The online videos are already generating thousands of views.) Both are passionate and teach us more about the Hawaiian culture, such as ending class with the oli mahalo chant. If you have any questions, the livestreams have a Q&A at the end of the lessons. Tune in Wednesdays from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on Facebook. And if you miss any of the classes, the livestreams are saved on Facebook and ASUH’s website.
These 13 video lessons are interactive and a lot of fun. Viewers follow along as a group of friends learn and teach each other Hawaiian through outings and field trips.
In the first lesson, they drive through Waikīkī to learn about streets named after ali‘i. In following videos, they buy gifts at Nā Mea Hawai‘i, learn to make lei, go canoe paddling and more. They also invite musical guests, including Manu Boyd, Robert Cazimero and Kama Hopkins, to sing Hawaiian songs and talk about the importance of learning the language.
The lessons are mostly conversational and don’t rely heavily on slides or presentations. Like the other classes, they start with the Hawaiian alphabet and introductions, and by the end, delve into more complex sentence structures. Many of the lessons are included in the Hawaiian language book, Nā Kai ‘Ewalu.
This one-on-one game approach is definitely different from the other free resources. But it’s fun and very interactive. Duolingo added Hawaiian to its more than 20 language offerings in 2018. When you start, you can choose from four daily goals—from casual five-minute sessions to more intense 20-minute lessons. And if you already know some Hawaiian, you can take a placement test. If you don’t, start from the beginner’s level.
The game takes you through a series of basic Hawaiian words—mahalo, ‘a‘ole and aloha—and then builds on those words with phrases and sentences. If you get the answer wrong, the prompt will tell you the correct one, and the same question will be asked again later.
Living in Hawai‘i, you probably know more Hawaiian words than you think you do. And even if you don’t know all of the meanings yet, there’s a good chance you’ve at least heard a handful of the beginner phrases and words. Get to gaming!
Bonus: ‘Aha Pūnana Leo
Although not free, ‘Aha Pūnana Leo’s programs are worth mentioning. Founded in the 1980s by a group of educators who sought to preserve and perpetuate the Hawaiian language and culture, the organization operates 12 Hawaiian language preschools and two infant and toddler programs, as well as online classes.
Thanks to a grant from the U.S. Administration for Native Americans and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the online classes’ 25 chapters—equivalent to one year of university-level Hawaiian language courses—are $30 each, which is less than half of the original cost.
More Online Resources
If you know of any other resources online, email firstname.lastname@example.org.