Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Learning Hawaiian the LDEI Way

Today on NPR I heard about a new world language being offered on the language learning app, Duolingo. According to the story, which you can hear or read here, local Hawaiian language teacher Ekela Kaniaupio-Crozier helped Duolingo develop their new 'olelo Hawai'i lessons.

She explained that during the Hawaiian Renaissance of the 1980s children began learning 'olelo Hawai'i at special preschools. Now many of those children have children of their own. The new app is meant to help the parents make learning fun for a new generation of Hawaiian speakers.

The lessons were described as "bite sized." That brought to mind the most recent occasion when I heard spoken Hawaiian. That was last month in Seattle at a conference of Les Dames d'Escoffier (LDEI), an international organization of culinary professional women (including writers, like me). I had just joined and was eager to learn more about the group.

As the outgoing president addressed the group, I heard two familiar words: aloha and mahalo. Hayley Matson-Mathes was the president, a member of the Honolulu chapter. But then I heard the plucking of an 'ukulele and the swishing noise of bamboo puili sticks. I moved closer to the podium and saw that President Matson-Mathes's fellow chapter members were dancing and singing in honor of her successful tenure as president.

I brought along my copy of The Hawai'i Farmers Market Cookbook after realizing that the president of my new organization had been one of its editors. I asked Hayley to sign it for me, and took the occasion to tell her that in Portland I had studied hula, 'ukulele and 'olelo Hawai'i.

I also thanked her for spreading the Hawaiian language internationally. After being greeted at every conference gathering by Aloha! and hearing many of the members being thanked with a heartfelt Mahalo!, probably every member, including those from Europe, Mexico and Canada, felt that they had acquired some new language skills. To add to the Hawaiian flavor of the conference, a few special members received floral lei, to wear around their necks, or haku lei, as headdresses.

I must say it was a pleasure for me to hear even just a few words of Hawaiian spoken in an unexpected setting. Even though there now is an app for learning Hawaiian, I welcome any occasion to practice 'olelo Hawai'i.

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