Papahana Kuaola is Normalizing Hawaiian in the Workplace

October 1, 2018
Cody Pata teaches Hawaiian language to staff members of Papahana Kuaola through the Kōina Leo method.

Keoni Kuoha and Cody Pueo Pata have taught the Hawaiian language at the pre-school, high school, and university levels in their communities for years. They noticed flaws in learning a language purely through the education system. As they describe it, school-based learning is focused on “teaching to the textbook” and isn’t the most natural way to acquire language skills. The lessons also only reach students and not the larger community. While Kuoha and Pata wanted Hawaiian to continue being taught in schools, their dreams extended out of the classroom and off the campus. They wanted to expand the parameters of where Hawaiian is spoken by making learning Hawaiian accessible in the workplace and increase the possibility of employment for Hawaiian speakers. That is how Project Hoʻopoeko was born.

Hoʻopoeko (“To Cause Fluency”) is one of ANA’s newly awarded 2018 Native Language Preservation and Maintenance grantees. The two educators proposed that they use the Kōina Leo method to teach Hawaiian to staff at six Hawaiian culture-focused education organizations (non-profits, charter schools, and public schools). Pata created the streamlined Kōina Leo, basing it off of the The Silent Way method created by Caleb Gattegno. The project will teach participants Hawaiian through both language immersive lessons and the use of the language in their workplace. Pata first learned of The Silent Way from Kumu Kāʻeo Izon, who inspired him with his teaching of Hawaiian to their mutual friends. Pata then developed Kōina Leo to teach Hawaiian to his hula students in Japan. Izon will also be a co-teacher for the Hoʻopoeko project. Kuoha supplies the process needed to get offices learning through the Kōina Leo method.

All of the participating offices are located in the district traditionally known as Koʻolaupoko. Koʻolaupoko is on the windward side of Oʻahu outside the city of Honolulu. For Kuoha and Pata, one of the highlights of developing this project was getting feedback from the community of Koʻolaupoko. Such as:

  • Receiving insight into common barriers faced in trying to learn Hawaiian,
  • Finding out how many Hawaiian speakers worked in the Hawaiian culture-focused education organizations of Koʻolaupoko (30%), and
  • Learning the community’s aspirations for the Hawaiian language.

Everyone agreed that, as Kuoha states, “Native Hawaiians need to speak their language to move forward as a people and a culture.”

The project will help Native Hawaiians in Koʻolaupoko grow closer as a community by supporting the growth of Hawaiian language immersion workplaces. Western-style language teaching in a classroom provides little time to practice speaking. In contrast, staff at the initial six partner organizations involved in the project will see coworkers speaking Hawaiian and learning from each other eight to nine hours a day. This will allow them to form their own language communities. The project will also identify and develop support systems for language learning in the workplace and host quarterly Hawaiian language-only gatherings. These events will help to ease people’s fears about practicing their Hawaiian. The project will even spend its last six months training Hawaiian language teachers from amongst the employees within the participating organizations. These on-site language teachers will then be responsible new employees.

Kuoha and Pata hope to see benefits from their project not only in the workplace but throughout the community. The organizations participating will build a stronger sense of camaraderie among staff as they learn together, the teachers working for these organizations can then pass down their newfound language skills to students, and other adults may be encouraged to learn the language.

As a new project, the heads of Hoʻopoeko do not yet have much advice for others wishing to start a similar project for their Native language. However, they did say that aligning with where the community is (in terms of language learning), having conversations, and creating partnerships are vital. They also felt strongly that taking part in ANA’s free trainings for potential applicants helped them succeed in receiving funding.

Kuoha explained, as an organization they “Have big ideas and (are) not just Hawaii-centric. Our work can help Indian Country and others to make Native languages part of daily lives.” And it’s all starting in the workplace.