Hawaiian was an oral not written language. After Western contact and attempts to write about Hawaiʻi, early writers tried to spell words based on the sound of the words they heard. People heard words differently, so it was not uncommon for words to be spelled differently, depending on the writer. A new era opened in the Islands with the arrival of the first American Protestant on April 4, 1820. The American Protestant missionaries were preachers and teachers.
In addition to preaching the gospel, one of the first things the missionaries did was begin to learn the Hawaiian language and create an alphabet for a written format of the language. On July 14, 1826, the missionaries established a 12-letter alphabet, they established schools associated with their missions across the Islands and by 1832, the literacy rate of Hawaiians (at the time was 78 percent) had surpassed that of Americans on the continent.