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Learning a new language can seem daunting, but don’t let that stop you from giving Hawaiian a try. With its melodic pronunciation and straightforward grammar, Hawaiian may be easier to pick up than you think.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Hawaiian has a simple phonetic structure with only 13 letters and straightforward grammar rules, making it one of the easier languages for English speakers to learn. However, the glottal stops can be tricky, and mastering correct pronunciation takes practice.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll look at the Hawaiian language’s grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary, and writing system. We’ll compare it to English and other Polynesian languages and break down exactly what makes Hawaiian relatively simple – or challenging – to learn for native English speakers. Read on for a detailed analysis of Hawaiian’s difficulty level so you can decide if it’s the right language for you to tackle next.

The Origins and History of the Hawaiian Language

The Hawaiian language, also known as ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, belongs to the Austronesian language family, which includes languages such as Malay, Tagalog, and Maori. This language family has its roots in Southeast Asia and spread across the Pacific through ancient seafaring migrations.

The Austronesian Language Family

The Austronesian language family is one of the largest language families in the world, encompassing around 1,200 languages. It is believed that the ancestral language of this family originated in Taiwan around 5,000 years ago and gradually spread to different parts of Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

Hawaiian, specifically, is part of the Polynesian branch of the Austronesian family and shares similarities with other Polynesian languages such as Tahitian, Samoan, and Maori.

Development of the Hawaiian Language

The Hawaiian language developed in the isolated environment of the Hawaiian Islands. It evolved over centuries as the Polynesian settlers who arrived in Hawaii around 1,500 years ago adapted their language to the unique natural and cultural environment of the islands.

Hawaiian has a rich oral tradition, with stories, chants, and songs passed down through generations. The language played a crucial role in preserving and transmitting Hawaiian culture and knowledge.

Suppression During the 20th Century

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Hawaiian language faced severe suppression and decline due to colonization and the influence of Western culture. The overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893 and the subsequent American annexation led to policies that discouraged the use of the Hawaiian language in schools and public institutions.

As a result, the number of Hawaiian speakers drastically declined, and the language was at risk of being lost entirely. By the 1980s, it was estimated that only a few dozen native speakers remained.

Revival Efforts

In recent decades, there has been a revitalization of the Hawaiian language, thanks to the efforts of dedicated individuals and organizations. The Hawaiian language immersion schools, known as Kula Kaiapuni, have played a significant role in the language’s revival by providing children with opportunities to learn Hawaiian as their primary language.

Today, there are also numerous resources available for learning Hawaiian, including online courses, books, and language revitalization programs. The Hawaiian language has once again become an integral part of Hawaiian identity and culture, with a growing number of people speaking and studying the language.

For more information on the Hawaiian language and its history, you can visit the ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi website.

Hawaiian’s Grammar and Structure

When it comes to learning a new language, understanding its grammar and structure is key. Hawaiian, with its unique features, is no exception. Let’s explore some of the key aspects of Hawaiian grammar and structure that make it both fascinating and challenging to learn.

Parts of Speech

In Hawaiian, like in many other languages, words are categorized into different parts of speech. These include nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and more. However, Hawaiian has some distinct features within each category. For example, nouns in Hawaiian are not gendered, which means that there are no separate words for “he” or “she.” This can simplify things for learners who are accustomed to languages with gendered nouns.

Word Order

The word order in Hawaiian can be quite different from English. While English typically follows a subject-verb-object (SVO) word order, Hawaiian often follows a verb-subject-object (VSO) word order. This means that the verb usually comes first in a sentence, followed by the subject and then the object. For example, instead of saying “I ate an apple,” in Hawaiian, you would say “Ate I an apple.” This change in word order can take some getting used to for English speakers.

Lack of Inflection

Unlike many other languages, Hawaiian has a lack of inflection. This means that words generally do not change their form to indicate tense, number, or gender. Instead, Hawaiian relies on context and the use of additional words to convey these meanings. For example, to indicate past tense, you would typically use a specific word or phrase rather than modifying the verb itself. This aspect of Hawaiian grammar can be both challenging and intriguing for language learners.

Articles and Pluralization

Hawaiian does not have articles (such as “the” or “a”) like English does. Instead, context is used to determine whether something is specific or general. Additionally, Hawaiian does not have a traditional plural form for nouns. Instead, the concept of plurality is often expressed through the use of numbers or descriptive words. For example, instead of saying “dogs,” you might say “many dogs” or “a group of dogs.” This unique approach to articles and pluralization adds another layer of complexity to learning Hawaiian.

Learning Hawaiian may present some challenges due to its unique grammar and structure. However, with dedication and practice, you can overcome these obstacles and enjoy the beauty of this vibrant language. If you’re interested in diving deeper into the intricacies of Hawaiian grammar, you can visit for more information.

Pronunciation and Phonetics in Hawaiian

One of the aspects that can make learning Hawaiian challenging for non-native speakers is its unique pronunciation and phonetics. Hawaiian has a relatively small phonemic inventory compared to many other languages.

A Small Phonemic Inventory

Hawaiian has a total of only 13 phonemes, which are the smallest units of sound that distinguish meaning in a language. This small inventory makes Hawaiian phonetics relatively straightforward once you understand the basic sounds.


Hawaiian has five vowel sounds: /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, and /u/. These vowel sounds are similar to those found in other Polynesian languages, and they are pronounced as short, pure vowels without any diphthongs or gliding between sounds. For example, the word “aloha” is pronounced as “ah-loh-hah,” with each vowel sound distinct and separate.


Hawaiian has eight consonant sounds: /h/, /k/, /l/, /m/, /n/, /p/, /w/, and /ʻ/. The /ʻ/ sound is a glottal stop, which is a quick closing of the vocal cords. It is represented in writing by the ʻokina, a symbol that looks like an upside-down apostrophe. The glottal stop is an important sound in Hawaiian, and words can have different meanings depending on whether or not it is present. For example, “Hawaiʻi” and “Hawai’i” have different pronunciations and meanings.

Glottal Stops

The glottal stop is a unique feature of the Hawaiian language and can be challenging for non-native speakers to master. It is commonly used in Hawaiian words and can occur between vowels or at the beginning or end of a word. Learning to recognize and produce the glottal stop accurately is an important aspect of mastering Hawaiian pronunciation.

Stress Patterns

Hawaiian has a relatively simple stress pattern compared to some other languages. Stress generally falls on the second-to-last syllable of a word, known as penultimate stress. However, there are some exceptions to this rule, and stress patterns can vary depending on the word and its context.

For more information on Hawaiian pronunciation and phonetics, you can visit This website provides audio examples and detailed explanations to help you improve your pronunciation skills.

Hawaiian’s Modest Vocabulary

When it comes to learning a new language, vocabulary is often one of the first challenges that learners face. However, those interested in learning Hawaiian will be relieved to know that the language has a relatively modest vocabulary compared to other languages. This can make it more approachable for beginners.

Word Roots

Hawaiian vocabulary is largely derived from word roots, which are the basic building blocks of the language. Many words in Hawaiian can be broken down into smaller components, allowing learners to understand and remember them more easily. For example, the word “mahalo” means “thank you” in Hawaiian. By understanding that “ma” means “to” and “halo” means “breath,” learners can appreciate the cultural significance behind the word and remember it more effectively.


Like many languages, Hawaiian has also borrowed words from other languages, particularly English. These loanwords, or borrowed words, are often used in daily conversation and can help learners bridge the gap between their native language and Hawaiian. For example, the word “telefonika” is a loanword from English that means “telephone.” These loanwords can make learning Hawaiian feel more familiar and accessible.


Idioms are expressions that have a different meaning than their literal translation. Learning idioms can be a fun and interesting way to expand your vocabulary and understand the cultural nuances of a language. Hawaiian has its own set of idiomatic expressions that can be both challenging and rewarding to learn. For example, the phrase “Pōmaika’i i kekahi” literally translates to “lucky in someone else’s eyes,” but it is used to convey the idea of being jealous. By learning idioms, learners can gain a deeper understanding of Hawaiian culture and language.

The Hawaiian Writing System

One of the fascinating aspects of the Hawaiian language is its unique writing system. Hawaiian was originally an oral language, passed down through generations without a written form. However, in the early 19th century, missionaries from the United States developed a writing system for the language. This was a significant milestone as it allowed the Hawaiian people to preserve and document their rich cultural heritage in a written form.

From Oral Language to Written

The transition from an oral to a written language was not an easy task. The missionaries had to carefully study and analyze the sounds of the Hawaiian language to create a writing system that accurately represented its phonetics. They also had to consider the cultural nuances and unique grammar of the language.

It is important to note that the Hawaiian writing system is phonetic, meaning that each letter represents a specific sound. This makes it easier for learners to pronounce words correctly once they understand the pronunciation rules.

The Hawaiian Alphabet

The Hawaiian alphabet consists of a total of 12 letters: A, E, H, I, K, L, M, N, O, P, U, and W. These letters, known as “ka poʻokela o ka ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi” (the excellence of the Hawaiian language), cover the basic sounds of the language.

It’s worth mentioning that the Hawaiian alphabet does not include certain consonants commonly found in English, such as B, C, D, F, G, J, Q, R, S, T, V, X, Y, and Z. This can be a challenge for English speakers learning Hawaiian, as they may need to adjust their pronunciation and spelling habits.

Spelling Conventions

When it comes to spelling, Hawaiian has some unique conventions. For example, the ‘okina, represented by an opening single quotation mark (ʻ), indicates a glottal stop, a brief pause or catch in the voice. The ‘okina is crucial in distinguishing between words that otherwise would have the same spelling.

Another convention is the use of macrons, which are lines placed over certain vowels to indicate a long vowel sound. This is important because the length of the vowel can change the meaning of a word. For example, “kāne” means “man,” while “kane” means “married.”

Learning the Hawaiian writing system may seem challenging at first, but with practice and dedication, it becomes easier. There are resources available online and in books that can help learners grasp the basics of the writing system and start their journey to understanding and appreciating the beauty of the Hawaiian language.

How Hawaiian Compares to Other Languages

Similarity to Other Polynesian Languages

Hawaiian, as a Polynesian language, shares similarities with other languages in the same language family. These include languages such as Maori (spoken in New Zealand), Samoan (spoken in Samoa), and Tahitian (spoken in French Polynesia). These languages share common linguistic features, such as the use of vowel sounds and the absence of certain consonants found in English. If you are familiar with any of these Polynesian languages, learning Hawaiian may be slightly easier due to the shared linguistic roots.

Differences from English

On the other hand, Hawaiian differs significantly from English in terms of grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation. One notable difference is the absence of the English article system (“a,” “an,” and “the”). Instead, Hawaiian uses context and modifiers to indicate definiteness or indefiniteness. For example, instead of saying “I see a cat,” you would say “I see cat.”

Another key difference is the vowel system in Hawaiian. While English has five vowel sounds, Hawaiian has only eight vowels, which are pronounced differently. This can be challenging for English speakers to master, but with practice, it becomes easier to differentiate and reproduce these unique sounds.

Furthermore, Hawaiian grammar follows different rules than English. For example, Hawaiian uses a different word order, placing the verb at the beginning of the sentence. This may take some time to adjust to if you are used to the subject-verb-object structure of English.

Despite these differences, don’t be discouraged! Learning any new language requires time, dedication, and practice. With the right resources and support, you can definitely learn to speak and understand Hawaiian.

For more information on Hawaiian language and its comparison to other languages, you can visit the following websites:

Tips for Learning Hawaiian

Focus on Pronunciation First

When learning Hawaiian, it’s important to start by mastering the pronunciation of the language. Hawaiian has a unique set of sounds that may be unfamiliar to English speakers. To help with pronunciation, try listening to audio recordings or watching videos of native speakers. Practice repeating the sounds and pay attention to the stress and intonation patterns. Remember, the more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll become with the pronunciation.

Immerse Yourself in the Culture

One of the best ways to learn Hawaiian is to immerse yourself in the culture. Learn about the history, traditions, and customs of the Hawaiian people. This will not only deepen your understanding of the language but also provide context for the words and phrases you’ll be learning. Attend cultural events, watch Hawaiian movies or TV shows, and listen to Hawaiian music. The more you engage with the culture, the more motivated and connected you’ll feel to the language.

Use Spaced Repetition

Spaced repetition is a learning technique that involves reviewing information at increasing intervals over time. This method has been proven to enhance long-term retention and make learning more efficient. When learning Hawaiian vocabulary or grammar rules, create flashcards or use language learning apps that incorporate spaced repetition. By reviewing the material regularly, you’ll reinforce your knowledge and make it easier to recall in the future.

Find a Language Partner

Learning a language is more enjoyable and effective when you have someone to practice with. Find a language partner who is also interested in learning Hawaiian or is a native speaker. Practice speaking and listening skills together, and provide feedback to each other. This will not only improve your conversational skills but also give you the opportunity to ask questions and clarify any doubts. Online language exchange platforms or local language meetup groups can be great places to find language partners.


In summary, Hawaiian has several features that make it one of the more accessible languages for native English speakers to learn. With its small phonemic inventory, limited grammar, and vocabulary heavily borrowed from English, Hawaiian does not present the complex hurdles of many other foreign languages. However, proper pronunciation involving the glottal stop takes practice, and effectively learning any language requires immersion and persistence. By mastering the fundamentals of pronunciation, dedicating regular time to study, and surrounding yourself with Hawaiian speech and culture, you can quickly be on your way to conversing in this melodic Polynesian language.

We hope this comprehensive outline has helped explain exactly what makes Hawaiian relatively straightforward – and where you may need extra practice. With an appreciation of its origins and writing system, the grammar patterns and pronunciations unique to Hawaiian, and some key study tips, you’ll be ready to tackle this beautiful Pacific language.

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