This Hawaiian language course reaches mainland New Zealand students | Wender Mind Kids

This Hawaiian language course reaches mainland New Zealand students

When the pandemic hit and schools shut down abruptly, Maui resident Kalani Ho-Nikaido saw it as an opportunity to achieve a long-cherished goal of learning the Hawaiian language with her children.

So she called her friend Maile Naehu, who teaches Hawaiian language and culture to Molokai kids, and asked them to teach her family via Zoom.

A thought occurred to her: What if other parents want to give their children this experience but don’t know how?

On Facebook, the women invited anyone to join their free virtual tutoring sessions. Almost 700 families have registered.

It was the beginning of what quickly grew into a profitable business venture focused on developing an online Hawaiian language, history and culture curriculum that is engaging and accessible to people of all ages, no matter where in the world they are condition.

Ka Hale Hoaka co-founder Maile Naehu integrates Hawaiian language and culture into a virtual curriculum tailored to diverse demographics of Olelo Hawaii learners—elementary school children, adults, members of the Hawaiian diaspora. Courtesy: Maile Naehu/2022

What was intended as a free resource for families during lockdown and operates out of Naehu’s off-grid Molokai home has morphed into a business supporting eight employees with six-figure revenues, according to the company.

Subscription prices vary from $35 per month for the virtual curriculum for homeschool students who meet the Hawaii Common Core Standards, to $99 for access to a three-hour live virtual lesson for adults. Live virtual workshops and custom lessons for educators are also available for a fee. The company’s YouTube channel serves as a resource for free language classes for those who cannot pay.

Ka Hale Hoaka has nearly 13,000 subscribers, including Hawaiians living outside the islands, where there are fewer opportunities to learn and practice their culture.

“There are more Hawaiians in the world than in Hawaii Nei,” said Naehu, a University of Hawaii Manoa graduate in Hawaiian Studies who teaches at the Kualapuu Charter School in Molokai. “And so the most heartwarming demographics that I’ve seen in my classes are the families that have moved away, that are part of the Hawaiian diaspora. We have students from New Zealand, Australia, Europe, Japan and even Mexico.”

Long ago, the Hawaiian language was banned from schools, putting Olelo Hawaii on a dangerous path. The Hawaiian Renaissance in the 1970s helped save the language from disappearing. Although it remains critically endangered, the language is now growing. According to a 2016 US Census Bureau report, more than 18,000 people speak Hawaiian at home in addition to English.

Today there are nearly two dozen Hawaiian immersion schools nationwide. The University of Hawaii offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Hawaiian. But these educational opportunities are geographically or financially out of reach for many prospective learners.

The co-founders of Ka Hale Hoaka aim to fill this gap in the accessibility of the Hawaiian language. The company is also trying to help Hawaiian language teachers, who in the absence of a standardized curriculum are often tasked with building classes themselves.

As one of the Hawaii Department of Education’s Preferred Providers for Hawaiian Studies, the company has licensed its instructional video packages, which include worksheets and flashcards, to teachers in Hawaii public schools. Some Hawaiian immersion schools also use the curriculum.

There is a series of lessons for kindergarten through sixth graders in science, social studies and arts that incorporate Hawaiian chants, traditional place names and the virtues of the Ahupuaa as a natural resource management system. Lessons for middle school students are in development.

“It’s a nice medium where teachers who may have trouble incorporating Hawaiian language into their courses can use my unit along with what they’re teaching from science textbooks,” Naehu said. “So if you do a unit on Earth Materials, you can also use my unit on Papahanaumoku, where we learn the meaning of rocks, we learn the meaning of sand, and we learn the meaning of earth in Hawaiian culture.”

One of the goals of the project is to make Hawaiian language and culture studies more accessible to the Hawaiian diaspora around the world. Courtesy: Maile Naehu/2022

This new learning tool also gives college students the opportunity to learn an endangered but growing native language, even if their institution doesn’t have the resources to offer its own Hawaiian language courses.

Yale University has endorsed the Ka Hale Hoaka curriculum and is considering offering the online school as an elective to students. A Yale student is currently using the curriculum to learn the language in virtual one-to-one tutoring sessions.

The company’s range of virtual learning programs is tailored for children, adults, educators or families who study together at home on weekends. Live virtual tutoring is available in addition to pre-recorded video packages.

Next, co-founders Naehu and Ho-Nikaido plan to develop cultural skills training programs for the corporate world, including financial institutions and the hospitality industry.

“We’re trying to introduce everyday language that hotel employees or bank employees might use in their workplace,” Naehu said. “Small little changes that make a big difference to create a bigger norm in Hawaii when it comes to the Hawaiian language.”

Also in progress is an early education course for babies.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation and the Fred Baldwin Memorial Foundation.

Civil Beat’s educational reporting is supported by a grant from the Chamberlin Family Philanthropy.