HAWAIIAN LANGUAGE GOES FAR

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By Bob Krauss

HONOLULU, Hawai‘i (January 12, 2001 – The Honolulu Advertiser)---Ka‘u Mealani Walk, a Hawaiian language immersion teacher in Hau‘ula, writes her checks in Hawaiian. The United Parcel Service refused to cash one the other day.

"I’ve been writing my checks in Hawaiian for 10 years and this is only the second time somebody has refused to cash one," Walk said.

"A few years ago, a clerk at Jeans Warehouse told me it was company policy to only cash checks in English. I called the manager. She was very nice. Later, she called back and said they had changed their policy. I hope UPS will, also."

Walk’s husband, a Hawaiian language teacher at Brigham Young University-Hawai‘i, also writes his checks in Hawaiian. They’re being accepted all over the state.

"We live in Lā‘ie,” said Walk. “Often, when I go to the supermarket, I strike up a conversation in Hawaiian with someone. Years ago, people were afraid to. Now they want to join in.”

Walk said her husband wanted to enter their children in the first language immersion program. She was against it.

"I felt that my children needed to learn English first to get ahead. I spoke to them in English. It was my husband who spoke Hawaiian to them. He learned from his kupuna (elders)."

Because he insisted, they entered their two oldest children in the first language pre-school in the 1980s. The Walks drove more than two hours every weekday to and from classes.

Of the classes, Walk said: "I didn’t think much about it until I heard my children talking to their teacher in what should have been my language. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I should be speaking to my children in Hawaiian."

Walk said she knew only a few words and had taken basic Hawaiian. She went back to the University of Hawai‘i to study the language.

She said that speaking Hawaiian exclusively in school has been no handicap for the children in learning English: "They passed the entrance exams in English for Kamehameha Schools with no trouble. At home they speak Hawaiian. With playmates, they chatter in English.

"Learning to think in another language teaches children problem-solving. In Europe, you have second-graders who know three or four languages," she said.

"Some people learn Hawaiian just to be smart; others, to find out who they are.

"There are now 18 language immersion sites in the state with about 1,600 students. Each student has parents and uncles and aunties who are becoming familiar with the language through the children.

"…Every year, the interest grows but the funding doesn’t."

Walk said Hawaiian is useful in researching genealogy. There’s a growing demand for interpreters. For her, it opened up a new world.

For additional reports from The Honolulu Advertiser, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Honolulu Advertiser.

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