Hawaiian Lingo like a Local

After living here for 3 months, I’ve become really good at pronouncing Hawaiian words, cities, and other phrases that might come in handy if you ever find yourself here.  Here are just a few terms and some general rules of thumb, that are necessary to know for daily life here.



Many know this to mean “Hello”.  But when you’re here, it means so much more.  People truly live Aloha.  Everywhere you look there are signs that say things like “Drive with Aloha”.  So clearly, it’s not just a simple greeting.  Instead, it is a way of life.  A true embodiment of the culture here.  In my own words, I would explain Aloha has kindness and love for one another, the land, and everything around you.


Another term that is well-known would be mahalo.  This word is all over, because it means “thank you”.  Part of living the aloha life, is to be grateful.  So seeing Mahalo on simple signs, trash cans, and in stores is common.

Kama A’ina

This phrase took me a little longer to understand.  But knowing it is very beneficial.  The direct translation is “Child of the Land”.  So when a cashier or waitress asks you, “Kama a’ina?”, say yes! It means you live in Hawaii, so you can receive special discounts that tourists wouldn’t get.  However, even though I do live here, I haven’t changed my driver’s license, so sometimes if they card, they won’t give me the kama a’ina discounts.


As a teacher, I hear Keiki used often.  It is pronounced kay-key.  Everyday I am teaching the Keiki, or children!  Some local fundraisers may be “Helping the Hungry Keiki”.  Or some schools even have Keiki in their name.


This term you may be familiar with as derogatory.  Typically it is used to describe people who are white.  However, it isn’t always a negative term, unless  it’s stated in a rude way.  So don’t take offence easily.  I have lived here for 3 months, and have yet to be called Haole (pronounced how-lee) in a disrespectful way.  It has come up in conversation however with various people of many different ethnicities, simply because this place is so diverse and people are curious to know if you are Haole or something else.

General Rules of Thumb:

  • When you see an “a” in a word, it is safe to assume that it is pronounced using the short a sound.  Like the a in apple, not in ape.  Being from the Midwest, this is how I learned that us Wisconsinites do indeed have an accent.  Turns out, people from Wisconsin really like the long sound.  I realized quickly how to recognize when I was saying something incorrectly because of this, and have since been able to correct myself.
  • Sometimes the letter w makes the v sound.  This is apparent when talking about Ewa Beach (don’t say ewa, say Eva), and even Hawai’i occasionally.  Typically more traditional Hawaiians will pronounce Hawaii that way, so it is still acceptable to say it with the w sound as well.
  • The letter i typically makes the long e sound.  So if you see the word Ali’i, it is pronounced ah-lee-e.
  • It takes practice, but most hawaiian words are broken into many syllables.  Typically vowels are what breaks the syllables, like in Aloha –> A-lo-ha.  This is also true for long terms or names, like Ka’ipolani –>Ka-i-po-la-ni.


Even though everyone here doesn’t speak Pidgin, it is very common to hear these local terms.  And better yet, to not look like a tourist, it helps to pronounce them correctly and use them just like anyone else.



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