Learning a new language is great for those trips overseas or just for expanding your brain, but did you know it can also keep a culture alive? Many languages, especially those spoken by indigenous and native peoples, are on the verge of dying out completely from lack of use. Hawaiian is the language of the original settlers of the Hawaiian Islands and it’s one of the languages in the most danger.
Only 300 people in the entire world speak the Hawaiian language, which means it’s in critical danger of dying out, even with preservation efforts. To add to the difficulty, it’s hard to retain a language when you don’t know anyone else that speaks it.
One language learning app is trying to change that. With the right tools, we can preserve the existing language, teach new speakers how to speak it, and provide a chance for existing speakers to practice, even if they don’t know any other native speakers.
A brief history of Hawaii
We don’t know the exact date, but we do know the Hawaiian Islands were initially settled by Polynesians over a thousand years ago. The difficulty of guiding small boats across the Pacific kept the islands isolated from the outside world until 1778 when European explorers arrived. The Europeans made an alliance with the natives living on the islands and helped install a monarchy that ruled the islands until 1893, when the last queen was overthrown.
The new government of Hawaii declared itself independent, but tiny islands in the middle of the Pacific sometimes need a helping hand. In 1898, the Hawaiian government decided to join the United States as a territory. Hawaii finally became a state in 1959, becoming the fiftieth star on the American flag.
An illegal language
One thing the territorial government did was make it illegal to teach or use the native Hawaiian language in public schools. That new law, the decline of the native population, and the influx of European and other immigrants drove the Hawaiian language to the verge of extinction.
It took a strong push by Hawaiians in the late 1970s to keep Hawaiian culture and language alive. Hawaiian became an official state language and new schools opened to teach younger generations their native tongue. The local university began offering Hawaiian language classes, which also helped keep it alive and train new speakers, but only a handful at a time can pick it up, even in a college class.
The future of Hawaiian
Being able to speak and practice a language is one of the key ways of retaining it, of course, but with so few speakers, it’s difficult to use Hawaiian in daily life. That’s where Drops comes in. Drops is an app for Apple and Android devices designed for learning languages. Ordinarily used for languages like English, French, and German, Drops decided to offer Hawaiian as an option to help the language flourish and thrive.
A brief tour of Drops
Drops provides almost 2,000 words from the Hawaiian language to build out your vocabulary and comprehension. Don’t worry if you’ve got bad memories of high school Spanish, either, this isn’t just rote memorization and calling each other Señor. Drops uses modern learning techniques and technologies to help people learn and retain their languages.
In the beginning, it will introduce a word like “breakfast” and tell you how to say it in Hawaiian and provide a little visual representation in addition to saying the word aloud. You’ll even learn spelling. Little quizzes will test how much you’re retaining, but no pressure. If you choose the wrong answer, it will shake or otherwise let you know without shaming you.
With fun games and memory association in addition to all that vocabulary, you’ll be enjoying yourself, learning something new, and helping preserve an endangered culture, all at the same time. Drops is also useful for speakers that already know the language and want someone to practice with, since there’s an Intermediate level in addition to the Beginner level.
To get drops and practice your Hawaiian, just go to the Google Play or iTunes Store on your phone or tablet. Once you’re there, use the search bar and type in Drops. Download, install, and you too can be speaking Hawaiian.
You can also click or tap here for the iOS version and here for the Android version.
Once you’ve got it downloaded and installed:
- Open the app
- Select Let’s Do It
- Select Hawaiian from the list of languages
- Choose your skill level
- Drops will begin walking you through some basics of the language as well as introducing you to how the app works.
It’s no vacation on the Big Island, but it’s free and can help put a teensy tropical touch on your day.
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