Getting ready for a trip to Hawaii and not sure what words and phrases you should know when communicating with locals? While Hawaii is an English-speaking state, it wasn’t made a state until 1959. Because of this, the native Hawaiian language still plays a strong role in today’s Hawaiian lifestyle.
After becoming a state, Hawaii also remained culturally distinct from the rest of the US. Partly due to distance, partly a result of strong island traditions and an ethnically diverse citizenry, Hawaii has always been unlike any other corner of our nation. In fact, many locals still use Hawaiian pidgin, a language formed from the state’s diverse population of Portuguese, Cantonese, Korean, Filipino, and Japanese. The language is reserved for close friends.
Hawaiian pidgin is only used in a business setting if the speaker wants to demonstrate that they were born and raised in Hawaii. Many tour guides will introduce guests to some Hawaiian pidgin words.
All this to say, while you’ll be just fine communicating with locals in English, it’s still a great idea to learn some of the most common Hawaiian words and phrases. This will not only show your respect and appreciation for Hawaii’s rich culture and history, but is rewarding to know some basics of the local language when traveling.
14 Hawaiian Words You Need to Know
Before you make your way to the Aloha State, you’ll want to get familiar with Hawaiian customs and common Hawaiian phrases and words. Below are 14 words you should know prior to visiting Hawaii:
- Aloha -- A greeting and parting of good intentions. More than just ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye,’ it communicates love, affection, and kindness.
- Mahalo -- means Thank you!
- Mauka/Makai -- Mauka is ‘towards the mountain’; makai means ‘towards the ocean.’ You’ll see these often on road signs and other forms of direction.
- Poke -- Yummy bites of raw seafood with sauces and vegetables. Don’t leave the islands without ordering a poke bowl over rice from a seaside food truck.
- Pono -- A word meaning what is right, moral, or fair.
- Howzit? -- An informal greeting. How are you?
- Ohana -- Family. Not only for blood relations, Hawaiians consider co-workers, friends, and neighbors to be a part of their ohana.
- Ono -- Delicious.
- Kama’aina -- Child of the land, or a long-time resident of the islands.
- Keiki -- Children.
- Lanai -- Balcony or patio.
- Wahine/Kane -- Women and men. A must for identifying the correct bathroom.
- Lei -- A necklace of flowers, shells, and leaves worn to celebrate special occasions.
- Shaka -- A hand gesture of an extended thumb and pinkie uses to show the laid-back, generous ‘aloha spirit.’
Practicing Hawaiian Phrases in Hawaii
Now that you know the mahalo meaning, and the meanings of other common Hawaiian words, you can practice your pronunciation and explore the other unique aspects of the islands on one of YMT Vacations’ fabulous Hawaiian vacation packages. Our Best of Hawaii Four-Island Tour is a popular package with a fun-filled 13-day itinerary. On this tour, you'll stroll the world-famous Waikiki Beach and pay honor to our fallen at Pearl Harbor, dip your toes in black sand beaches and wander through the striking landscape of Volcanoes National Park.
To learn more about this exciting journey, or to make your reservations to join us, call your travel agent or YMT Vacations 1-888-756-9072.