Essential Hawaiian words and phrases for travelers

During our memorable Hawaii island-hopping adventure, we were thrilled to see how Hawaiian culture is still celebrated on a daily basis. Before our trip, we expected it to be rather commercially motivated but we were wrong. Hawaiian culture is still very much alive and that gives visitors to the islands the opportunity to travel deeper by finding out more about the Hawaiian language, the local rituals and fascinating spiritual world. There’s no better way to connect with locals than by showing an interest in their culture. And since Hawaiians are very proud of their culture, it really pays off to make the effort of including some Hawaiian words and phrases in your conversations with locals. These personal connections and insights sure added an extra dimension to our trip and made us love Hawaii even more.

Before we dive into the Hawaiian words and their English translations, let’s have a look at how the Hawaiian language is organized and pronounced.

Quick facts about Hawaiian language

Here are some linguistic facts about Hawaii:

  • Hawaii is the only US state to have two official languages: English and Hawaiian. A third language, Hawaii Creole English or Pidgin, is an informal language, originating from the communication between native Hawaiians, plantation owners and immigrant laborers. Hawaiian Pidgin is a diverse mix of Hawaiian, Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, and Portuguese words.
  • The Hawaiian alphabet consists of only 12 letters: the vowels A, E, I, O, U and the consonants H, K, L, M, N, P, W.
  • All Hawaiian words end in a vowel because every consonant is to be followed by a vowel.
  • There’s no “s” added to plural forms. The word luau, for example, is used for both the singular as well as for the plural form.
  • Hawaiian language used to be oral only. The missionaries that came to Hawaii translated it into a written language so that foreigners could learn it and better interact with the Hawaiian people.

Pronunciation of Hawaiian words and phrases

Here are some pronunciation tips for Hawaiian words:

  • Vowels are pronounced differently than in English: A as in lava, E as in day, I as in tree, O as in hop (but with a slightly British accent) and U as in zoo.
  • The ‘okina (apostrophe) indicates a sound break
  • The macron (straight bar) on the vowels indicates a long vowel.
  • The W may sometimes be pronounced as a V but not necessarily.
  • Tip: break Hawaiian words down in syllables for an easier pronunciation.

Hawaiian words and phrases for travelers

We’re sure you know at least one word for saying hello and goodbye in Hawaiian but there are so many other useful words that are just as easy to remember. We list several common Hawaiian words and meanings to enrich your trip to the Hawaiian islands. All words are divided into categories for your convenience.

Hawaiian greeting (these are often Hawaiian words for love)

Aloha

Hello, goodbye, love

The meaning of Aloha actually entails more than just these few words. It’s a state of mind, a lifestyle, an energetic presence of harmony, affection, respect and kindness.

Aloha nui loa

A hui hou

E komo mai

Shaka (not pronounced)

Very much love, All my love

Until we meet again

Welcome, come in

Typical ‘hang loose’ hand gesture

Courtesy

Mahalo

Mahalo nui loa

‘A’ ole palikir

Thank you

Thank you very much

You’re welcome, no problem

Hawaiian Food

Grindz (Pidgin word)

‘Ono

Pupu

Poke

Haupia

Food

Delicious, also a type of fish

Appetizer

Traditional Hawaiian dish, usually with cubed tuna

Coconut-pineapple pudding

People in Hawaii

Kama’aina

Keiki

Wahine

Kāne

Malihini

Haole

‘Ohana

Hapai

Hawaiian resident, regardless of racial background

Child

Woman

Man

Visitor

Foreigner, caucasian foreigner

Family

Pregnant

Hawaiian directions and guidelines

Makai

Mauka

Kapu

Kōkua

Manuahi

Lanai

Lua

Windward (English word but often used)

Leeward (English word but often used)

Towards the ocean

Towards the mountain

Keep out, forbidden, no trespassing

Assistance, help, support

Free of charge

Balcony, porch, patio

Restroom

Side facing the wind, prone to rain, lush

Side facing away from the wind, sunnier and drier

Other Hawaiian words and phrases

Hula

Lū‘au

Lei

Wiki

Honu

Aloha au ia ‘oe

Da kine

Hawaiian dance

Hawaiian feast, named after taro leaf

Floral wreath

Fast

Hawaiian green sea turtle

I love you

Catch-all Pidgin word for when you can’t remember a specific word, whether it’s a place, person, thing or concept

Celebrations in Hawaii

Hau’oli La Hanau

Mele Kalikimaka

Hau’oli Makahiki Hou

Happy birthday

Merry Christmas

Happy New Year

Hawaiian tongue-twisters (long Hawaiian words)

Humuhumunukunukuapua’a

Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau

State fish, triggerfish found in the coral reefs

National Hisoric Park, Place of Refuge on the Big Island of Hawaii

Hawaiian to English and English to Hawaiian translation tools

We can strongly recommend the Hawaiian Words – Translations and Dictionary app by Bassm Boles for your English to Hawaiian translations. The free version is limited but the packs cost just 1 USD each. It’s not a professional translation app but perfect for travelers like you and us. Only available in the Apple Store, though.

This user-friendly website is the best resource for translations from Hawaiian to English. Creating an account even enables you to make flashcards with the words of your choice.

Apart from these commercial apps, the Hawaiian Department of Business and Economic Development is also working on an official Hawaiian translation app. It won’t just offer Hawaiian to English translations but also translation into dozens of other languages. It’s not really geared towards tourists but rather towards the non-native English speaking communities on Hawaii so that important communication, about for example natural disasters, no longer gets lost in translation. But it might be just as accessible to tourists in the translation of Hawaiian words and phrases.

Which basic Hawaiian words will you learn before heading to Oahu, Maui, Kauai or the Big Island? Let us know in the comments (and tell us all about your Hawaii travel adventures while you’re at in). Have a great time in Hawaii!

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