January 15, 2019

10 Hawaiian Words Everyone Should Know

general language learning Hawaiian Language Histories

Going to Hawaii?

One thing I found really interesting about my trip to Hawaii was that nearly every local, regardless of their heritage or proficiency in the Hawaiian language, would frequently use Hawaiian words. Even more interesting, they would use these words even in conversation with tourists, assuming we knew their meaning!

While nearly every American knows the word “aloha”*, not that many non-Hawaiians know the rest of the words on this list. These words are very easy to pronounce (I have included links to Forvo, a pronunciation website) and they’ll go a long way in bringing color and depth to your trip to Hawaii!

*I’m very curious, do people outside of the US commonly know the meaning of the word Aloha? Let me know in the comments!


1. Aloha

(Ah-loh-hah) Aloha is not easily translateable into English, it is both a greeting (hello and goodbye) and a state of mind. Costa Ricans will find it similar to the ubiquitous “Pura Vida”.


2. Mahalo

Mah-hah-low. Thank you.


3. Ohana

(Oh-hah-nah) Ohana means “family”, and is used usely and generously in Hawaii.

No Forvo pronunciation is available for this word, but it is very straightforward: “oh-hah-nah”.


4. Shaka

(Shah-kah) A handshape meant to signal general goodwill, often used in conjunction with “mahalo”. Drivers will use this handshape to signal to others on the road.

The history of the shaka is fascinating, and can be found on my Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BsJQloYjY1g/


5. Ono

(Oh-noh) Ono means “delicious”, and you’ll be using this word a lot in Hawaii. From the freshly-caught fish in sushi or poke form to the many Japanese and Portuguese-inspired treats (try a malasada!) you’ll be well-fueled for your Diamondhead hike.


6. E kala mai

(Eh kah lah mai) Excuse me.

Accidentally bump into another paddleboarder? Say excuse me and throw up a shaka for maximum goodwill!


7. Keiki

(Kay-key) Keiki means “children”, and you’ll see this word everywhere, from kids’ menus to children-centric activities. And at some of the more exclusive bars or beach clubs, you may see a “no keiki” sign.


8. Poke

(Poh-kay) Probably the most-used word (behind aloha) and definitely the most mispronounced. It rhymes with O.K.


9. Honu



(Hoh-noo) Turtle. Hawaiians are very protective of their turtles, and for good reason. These majestic, slow-moving creatures are severely endangered. Anywhere you find honu, you’ll probably find signs instructing you in the ways to keep them safe.


10. A hui hou

(Ah-hoowee-hoe) You won’t want to say it, but this means “goodbye” or “see you later”.


Want to learn more?

Interested in learning more about the Hawaiian language, or Hawaiian Pidgin English? Check out my blog post on The Languages of Hawaii!






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One comment

  1. The only Hawaiin word I knew before reading this was Aloha and I learnt that from watching movies. But now I know more. Yaay. And you are right, they are easy to pronounce!