Pronunciation #1: The Hawaiian Alphabet

Lesson 0401V

Hawaiian Vowels and Consonants

In this lesson will be introduced to the basics of pronunciation in Hawaiian as well as the standard Hawaiian alphabet of 13 letters. You will also learn how to say the names of the letters in Hawaiian.

This was the very first video recorded by kumu Kaliko for ʻŌlelo Online in 2010 and it is the first one you should view if you are starting out learning Hawaiian language!

How To Use This Lesson

Make sure you take the time to really learn how to properly pronounce the vowels. If you are a native English speaker, remember that the vowels in Hawaiian are very “pure” and do not glide from one vowel to another as you pronounce them (as they often do in English). This idea will be explained in the video.


The consonant sounds are similar to their English counterparts. One consonant to watch out for, however, is the “L”. If you are a speaker of American English, be careful not to curl your tongue and create a large cavity in your mouth when pronouncing the letter “L”. The Hawaiian “L” has the tip of the tongue much closer to where you would place it to say a soft “D”; the “L”, however, requires allowing the air to flow around the sides of the tongue, whereas the “D” stops the air. Play around with making various sounds until you get the idea of this. Have fun!

Another consonant that you will want to experiment with is the “P”. In English, we don’t think anything of pronouncing the “P” with lots of air coming out of the mouth (between the lips). This is called a “plosive” sound. But in Hawaiian, try to make your “P” a little more like a “B” – in other words, see if you can come to a middle ground between the two consonants. This will allow for a “P” which is not too plosive. If you have the chance, listen to a few YouTube videos of Tongan language speakers; you will find the same consonant spoken there (and in many places in Polynesia). Many new Hawaiian language speakers coming from an English language background will pronounce their “K”s and “P”s with too much air coming out of their mouths during production. Try to learn the true Polynesian sounds early on, so you have a more genuine Hawaiian sound as you learn how to speak the language.

The same is true for the Hawaiian (and Polynesian) “K”. Make sure it is closer where a “G” comes from in the back of your mouth, but of course it shouldn’t fully sound like a “G”. Again, listen to any of the Hawaiian language samples in the Books section of ʻŌlelo Online to hear the sound of the “K” and all of the other letters in Hawaiian.

Overall, I find that if you try to keep the consonant sounds as “close to you” as possible –that is, try to keep the consonant sounds from “projecting” too far away from your mouth– then you will have much better overall Hawaiian pronunciation.

Next Steps

Next you should do the 0401P Pronunciation Practice: Vowels lesson to practice what you learned here.

Then, the next video lesson will be 0402V Pronunciation, Part Two: Macrons.

me ke aloha – with aloha

Video Outline

  1. Introduction
  2. Vowels
  3. Consonants
  4. Summary

Length: 7 minutes

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Seven comments on “Pronunciation #1: The Hawaiian Alphabet
  1. Aloha Kumu Kaliko,

    Mahalo nui for these lessons. They are a tremendous help & blessing. You are an excellent and delightful Kumu. You make learning fun ????.


  2. Mahalo nui for sharing. My first lesson i’m slowly learning how the vowel works in Hawaiian and how to speak and pronounce it properly. I Have more to learn and i will ho’oma’ama’a everyday. It’s good to have online olelo hawai’i… Aloha ‘oe

  3. E Kumu Kaliko ē, aloha nō kāua,

    ‘A ‘o ia, e ke kumu. Pololei nō kāu kuhi ‘ana. Maika’i nō ho’i ia i ka pōkole me ke kuhikuhi. :) Eia i ka ‘ōlelo ‘oko’a iki. Inā ‘ōlelo au “‘ā”, inā ʻōlelo wale i ka inoa o ka hua palapala. Inā ʻōlelo au “a”, inā puana i ka i ka hua palapala, ‘o ia ho’i, ho’ohana maoli i ka hua palapala.

    E kala mai, e ke kumu. ʻAʻole au i makemake e waiho aku i kou mau hoa haumāna ‘a’ole i makaukau ʻē i ka ‘ōlelo Hawai’i. Maika’i a’e inā maopopo iā kākou a pau. E aho paha ia inā au i ʻōlelo haole.

    Mahalo i kāu ‘ōlelo ‘olu’olu. Akā na’e, ‘o wau he haumāna wale nō ho’i. A hiki nō, e ke kumu. E ho’ā’o ana au e ho’ākāka pololei no ka po’e a pau. Auē. Pi’i ka makaʻu i loko. Huikau loa ke kūkākūkā ‘ia ʻana o ka ʻōlelo, nō ka mea, pono nō e ho’ohana i ka ‘ōlelo like pū e kūkākūkā i ka ‘ōlelo, ‘ēa? E noke aʻe au!! E akahele nō ho’i kekahi. :)

    Welina mai kākou a pau me ke aloha, e ko’u mau hoa haumāna ‘ōlelo Hawai’i,
    (Greetings of aloha to us all, my fellow Hawaiian language student friends,)

    In the above paragraphs and in the two previous posts, we have been discussing a difficulty when we use language to talk about language. Kumu Kaliko has asked me to explain it to everyone and reminded me that I was leaving out some of us by launching the discussion in Hawaiian language. I’m sorry! I should have used English or included a translation as Kumu often does. I also am only a student, but Iʻll try to make a tricky topic as simple and clear I can.

    The first vowel of the Hawaiian language will be our example because it occurs in V0401. If I say, ” ‘ā “, I have MENTIONED the letter by saying its name. If I say, “a”, I have actually spoken the letter. That is, I have USED the letter itself, perhaps to demonstrate its pronunciation. Saying Hawaiian words that contain this letter, e.g., “hua palapala”, is another much more frequent USE. For anyone interested, this is known as “the use-mention distinction” in the wonderful, mysterious world of ligic, and it can drive you crazy.

    Of course this applies to using and mentioning words as well. It seems deceivingly, simple to avoid confusing use of something with mention of its name. Using a hammer to pound on my thumb is very different from mentioning a hammer when I talk about it. I certainly don”t say “Ouch, &%#X” when I mention it. However if I say “Lets practice pronouncing the vowel, a, in Hawaiian”, and then say, ” ‘ā “, I have pronounced the name of the letter and not the letter itself. Saying this vowelʻs name may sound a little like saying the vowel, which adds to the confusion. However, I have actually said the letterʻs name which contains the letter, ‘okina, and the letter, a, which has been lengthened by a kahakō. It is very easy to make this mistake. ‘Āwē. Oops. I meant to say “awē”. Ke pupule nei au i kēia manawa. E ho’i paha au i ka hiamoe. (Now Iʻm becoming crazy. Maybe Iʻll go back to bed.) Sorry if I was too wordy, but I love this stuff.

    E holo pū kākou i mua me ke kōkua a Kumu Kaliko a me ke kōkua kekahi i kekahi! (Letʻs all advance together with the help of Kumu Kaliko and with the help of one another)

    Naʻu me ka ha’aha’a, na Loko
    (By me with humility, by Loko)
    Aloha nō

    • E Loko ē, aloha nui kāua!

      Mahalo a nui iā ʻoe no kāu mau ʻōlelo kōkua i ka poʻe a pau. He lokomaikaʻi maoli nō.

      Eia kekahi mea hoihoi no ka huaʻōlelo ʻo “auwe” (ma ka puke a Pūkuʻi/Elbert), ʻo ia hoʻi ka huaʻōlelo nona ka manaʻo haole i ʻano like me “gosh”, “oh my goodness”, “oh dear”, a pēlā aku. Ua kākau nā mikionali me ka “w” i loko, akā he “w-glide” wale nō naʻe ia. ʻO ia hoʻi, ʻaʻohe kanaka e ʻōlelo iā “auvē” (puana i ka “w” ma ke ʻano he “v”). No laila, ʻaʻole hiki iā kākou ke koho inā he “w” a he “v” paha e like me ka mea ma “waʻa”, “manawa”, a pēlā aku.

      I kēia mau lā, kākau kākou iā “auē” me ke kahako ma ka pau ʻana.

      He nui nā huaʻōlelo o ia ʻano hoʻokahi: kauā (“kauwa”, slave), pōā (“powa”, robber; to steal), naue (“nauwe”, ~to move), a pēlā aku. He nui hoʻi.

      Eia naʻe hoʻokahi mea “kūʻē lula” (rule breaker / exception) aʻu i lohe ai: ʻEwa (ka inoa ʻāina). E puana ʻia ka “w” ma ke ʻano he “v” i nā manawa a pau ma ia huaʻōlelo! Auē ka huikau ē! ahahahaha

      aloha nui e ke hoa
      na Kaliko

      (Quick translation: I was mentioning how many of the Hawaiian words in the Hawaiian/English Dictionary by Pūkuʻi and Elbert use the older spelling such as “auwe”, “kauwa”, “powa”, and “nauwe”. Today, we write these with no “w”, since it is not an option to pronounce the “w” as a soft “v”, which is the case in almost all other “w” letters (the exception being the name ʻEwa, which is always pronounced “Eva” and neva eva “Ewa” – ahaha (got to thank my friend Byron Yasui for writing a wonderful song about that). Also note that both the removal of the “w-glide” letter and the addition of a kahakō (macron) over the final vowel bring the above words into modern spelling format. So if you are going to write “gosh!”, then be sure to write “auē” and not “auwe”. Aloha nui!)

  4. Aloha e Kumu Kaliko,
    ‘Elua o’u mana’o. ‘O ka mea nui ka mea mua. Mahalo piha i kou kōkua koke ‘ana iā’u me ka ‘ikepili ‘e’e hou i ka pule a’e. A mahalo palene ‘ole iā ‘Ōlelo|Online!!!!

    Hiki ia’u ke ho’opuka mana’o i kekahi mea iki paha no V0401 ke hana hou ‘oe. Maika’i nō kāu wehewehe ‘ana e pili ana i ka ‘oko’a ma weana o ka puana o nā inoa koneka a me ka puana o kēia mau hua palapala i ka pō’aiapili. Hiki paha iā ‘oe ke hana nō ho’i no nā woela.

    Na’u me ke aloha,
    Na Loko

    • E Loko ē, aloha nui kāua!

      Mahalo nui au i kou mau manaʻo a me kou mākaukau ma ka ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi! He nani maoli!

      Ua pololei nō ʻoe: maikaʻi ke wehewehe pū ʻia ka ʻokoʻa o ka puana ʻia o ka woela a me ka inoa o ia mea. I koʻu kuhi, ʻo ka ʻokina a me ke kahakō ka ʻokoʻa, ʻaʻole anei? ʻO ia hoʻi, inā ʻōlelo au he “ʻā” ka huapalapala ʻo “a”, ʻo ka ʻokina a me ke kahakō wale nō ka ʻokoʻa, ʻeā?

      Mahalo au i kou ʻike kālaiʻōlelo. E kōkua mai, ke ʻoluʻolu, i ka hoʻākāka pololei ʻana i nā woela no ka pono hoʻi o ka poʻe a pau ma ʻŌlelo Online nei. :)

      mahalo hou iā ʻoe e Loko, ka “lokomaikaʻi”!
      na Kaliko

Pane mai

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