Leading the Way for Hawaiian Language

on the way to our first parent-teacher conference
Today we went to our very first parent-teacher conference.  Its like I'm a real grown up.

Overall, the feedback was really positive.  Ikaika is a very bright boy and though we are still unsure of what we are going to do next year (start kindergarten, stay in preschool, etc) we know that whatever we do he will be in good hands.  He is learning everything so fast - the teacher said his language skills are what she expects from a second year student at the end of the school year...and hes only been there 3 months.

I've been noticing lately that Ikaika is more aware of his language skills and realizing that not everyone speaks Hawaiian.  The other day we were taking cookies over to the neighbors.  I told him, "remember to say 'mele kalikimaka' and give auntie a hug, ok?"  He looked down and said, "I don't want to say that, she won't understand."

Of course, everyone in Hawaii knows what is 'mele kalikimaka' and our neighbor is from a prominent Hawaiian family and works for a Hawaiian organization, so I'm 100% sure she would understand and 90% sure she could knock around some simple ʻōlelo (language) with him.  But it was interesting to me that he had these reservations and I brought it up with his teacher this afternoon.

I love her response.

She said that most people in Hawaii know some basic Hawaiian and/or vocabulary, like Merry Christmas.  But now we are coming into the time for people to really embrace that and move forward.  They might not understand Hawaiian, but now is the time for them to learn.  Ikaika, being that he already demonstrates leadership skills, should be encouraged to be at the head of that movement.  We should be encouraging him to speak Hawaiian with the people of Hawaii, because that will push them out of that comfort zone.  That will force them to ask him questions about ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi and he can then be the one who leads them into a deeper understanding.  Really, its part of his kuleana (responsibility) as a child raised in the language.

I think back on how I picked up the language I know.  Some I learned from a book, but most of it was just hearing the words and phrases used around me and accepting them as normal.  When I began dating Mr A, I listened to what he said, occasionally asked for definitions, but mostly just pieced these words - whether it was Filipino, Hawaiian or pidgin - into my lexicon.  It worked because Mr A never changed the way he spoke to reflect the fact that I wasn't local, he simple expected me to figure it out.  And I did.

So, I in turn believe that its important for my children to approach others with the expectation that they are capable of understanding.  I don't want him to go full-blown ʻōlelo with my mom (for example), but I do expect him to speak in a way that is natural for him and trust that she will ask if and when she needs help understanding him.  I want them to lead that shift in Hawaii, the movement toward a living Hawaiian language.


  1. I just stumbled upon your blog. I wish that I paid better attention and was encouraged to ‘ōlelo more growing up in Hawai‘i, but instead we were encouraged to learn Spanish or Japanese. ‘ōlelo wasn't going to get you into college.
    Now with my own keiki, I find myself singing the mele I once did as a kamali‘i. Right on for wanting to perpetuate Hawai‘i nei!

  2. Mahalo! I love knowing that other kamaʻāina are reading my blog :)
    I heard the other day that some universities (we were talking about an Ivy Leaguer specifically), don't qualify Hawaiian as a second language - even if the child is bilingual. Ridiculous! I guess that's why the immersion schools offer Chinese, Japanese, etc (what they call "heritage languages"). So ʻōlelo still won't get you into college...but I'm making my kids speak it anyway.