7 Common Hawaiian Phrases to Prepare for Your Trip

After the Hawaiian monarchy was illegally overthrown by Americans, the new government quickly moved to ban the use of ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i (the Hawaiian language). It was only in the late 1980s that the prohibition against Hawaiian was officially lifted. After four generations of being unable to speak  ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i, the kānaka maoli (Native Hawaiians) and kamaʻāina (Hawaii locals) are enjoying a revitalization of the islands' original language.

Tourists aren't expected to speak Hawaiian, but locals greatly appreciate it when visitors give Hawaiian a go as a sign of respect for Hawaiian culture. Try weaving the following phrases into your conversations the next time you're in the Aloha State!


7 Common Hawaiian Phrases and Words to Learn Before Visiting Oahu


1. Aloha (ah-low-ha)

You'll hear this common phrase in various forms throughout your visit to the islands:

  • Hawaiian phrases translation: It's a common greeting that does double-duty for saying "hello" or "goodbye"
  • Variations/Tips: Aloha kakahiaka (good morning), aloha 'auinalā (good afternoon) and aloha ahiahi (good evening)


2. Mahalo (mah-ha-low)

As you disembark your plane, you'll likely have the flight attendant or pilot smile and nod "mahalo" to you:

  • Translation: Thank you
  • Variations/Tips: If you're feeling exceptionally grateful, such as if you had an amazing server at a luau (Hawaiian party), toss out a quick mahalo nui loa (thank you very much)


3. Ohana (oh-ha-nah)

Made famous around the world in Disney's classic 2002 film Lilo & Stitch:

  • Translation: Family, including not just your actual relatives, but also anyone who feels like family to you
  • Variations/Tips: It's not uncommon for people to refer to their close friends as ohana


4. Kāne (kah-ney)

Many restroom doors, clothing shops, and venues display this word:

  • Translation: Technically it refers to warriors, but it's commonly used to specify something for men or males
  • Variations/Tips: The Hawaii Civil Rights Commission says everyone has a right to use bathrooms that correspond with their identity


5. Wahine (wah-hee-ney)

From bathroom doors to the University of Hawaii's Rainbow Wahine sports teams, this term is common:

  • Translation: Female or woman
  • Variations/Tips: Both wahine and kāne can be used for people of all ages


6. Kamaʻāina (ka-ma-eye-nah)

More than 1.4 million people live in Hawaii, but only 10.1% of the population are kānaka maoli (Native Hawaiians):

  • Translation: This Hawaiian phrase literally means "child of the land" (kama is "child" and āina is "land"), but today this term refers to any resident of Hawaii regardless of your ancestry
  • Variations/Tips: Many restaurants and shops provide a kamaʻāina discount—simply show proof of residency to save money 


7. Mauka (mow-ka) and Makai (ma-k-eye)

When you're asking for directions, you'll often hear locals use these terms:

  • Translation: Mauka refers to the mountainside and makai refers to the oceanside
  • Variations: Because the islands are surrounded by ocean, it's a useful way to navigate (i.e., "Go toward the makai" means follow the road toward the ocean, versus toward the inland mountains)

Whether you're kānaka maoli, kamaʻāina, or a visitor from the mainland, the Waikiki Resort Hotel welcomes you to your hale (home) away from home. We're just steps from Waikiki Beach and set right in the heart of the Waikiki strip, giving you unparalleled access to pristine beaches and world-class dining and shopping. Book your stay at the Waikiki Resort Hotel online or call us at 1-800-367-5116 to see why our hotel is a top choice for locals on staycation and tourists from the mainland alike.