Visitors are often intimidated by the Hawaiian language. It is a beautiful, melodic Polynesian language that, once you learn a few ground rules, is not as hard as you might think. The Hawaiian language has experienced a resurgance in the past decade with renewed interest in native culture and the soverginty movement and this shows by the increased use of Hawaiian place names and in Hawaiian music.
When western missionaries discovered Hawaiians had no formal written language, they sat down and created a sinple alphabet using English characters. The Hawaiian alphabet has only twelve letters; five vowels (A, E, I ,O , and U), and seven consonents (H, K, L, M, N, P, and W). Given this simplistic alphabet, the subtle nuances in pronunciation of different Hawaiian words are important for the visitor to understand.
The consonents are pronounced the same in Hawaiian as they are in English with the exception of W. W is often pronounced as a V if it is in the middle of a word and comes after an E or an I. The same is occasionally true when following an A (i.e. Hawai'i, Hawi).
Vowels are pronounced as follows:
A - pronounced as in Ah if stressed, or above if not stressed.
E - pronounced as in say if stressed, or dent if not stressed.
I - pronounced as in bee.
O -promounced as in nose.
U -pronounced as in too.
Glottel stops or unia (shown with an apostrophe) are often shown to convey a short pause in pronunciation (i.e.Hawai'i or 'a'a (a type of lava)). With dipthongs (two vowels together such as ae, ai, ao, au, ei, eu, oi, and ou), the second vowel is always pronounced. As an example, heiau, a word refering to Hawaiian temples is pronounced hey-ee-ow. Both the ei and the au flow together as a single sound and the ee sound binds the dipthongs making the whole word flow together.
Many long Hawaiian words have repeating syllables making them easier to remember and pronounce (i.e. Humuhumunukunukuapua'a, the state fish). Be patient and keep trying.