This month, we’re celebrating the growth of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi around the world in several ways, including the success of the popular language learning platform Duolingo.
When Pepeluali (February) rolls around each year what comes to mind? Valentine’s Day? The President’s Day three-day weekend? Super Bowl parties?
What about Mahina ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi?
An entire month is devoted to celebrating and growing our beloved language. This year, we’re celebrating the growth of ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi in several ways, including the success of the popular language learning platform Duolingo.
Back in late 2018, ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi debuted on Duolingo thanks to a partnership between Kamehameha Schools and Kanaeokana – a network of over 70 Hawaiian language, culture, and ʻāina-based schools and organizations. At that time, there were 104,000 regular users. In just over four years, that number has swelled to 623,000!
Duolingo is a free, game-themed app or website platform that challenges you to practice daily with bite-sized lessons. The more you learn, the more levels you unlock. Over weeks and months, learners progress from words to simple phrases, and eventually sentences.
Several KS staffers have been integral in building and expanding these lessons. That includes Maui Bartlett KSM’12 who does the painstaking work of bundling the audio and text lessons provided by KS kumu and others and then plugging them into Duolingo’s complex system. He’s both a linguist and a techie.
“Duolingo is an avenue for learning ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi that didn’t exist before. It’s a way for folks to practice without pressure in the privacy of your home,” says Bartlett, design lead and solutions engineer with KS’ Kealaiwikuamoʻo Division.
Another fascinating aspect of this program’s success is its widespread appeal. Data from Duolingo shows there are learners across the globe.
The combination of gameplay and ease of use is clearly key to Duolingo’s success. But its impact has limits. For instance, lessons don’t provide cultural context or details about the figurative aspects of ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi. And there’s no opportunity for a two-way conversation.
“Renormalization of our language isn’t going to be achieved through Duolingo alone. It’s merely a tool in the toolkit, one piece of that puzzle to help to support that larger vision,” said Bartlett.
For those looking for a fun way to interact with other language learners in person, KS is a co-sponsor of “Ola Ka ʻĪ,” a series of Mahina ‘Ōlelo Hawaiʻi events offering ʻōiwi-themed entertainment, games, shopping and even a hoʻokūkū haʻi ʻōlelo (Hawaiian language speech competition). The first event took place on Jan. 28 on ʻĀina Pauahi at Windward Mall in Heʻeia, Oʻahu. Other events are scheduled in Kapolei, Oʻahu, and Kahului, Maui. You can find details at mahinaolelohawaii.org.
KS and its partners are also celebrating Mahina ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi on Duolingo where more modules will be added to the platform later this month. They’ll cover things like surfing, expressing emotions, making requests of people, and direction-based lessons.
So why do Bartlett and so many at KS devote so much time to revitalizing ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi? It boils down to connection; with culture, ʻāina, our past, our future, and each other.
“I learned of a tūtū whose moʻopuna attended a kula kaiapuni Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian immersion school). Because of her ability to practice the language on Duolingo, this tūtū was able to converse with her grandchild’s kumu and help support language learning at home. I think that’s wonderful.”
So for this Mahina ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, consider stepping out of your comfort zone a bit. Set an achievable goal. Something simple like committing to one ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi interaction per day or per week. Or maybe if you’re brand new, complete a Duolingo lesson each day this month. With growth, comes connection and with connection, comes normalization. E ola mau ka ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi!
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