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How to Translate English to Hawaiian: Translator and Translation Resources

Sunset over Niihau, Photo used under Creative Commons Attribution License

Sunset over Niihau, Photo used under Creative Commons Attribution License

Aloha! If you want to translate English to Hawaiian, you won't find it as easy as it would be with another language. Quick-reference dictionaries and online translators are few and far between for the Hawaiian language. Whether you're learning Hawaiian because you're traveling to Hawaii or simply fascinated by the Hawaiian language or culture, you'll find yourself stumped if you want a quick and easy English translator.

A Language in Danger of Extinction

Since only about one one-thousandth of the population of Hawaii still speaks the Hawaiian language, the language is in danger of becoming extinct. Most residents of Hawaii, native and not, speak English. Still, if you're resourceful you can find ways to translate at least the most popular words and phrases.

Hawaiian is one of the Polynesian languages, closely related to Maori and Tahitian.

Your essential tools of translation are:

  • Hawaiian-English dictionary: You can go back to basics and use a Hawaiian-English dictionary to translate specific words from English to Hawaiian. The problem, of course, is that this doesn't help you with syntax or with grammar. Be prepared for phonetic and alphabet differences. The Hawaiian alphabet has half the number of letters in the English alphabet. There are some words that are only composed of vowels, which many non-Hawaiians find strange. Pronounce the letter "w" as the W sound or the V sound.
  • Hawaiian-English translator online: You may find yourself stumped in seeking out a direct Internet translator for Hawaiian to English--direct translation is not that simple in certain complex languages such as Hawaiian. There are online Hawaiian-English dictionaries, however, that have a limited Hawaiian vocabulary. A series of online lexicons and translation aids for the Hawaiian language can be found at Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library. Or try this excellent module for searching a Hawaiian dictionary online.
  • Hawaiian interpreter: If you'll be going to Hawaii to conduct business, you may want to hire an interpreter, locally or in Hawaii, to help you with English phrases or sentences. As with certain other foreign languages, some meanings are not easily translatable and must be approximated; a human brain is currently the best resource for the translation of such concepts and ideas.
  • Online Classes: There are online classess--not many, but some--that may be able to help you learn Hawaiian. One such distance learning opportunity is at 'Aha Punana Leo, where they also have some introductory basic information on the speaking and translating the Hawaiian language. A large collection of 30 online Hawaiian language lessons in the form of streaming videos can be found at the Kamehameha Schools distance learning page. Here is a Hawaiian Language podcast series for students learning how to speak Hawaiian.
  • Book on learning the Hawaiian language: If you're not in a great hurry and if you plan to look up more than just a few words, getting a book on the Hawaiian language is probably your best bet. Native Hawaiian is a complex language. Many Hawaiian words have several meanings and must be understood in the context in which they're spoken. Furthermore, as with Latin, the order of the words will be unfamiliar to many native English speakers.

Poll: Why Do You Want a Hawaiian Translation?

Fact: Modern Native Speakers of Hawaiian

Hawaiian and not English is the first language on the Hawaiian island of Niʻihau, which is privately owned and not often visited by tourists.

Photo used under Creative Commons Attribution License

Photo used under Creative Commons Attribution License

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