Understanding the Hawaiian Language: Basic Words and Phrases for Tourists

Discover the beauty of ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, the Hawaiian language, to enrich your travel experience. Learn basic words, greetings, and the significance of Hawaiian culture in music and dance.

Understanding the Hawaiian Language: Basic Words and Phrases for Tourists
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Understanding the Hawaiian language, or ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, is an important aspect of the cultural heritage of the Hawaiian Islands. As a traveler, familiarizing yourself with basic Hawaiian words and phrases can enhance your experience and help you connect with the local culture. This guide will cover the Hawaiian alphabet, common greetings, basic words and phrases, and more, allowing you to confidently explore the islands.

The Hawaiian Alphabet

The Hawaiian alphabet, known as Piapa Hawaiʻi, consists of 12 letters: 5 vowels (A, E, I, O, U) and 7 consonants (H, K, L, M, N, P, W). Developed in the early 19th century by American missionaries, the alphabet aimed to establish a written form of the Hawaiian language. Today, the Hawaiian alphabet is used to write and preserve the language, which has experienced a resurgence in recent years.

Common Hawaiian Greetings

During your visit, you may encounter the following common Hawaiian greetings:

  • Aloha – Hello, goodbye, or love. Often used to express warmth and affection.
  • Mahalo – Thank you. Use this to show gratitude and appreciation.

These greetings are widely used in everyday conversation and will help you connect with locals during your trip.

Basic Hawaiian Words and Phrases

Here are some basic Hawaiian words and phrases to help you during your travels:

  • A hui hou – Until we meet again, used when parting ways.
  • E komo mai – Welcome, come in.
  • Hele – To go, walk, or travel.
  • Kala mai – Excuse me, pardon me.
  • Kokua – Help or assistance.
  • Mauka – Toward the mountains, used for giving directions.
  • Makai – Toward the sea, used for giving directions.
  • Ono – Delicious, tasty.
  • Pau – Finished, done.
  • Pehea ‘oe? – How are you?

Learning these words and phrases will help you navigate the islands and engage with the local community.

Hawaiian Place Names

Understanding Hawaiian place names is important, as it shows respect for the local culture. Some commonly mispronounced locations include:

  • Haʻikū – Pronounced “ha-ee-koo,” not “hai-koo.”
  • Kailua – Pronounced “ka-ee-loo-ah,” not “kai-loo-ah.”
  • Lānaʻi – Pronounced “la-na-ee,” not “lan-ai.”

Take the time to learn the correct pronunciation of place names to show your respect for the local culture.

Hawaiian Language in Music and Dance

The Hawaiian language plays a significant role in traditional music and dance, such as hula and mele. Learning some Hawaiian lyrics can enhance your appreciation of these cultural performances and help you connect with the stories and emotions they convey.

Respecting the Hawaiian Language and Culture

As a visitor to the Hawaiian Islands, it’s important to show respect for the local language and culture. You can do this by learning a few words in Hawaiian, attending a cultural event, or simply being mindful of local customs and traditions. Your efforts will be appreciated by the local community and will contribute to a more meaningful travel experience.

Resources for Learning More

If you’re interested in learning more about the Hawaiian language and culture, consider the following resources:

  • Language classes offered by local community centers or universities.
  • Books on Hawaiian language and culture.
  • Online courses, such as those offered by the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.


Learning and using basic Hawaiian words and phrases during your visit to the Hawaiian Islands can greatly enrich your experience and foster a deeper connection with the local culture. Embrace the opportunity to engage with the language and traditions of the islands, and you’ll create lasting memories of your time in paradise.


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