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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, August 30, 2002

Hawaiian language class makes Web debut

By Christie Wilson
Neighbor Island Editor

Former Kane'ohe resident Kaili'anu Michaels feels a strong sense of obligation to learn her native language so she can deepen her understanding of Hawaiian culture and pass on the ancient ways.

But she wasn't having much luck connecting with her roots while living in northern Virginia the past 10 years.

Now, modern computer technology is helping her to do just that.

Michaels, 52, and her daughter, Lanakila, 33, who lives in North Carolina, are among the 20 students enrolled in the first-ever, college-level online Hawaiian language class that is being offered through the University of Hawai'i-Hilo's College of Continuing Education and Community Service.

The inaugural class, which started Monday, was marketed to Native Hawaiians and former Hawai'i residents living on the Mainland, who have no access to such instruction, said Margaret Haig, dean of the College of Continuing Education and Community Service.

"There are more Hawaiians living on the Mainland than in Hawai'i. This is a disenfranchised group that has lost contact with their roots and their homeland," Haig said.

Course instructor Kalena Silva, director of UHH's Ka Haka 'Ula O Ke'elikolani College of Hawaiian Language, said he found the response to the course offering "extremely gratifying." About 100 people were turned away, he said.

"There are so many Hawaiians and people from Hawai'i now living abroad, I kind of had a feeling a lot people would be interested in a course like this," Silva said.

The four-credit class uses the same curriculum as the "Hawaiian 101" course taught at UHH. Students are being given weekly lessons to follow. Vocabulary lists, explanatory text, exercises and quizzes are available on the Web, eliminating the need for textbooks.

But learning a language requires more than just reading; it also involves hearing the words spoken in a correct manner and speaking them yourself.

Before the class was launched, computer specialist Keola Donaghy, a graduate student at the Ka Haka 'Ula O Ke'elikolani College of Hawaiian Language, visited groundbreaking language programs at the University of Maryland and elsewhere to study the latest technology in the field.

Donaghy learned of an interactive Java technology that not only allows students to listen to recorded audio samples, but to interact with the instructor and classmates via an audio discussion board.

There is also a pronunciation comparison applet, or program, that allows students to record their own pronunciation of words, phrases and complete sentences and to compare them to a recorded example.

The three Java applets that Donaghy adapted from this technology are called Ho'olohe (listen), Ho'ohalikelike (compare), and Kukakuka (discuss).

Back in northern Virginia, Michaels said that with guidance from Donaghy, she was able to install the necessary programs on her home computer without too much trouble.

Michaels, a homemaker whose husband is a pilot with Southwest Airlines, said her great-grandmother, also named Kaili'anu, was the last pure Hawaiian in her family, and her grandmother was fluent in the language. But her father, like many others of his generation, was not allowed to speak Hawaiian, although he understood it.

"Then comes me, and I did not want the line to stop there," she said. "I feel a responsibility to our family to continue that tradition, and I'm so excited and happy that my daughter is willing to do this too."

As a volunteer with Halau O 'Aulani run by kumu hula Wayne Kaho'onei Panoke, she said she also has an obligation to make sure the children in the halau learn about Hawai'i, because they grew up on the Mainland and few will ever live in the Islands.

"I feel it is my kuleana (responsibility) to share every bit of the knowledge with them because it is also their heritage. In taking online classes and learning our 'olelo (language), I can share that with them."

Michaels did not attend college, but now she's thinking about getting a bachelor's degree in Hawaiian language if more online classes are offered.

Silva said that's in the works, and he would like to expand Hawaiian language offerings to students at other academic institutions, such as the University of Washington, where there has been serious interest in receiving the course, perhaps even with on-site tutors available.

Reach Christie Wilson at cwilson@honoluluadvertiser.com or at (808) 244-4880.