Talking the language to death

Observing Hawaiian language classes

  • Diane Johnson
    University of Waikato, New Zealand
  • Keao NeSmith
    University of Hawai'I at Manoa


In the late 19th century, when the United States began its illegal occupation of the Hawaiian Kingdom, the teaching of languages was dominated by an approach— grammar translation—that has been associated with élitism and cultural dominance. Since then, there have been major developments in language teaching. Among these has been the development of “communicative language teaching” (CLT), an approach intended to encourage learners to use the target language for genuine communication in culturally appropriate contexts. However, analysis of a sample of Hawaiian language lessons taught in the second decade of the 20th century revealed little evidence of any of these. Instead, an approach reminiscent of aspects of grammar translation was very much in evidence, with teacher talk, often in English, occupying over half of the lesson in each case, and with considerable evidence of confusion, frustration and minimal participation on the part of many of the students. What this suggests is the need for a comprehensive review of all those factors that have an impact on the teaching and learning of Hawaiian, including, in particular, curriculum design and teacher ISSN 1837-0144 © International Journal of Critical Indigenous Studies 2 training. It is no longer possible to accept that while language teachers talk, often in the language/s of colonisers, language death continues to stalk those indigenous languages that have so far failed to succumb.

Published: 2017-01-01
Pages:1 to 20
Section: Articles
Fetching Scopus statistics
Fetching Web of Science statistics
How to Cite
Johnson, D., & NeSmith, K. (2017). Talking the language to death: Observing Hawaiian language classes. International Journal of Critical Indigenous Studies, 10(1), 1-20.