It's not as bad as it looks in this video. These people weren't even TRYING!
Rule 1. Break the word up.
Break up the word into syllables and you’ll find that most of these intimidating looking words are really a string of much simpler repeated sounds you already know how to say. Hawaiian words are comprised of any combination of ONE- or TWO-LETTER syllables. The one letter syllable is always a vowel. The two letter syllable is always 1 consonant + 1 vowel. There is never a three letter syllable. Two vowels in a row, like the "O-a" in the word Oahu, are always pronounced separately.
Rule 2. The glottal stop ( ‘ ) is your friend.
Called the ‘okina in Hawaiian, this is simply the symbol of a short sound break in the word. Example: A’a, a type of lava, is said “Ah-Ah.” The stop also breaks the words up for you.
Note: the ‘okina can be, and often is, omitted. Make a note when you see a word that contains one, it will help you later when you see it again without.
Rule 3. Vowels are pronounced the same way every time.
a makes a short “ah” sound like the a in “army”
e makes an “eh” sound like the e in “let”
i makes an “e” sound like the e in “easy”
o makes a short “oh” sound like the o in “pole”
u makes an “oo” sound like the oo in “moo”
Note: A macron ( ¯ ) over a vowel extends the sound. (The macron is also very frequently omitted.)
Rule 4. All consonants, (with some W exceptions below) are the same as in English.
The Hawaiian alphabet has 7 consonants: H, K, L, M, N, P, and W. Some people say the okina is another consonant, but it's just a pause, not a letter.
Rule 5. You don't need to speak Hawaiian (or Pidgin) to enjoy Hawaii.
There's also a local slang dialect called Pidgin which combines words from English and Hawaiian culture. The Pidgin phrase Da kine pronounced "da kyn" and not "da kee neh" is not something you will see on signage, but may hear locals say. By the way, it means, "whatchamacallit".
Putting it all together:
We'll be playing The Aloha Classic flag football games at Kapi'olani Park:
– Ka = "kah"
– pi = "pee"
– ' = slight pause
– o = "oh"
– la = "lah"
– ni = "nee"
Some Hawaiian words have syllables that repeat. Those look long and difficult, but easy once you break it down:
the state fish is the Humuhumunukunukuapua'a. Completely daunting the first time you read it, but break it down into syllables and you see an easier and repetitive word: "hu-mu x2, nu-ku x2, a-pu-a/a." Easy.
You may be traveling on the Kamehameha Highway "ka, me-ha x2" or the Likelike Highway "lee-keh x2".
Don't ask for directions to "pee-peh-lee-neh" Beach. We just call it Pipeline, like ordinary plumbers do. :-)
So there you have it – remember these five simple rules and you’ll be saying place names like you’ve lived in Hawaii for years!