Destination Guides

7 Ways How to Learn Hawaiian (Inspired by Ni’ihau)

My blog posts likely contain affiliate links, including for the Amazon Associates program.
If you click, book, or buy from one of these links, I may earn a commission. Read more in my Privacy Policy.

Did you know that the small island of Ni’ihau is the only place in the United States where Hawaiian is the primary language? While many local Hawaiians speak their native language, it is usually a secondary language after English – it’s also pretty tough to find ways how to learn Hawaiian if you’ve decided you want to do so.

Ever since I learned about Ni’ihau – Hawaii’s “Forbidden Island” – on my last trip to Hawaii, I’ve been fascinated by this island and Hawaiian culture. On Ni’ihau, the goal is to preserve Hawaiian culture – including the language. In fact, the dialect of Hawaiian spoken on Ni’ihau is so unique that linguists think it may be the closest example to how the language sounded when the islands were first settled.

Learn Hawaiian Hero

If you want to know how to learn Hawaiian, there are lots of options – including several free and/or online courses that will help you learn Hawaiian before you ever set foot on any of the islands. In this post, I’ll cover some of the online Hawaiian language programs you can use to learn Hawaiian from anywhere. From video courses to live streams to apps and programs – whichever way you learn best, there’s a way for you to learn Hawaiian.

1. Kamehameha Schools Kulāiwi (Video)

How to Learn Hawaiian - Ni'ihau Aerial View
Ni’ihau nānaina lewa (Ni’ihau aerial view) – Photo credit: Daniel Ramirez via Flickr

Kamehameha Schools offers educational services for those of Hawaiian ancestry, but they also offer a free online video course in Hawaiian, called Kulāiwi. This word means native land and is meant to express the deep connection to homeland, ancestors, heritage, and culture. By learning the Hawaiian language – even if you don’t have Hawaiian ancestry – you’ll help preserve this culture for future generations.

You can find the 24 video lessons online for free here.

2. Ka Leo ʻŌiwi (Video)

Ka Leo ʻŌiwi offers a number of resources for to learn the Hawaiian ʻōlelo (language); they host regular online video events about Hawaiian life, culture, and society – and they also have a series of webisodes in their ʻŌiwi TV that teach you the basics of the language. Over the course of 13 lessons, you’ll learn Pīʻapā Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian Alphabet), Hoʻolauna (Introductions), tenses, forms, and sentence structures. Best of all, this is a totally free resource.

You can find the 13 video lessons online for free here.

3. ASUH ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i Initiative (Video)

The Associated Students of the University of Hawai’i (ASUH) have put together their own program to teach the Hawaiian ‘Ōlelo. While it was normally offered in-person, the ongoing pandemic necessitated offering these classes online – and that benefits us all! Through Facebook Live, anyone can tune into each Monday’s class and work through the course that semester. There’s also a back catalog of courses (videos and slide decks) dating back to Spring 2020 if you want to really immerse yourself. This is a great free option.

You can find the course back-catalog and link to the Facebook Live classes here.

Sunset over Ni'ihau
Napoʻo ma luna o Niʻihau (Sunset over Ni’ihau)

4. ʻŌlelo Online (Multiple Formats)

ʻŌlelo Online is perhaps the most comprehensive Hawaiian language learning resource I’ve found out there. The website includes text-based lessons, video and audio lessons, and a virtual classroom. There are tons of different lessons covering everything from grammar and structure to questions, cultural topics, and more. Unlike the other courses mentioned so far, it costs $5.99 for unlimited access to the ʻŌlelo Online database. It’s well worth it though, if you want a really comprehensive resource to help you learn Hawaiian!

You can learn more and browse the course catalog here.

5. Niuolahiki Online Learning (Unknown)

Niuolahiki Online Learning is operated by ʻAha Pūnana Leo, whose mission is to preserve the Hawaiian language; it too is an incredibly comprehensive language resource if you want to learn the ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi. Course modules/chapters cost $30 each and they have a number of courses to work through – including some for keiki (kids)! Without access, I can’t tell what format the courses are delivered in, but I’m confident that they are a worthwhile investment and help support continued efforts to preserve the Hawaiian language.

You can learn more and browse the course catalog here.

Ni'ihau Cliffs
Na pali Ni’ihau (the Cliffs of Ni’ihau) – Photo credit: Polihale via Wikimedia Commons

6. Duolingo (Audio/Visual App)

I’m sure you’ve heard of Duolingo – it’s one of the world’s largest language-learning apps. As part of their mission, Duolingo works to preserve languages that may be lost if they aren’t preserved (like Navajo and Hawaiian). So in 2018 they released a Hawaiian language course. I’ve actually started this course and it contains 38 lessons that cover everything from greetings and expressions to the weather, food, and home life. Duolingo offers a good way to learn practical Hawaiian phrases and language that will actually help you if you’re visiting and want to speak the language. Duolingo is free to use, but you can pay $12.99 per month for the pro version to remove ads.

You can learn more and download Duolingo here.

7. Mango (Audio/Written App)

Finally, I just learned about Mango, a language service that seems to operate on the Pimsleur model – that is, you listen to (or read) and repeat sentences to learn the language. They offer a Hawaiian language course that aims to help you get conversationally fluent in Hawaiian quickly, over the course of four units of five lessons each. It costs $7.99 per month to learn one language on Mango.

You can learn more and signup for Mango here.

Now you know all the top ways to learn Hawaiian in different language learning styles and services! Have any questions about how to learn Hawaiian? Let me know in the comments.

Help others discover this post too!

I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *