When the last Hawaiian queen was overthrown by a coup in 1896, a law was passed that made it illegal to use or teach the Hawaiian language in public schools. That law stayed on the books for 90 years, according to the podcast The World in Words, and by the 1970s, the Hawaiian language was dying out.
That slowly started to change, though. Hawaiian became an official state language in 1978 and a group of native Hawaiians founded ʻAha Pūnana Leo, a nonprofit that opened the first Hawaiian-language preschools in the 1980s, helping to introduce the language to the younger generation.
That, along with moves by local primary schools, secondary schools, and the University of Hawaii to offer Hawaiian language classes, has helped bring the language back from the brink of extinction. Now, an app is stepping in to help keep Hawaiian alive and active.
Drops, a language learning app, just launched Hawaiian for iOS and Android, making it the first major multi-language app to use technology to offer the language. Drops will include almost 2,000 Hawaiian words. Considering that some linguistic experts believe you can learn 75% of the language by learning just 800 of the most frequently used words, that is pretty impressive.
The free app will teach the Hawaiian language the same way it teaches Spanish or German or any of the 30 languages it offers. The app uses word puzzles and mnemonic association to make learning feel more like a game than a chore. Practice enough and you’ll be helping to revive a nearly lost language and make you able to hang with the locals in Kauai.
Overall, the extent of the Hawaiian language recovery has been debatable, reports Honolulu Magazine. According to the Endangered Language Project, there are just under 300 native Hawaiian speakers. Around 75% of the Hawaiian population say English is their dominant language, followed by Tagalog and Japanese.