Do Hawaiians Speak English?

Mahalo For Sharing Your Aloha

english in hawaii

Do Hawaiians Speak English?

Yes, English is one of the official languages of Hawaii, along with Hawaiian. Most Hawaiians speak English fluently, and it is the primary language used in education, government, and business.

English has been spoken in Hawaii for over two centuries and was introduced by the first missionaries who arrived in Hawaii in the early 19th century. Since then, English has become widely used and is now the dominant language in Hawaii.

However, Hawaiian culture and language remain an important part of Hawaii’s heritage and identity, and efforts are being made to preserve and promote the use of the Hawaiian language. Many Hawaiian words and phrases are still used in everyday conversation and are integrated into the English spoken in Hawaii.

Want to learn some Hawaiian words? Check out our Hawaiian Word of the Day pages!

Some artwork from Hawaii.

What Languages Do Hawaiians Speak?

1. Hawaiian

The language that is spoken in Hawaii is the Hawaiian language, or ‘Ōlelo Hawai’i, which is a Polynesian member of the Austronesian language family. It is closely related to other Polynesian languages such as Samoan, Marquesan, Tahitian, Māori, Rapa Nui (the language of Easter Island) and Tongan. Hawaiian is believed to have been brought to the Hawaiian Islands by Marquesans who colonized the archipelago in roughly 300 CE followed by later waves of immigration from the Society Islands and Samoa-Tonga. The Hawaiian language is made up of an alphabet of only 13 letters – 5 vowels and 7 consonants. All words must end with a vowel and each consonant must be followed by a vowel. Despite its history and breadth, Hawaiian has almost completely been taken over by English, with the number of Hawaiian native speakers being less than 0.1% of the total population.

2. English

The organization speaks a combination of Hawaiian and English, known as Hawaiian Pidgin or Hawaiian Creole English. This creole language is a blend of Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Portuguese, Hawaiian and English languages. English is the dominantly spoken language in the Hawaiian Islands, with the local people’s everyday language often sprinkled with words and phrases from the indigenous Hawaiian language. Additionally, the Hawaiian Constitution officially recognizes both English and Hawaiian as the official languages.

3. Pidgin

Pidgin is a language form developed in Hawaii by combining words and grammar from various existing languages spoken in the islands. The most dominant languages are Hawaiian, English, Cantonese, Portuguese, Japanese and Filipino, however, due to the mixture of languages and dialects, it is difficult to identify an exact list of all the languages used in the creation of Pidgin.

Pidgin developed as a result of the arrival of agricultural workers to the Hawaiian Islands who needed to communicate quickly and effectively. These workers combined their languages to create a rudimentary language, which became known as Pidgin. Over time, Pidgin was heavily influenced by English, although it is not totally mutually intelligible with it.

Pidgin is widely used in Hawaii, and while there are no official estimates of the number of Pidgin speakers due to its lack of recognition as a language, it is estimated that anywhere from 1,600 to 700,000 people speak this language. It is not only a means of communication, but it is also an important part of Hawaiian identity and an expression of one’s connection to the islands.

4. Other Polynesian Languages

The Hawaiian people also speak other Polynesian languages, including Tongan and Samoan. While Tongan and Samoan are related to Hawaiian, they are not interchangeable since each language has its own unique words, grammar, and pronunciation. For example, the word aloha is found in every Polynesian language, but it has a special significance in Hawaiian culture.

5. Spanish

According to the report from the state of Hawaii, about 25 percent of Hawaiians speak languages other than English at home, compared to about 20 percent of U.S. residents. National statistics show Spanish is the most common secondary language spoken in households across the country, so it is likely that a significant portion of Hawaiian residents speak Spanish.

6. Portuguese

Portuguese is the official language of Portugal. It is a Romance language descended from Latin and is part of the Indo-European language family. It is spoken by over 250 million people worldwide and is an official language of the European Union. Portuguese is closely related to Spanish, Catalan, and Galician, and has many similarities to French, Italian, and Romance-based creole languages. It is also closely related to Hawaiian Creole, which is a mix of primarily English, Hawaiian, Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese, and Portuguese.

7. French

In France, the official language is French, which belongs to the Romance language family. It is a Romance language derived from Latin, and is spoken by about 80 million people in France and other French-speaking countries worldwide. French is known for its beautiful and complex grammar, as well as its extensive vocabulary. Additionally, French is one of the official languages of the United Nations, the European Union, and the Olympic Games.

8. Japanese

Japanese is one of the many languages spoken in Hawaii. It is an East Asian language and the only language in the Japonic language family. It is spoken by over 127 million people throughout the world, mainly in Japan. Japanese is a highly structured language with three writing systems and an intricate system of honorifics. It consists of two main dialects, Standard Japanese and Okinawa Japanese. Standard Japanese is the language used in formal settings such as business and education, while Okinawa Japanese is spoken on the Okinawa Islands. Aside from Japanese, other commonly spoken languages in Hawaii include Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Samoan, Austronesian, Lao, Khmer, Tagalog, Ilocano, Portuguese and Spanish.

9. Other languages

In addition to Hawaiian, other languages spoken in Hawaii include Afrikaans, العربية, Arpetan, Asturianu, تۆرکجه, Bân-lâm-gú, Беларуская, Bikol Central, Български, Boarisch, Brezhoneg, Català, Cebuano, Čeština, Cymraeg, Dansk, Davvisámegiella, Deutsch, Eesti, Ελληνικά, Español, Esperanto, Euskara, فارسی, Føroyskt, Français, Frysk, Gaeilge, Gaelg, Galego, 한국어, Hawaiʻi, Հայերեն, हिन्दी, Hrvatski, Ilokano, Bahasa Indonesia, Interlingua, IsiZulu, Íslenska, Italiano, עברית, Jawa, Коми, Kurdî, Latina, Latviešu, Lietuvių, Ligure, Limburgs, Magyar, Македонски, മലയാളം, მარგალური, مصرى, Bahasa Melayu, 閩東語/Mìng-dĕ̤ng-ngṳ̄, Dorerin Naoero, Nederlands, Nedersaksies, 日本語, Nordfriisk, Norfuk/Pitkern, Norsk bokmål, Norsk nynorsk, Occitan, Oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча, پنجابی, Piemontèis, Tok Pisin, Plattdüütsch, Polski, Português, Română, Runa Simi, Русский, Gagana Samoa, ᱥᱟᱱᱛᱟᱲᱤ, Scots, Seeltersk, Simple English, Slovenčina, Slovenščina, Српски/srpski, Srpskohrvatski/српскохрватски, Suomi, Svenska, Tagalog, தமிழ், Татарча/tatarça, ไทย, Türkçe, Українська, اردو, Vèneto, Vepsän kel’, Tiếng Việt, Volapük, 吴语, 粵語, 中文, and Polynesian language. 

Some artwork in Hawaii.

How Easy is it to Learn Hawaiian Language?

Learning the Hawaiian language is not as difficult as you might think. Although it has a simple grammatical structure and a relatively small vocabulary, it is still considered one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn. The Hawaiian alphabet only has 13 letters, so it is easy to learn to read and write. Additionally, Hawaiian is a living language, and there are initiatives in place to preserve and promote it, such as immersion preschools. This means that there are opportunities for new learners to practice and perfect their language skills. Furthermore, Hawaiian is not an illegal language to speak in Hawaii, and the fact that it has two official languages makes it even easier to learn and use. Therefore, it can be said that learning Hawaiian language is not difficult.

Benefits of Learning Hawaiian Language

1. Improved Understanding of Hawaiian Culture

Learning the Hawaiian language can significantly improve one’s understanding of Hawaiian culture. By understanding the language, one can gain insight into the traditional values, rituals and customs of the Hawaiian people. As the Hawaiian language is deeply intertwined with the culture, learning the language can provide a better understanding of the Hawaiian worldview and perspective. For example, the ʻAha Pūnana Leo, a Hawaiian preschool program, invites native Hawaiian elders to speak to children in Hawaiian every day. This allows children to gain knowledge about their cultural heritage and traditions. Moreover, the Hawaiian Bible has been popular in the state, proving that religious literature can cause an increase in attention towards the language. This is beneficial for understanding the culture, as religious literature is an integral part of Hawaiian culture. In addition, businesses in Hawaii, such as radio and television stations, feature programs to promote the language. This helps to preserve the language and culture, and provides an opportunity for people to learn more about Hawaiian culture. Overall, learning the Hawaiian language can significantly improve one’s understanding of Hawaiian culture.

2. Improved Communication Skills

Learning Hawaiian language can help to improve communication skills, as evidenced by Jack H. Ward’s 1962 study. Ward used basic words and short utterances to measure the level of comprehension between different Polynesian languages, and found that Hawaiian had a mutual intelligibility rate of 41.2% with Marquesan, 37.5% with Tahitian, 25.5% with Samoan and 6.4% with Tongan. This indicates that understanding the Hawaiian language can provide a better understanding of other Polynesian languages, allowing for better communication with speakers from those countries. Thus, learning Hawaiian language can increase communication skills and help bridge gaps between cultures.

3. Ability to Understand Colloquial Speech

Learning Hawaiian language can be beneficial for understanding colloquial speech in Hawaii, as the language has left its mark on the English spoken in the islands. Therefore, being familiar with Hawaiian language can help people to better understand and interpret the colloquial speech used by the local population, as it often includes words and phrases from the language. Moreover, understanding Hawaiian can help with the overall process of learning the Hawaii English, which is a distinct form of English with its own unique linguistic features and a lot of borrowings from Hawaiian. Therefore, learning Hawaiian can not only help with understanding the local speech, but also with mastering the local variant of English.

4. Ability to Read and Write Hawaiian in All Its Forms

Learning the Hawaiian language can bring a number of benefits, including increased cultural awareness, improved communication skills, and an understanding of the history and culture of the Hawaiian people. On a practical level, reading and writing in Hawaiian is advantageous for reading and understanding Hawaiian literature, practicing pronunciation and writing Hawaiian words accurately, and better understanding the nuances of the language. Additionally, learning Hawaiian opens up access to a variety of resources such as books, newspapers, and websites written in the Hawaiian language. For students, learning the Hawaiian language can help them excel at reading and writing, as well as increase their educational opportunities, as some Hawaiian-language classes are offered at colleges and universities. Finally, learning Hawaiian can give a sense of pride and connection to the Hawaiian culture and heritage.

5. Ability to Understand Historical Documents

Learning the Hawaiian language can help with historical understanding because it was used to facilitate the thorough Christianization of the kingdom in the early 1800s. The Protestant missionaries from New England arrived in Hawaiʻi and created an orthography, or standard spelling, that was easy to master, leading to rapid literacy among the adult population. This enabled the Mission to set up more schools for children and publish the first Hawaiian-language newspapers in 1834. With the help of the Hawaiian people, the missionaries also published a vocabulary, grammar, and dictionary of Hawaiian and completed a Hawaiian Bible, which was handed over to the Hawaiian government in 1840. This lead to the enactment of a law for compulsory state-funded education for all children under the age of fourteen, including girls, twelve years before any similar compulsory education law was enacted for the first time in any of the United States. As a result, literacy in Hawaiian became so widespread that a law was passed in 1842 mandating that people born after 1819 had to be literate in order to be allowed to marry. Therefore, learning Hawaiian language can help with historical understanding and appreciating the impact the missionaries and people of Hawaiʻi had on the education of the nation.

6. Ability to Understand the Different Dialects of Hawaiian

Learning Hawaiian language can help you to better understand the different dialects of Hawaiian on the islands because it provides insight into the history of the language. Its many regional variations provide insight into the different cultures that have influenced the Hawaiian language and how it has evolved over time. Additionally, by learning the language you can better appreciate the customs and traditions of the Hawaiian people. Furthermore, understanding Hawaiian can help you become more aware of Hawaiian-specific topics and history, helping you to gain a greater appreciation of the Hawaiian culture.

7. Increased Knowledge of Hawaiian History and Culture

Learning Hawaiian language increases knowledge of Hawaiian history and culture in various ways. Firstly, the ʻAha Pūnana Leo, a Hawaiian language preschool program, invites native Hawaiian elders to speak to children in Hawaiian every day, which helps increase awareness of the language and culture. Secondly, the many Hawaiian language immersion schools, which are open to children whose families want to reintroduce the Hawaiian language for future generations, provide students with the opportunity to learn more about Hawaiian history and culture. Additionally, the popularity of the Hawaiian Bible in the state has shown how religious literature can be a key factor in increasing attention towards the language. Finally, the numerous immigrant vernaculars spoken on the islands, such as Yue Chinese and Japanese, involve the use of Hawaiian, which promotes the knowledge and appreciation of the Hawaiian language and culture. Thus, learning Hawaiian language has a significant impact on the knowledge and appreciation of Hawaiian history and culture.

8. Ability to Converse with Native Hawaiians

The Hawaiian language is not only beautiful and unique, but also offers numerous advantages to those who choose to learn it. Those who are bilingual in both English and Hawaiian will be able to benefit from a greater level of cultural understanding, as well as improved communication skills. Additionally, speaking Hawaiian can be beneficial for business purposes, as it can help to attract and engage potential customers in the Hawaiian market.

Learning Hawaiian can also be beneficial for its speakers in terms of mental health. Studies have found that speaking two or more languages can reduce the risk of dementia, improve memory and verbal fluency, and enhance problem-solving skills. Furthermore, the Hawaiian language is a living legacy of the people of the Hawaiian Islands, and learning it can help to preserve and promote the culture and traditions of the people of Hawaii.

In short, learning the Hawaiian language provides its learners with numerous benefits, ranging from improved mental health to increased cultural understanding. Therefore, learning Hawaiian is a worthwhile endeavor for those who are interested in exploring the culture and traditions of the Hawaiian Islands.

9. Ability to Participate in Hawaiian Language Classes

Learning Hawaiian language can help students develop a deeper appreciation and understanding of Hawaiian culture, as well as provide them with unique language skills which can be beneficial to their personal and professional lives. Being able to communicate in the language can provide access to more opportunities for students in the Hawaiian community and make them more competitive in the job market. Furthermore, understanding the language can help students gain a better understanding of their Hawaiian heritage and the complexities of their culture. Learning Hawaiian language can help students better participate in Hawaiian language classes by improving their listening, speaking, reading and writing skills, as well as their understanding of Hawaiian culture and customs.

10. Ability to Appreciate Hawaiian Art and Literature

Learning the Hawaiian language can help to foster a deeper appreciation of Hawaiian art and literature. With a greater understanding of the language, readers can better understand the nuances of Hawaiian literature and further appreciate the culture and history behind artwork. Hawaiian language is rich with nuance and layers of meaning, many of which are lost in its translation into English. By learning the language, readers can gain a deeper understanding of the imagery and symbolism used in Hawaiian literature, which can help to better appreciate the work. Additionally, many Hawaiian words have multiple meanings and can be used to describe various concepts in Hawaiian art, such as natural beauty and spirituality. By understanding the language, viewers can gain a better understanding of the ideas behind the artwork and gain a deeper appreciation of its beauty. Furthermore, understanding the Hawaiian language can help to better appreciate the history and culture of the Islands, which is often embedded in the art. Furthermore, learning the language can provide readers and viewers with a greater appreciation for the revival efforts of the Hawaiian language, which can help to connect people to the language and culture in a personal way.


Mahalo For Sharing Your Aloha
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