Learning the Hebrew Alef-Bet – Part 1 Posted by Sean Young on Mar 9, 2012 in Uncategorized
Today’s Date: 15th of Adar, 5772 – ט״ו באדר תשע״ב
Celebrating: Shushan Purim – שושן פורים
Candle Lighting: 5:03p – הדלקת נרות
The Hebrew alphabet is used in the writing of the Hebrew language, as well as Yiddish, Ladino, and Judeo-Arabic. The Hebrew alphabet consists of 22 letters and is written from right to left.
If you’ve read the earlier posts of this blog, you have seen me mixing in Hebrew words with the English text, along with its pronunciation. That’s something I’ll be doing with future blogs to help you learn new words and phrases. So I’m going to post a series to help you learn to read Hebrew so you can follow along. I’ve done everything I could to make it easy to follow – especially for those who know nothing about reading Hebrew. If you have any questions or comments, please do so. I’ll be glad to answer them.
By the way, you will see that the names of some letters have two pronunciations indicated. The first letter’s name is the standard Hebrew pronunciation and the second is the letter’s name as used in Israel. For example, the letter ה is pronounced like the “he-” in the word “help” in standard Hebrew. But in Israel, the name is pronounced like the English word “hay”. But the sound it makes (the ‘h’ sound) is the same. I just give you the differences so in case you hear them you’ll know what letter is being spoken about. I will also be using both standard and Israeli Hebrew pronunciaitons for words when necessary so yo can also get used to the differences.
Today we’re going to start with six consonants and six vowels.
א – (alef – אָלֶף)
This is first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Aleph has no actual sound of its own, but usually has a vowel associated with it.
ה – (he / hey – הֵא)
The fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is called “hey” (pronounced like the word “hey”) and has the sound of ‘h’ as in hay. I will use the letter ‘h’ to represent it. When hey appears at the end of a word, it is normally silent.
אָ – The small “T” shape you see under alef is actually a vowel. It is written under the consonant that it belongs to and is pronounced like the ‘a’ in father. When a word begins with a vowel sound, the letter alef is used as a dummy consonant to carry it. Here’s an example –אָה – this word is pronounced as ah when the doctor tells you to open your mouth and say “aaaaaahhhhhhh”. It can also be used as to say you understand what the person is saying “I see…”
י – (yod / yud – יוֹד)
The tenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is called ‘yod’ (rhymes with ‘mode’) and has the sound of ‘y’ as in yes. Yod can also sometimes function as a consonantal vowel in Hebrew, meaning it can sound like the letter ‘y’ or the letter ‘i’ depending on where it’s positioned in the word. You’ll be able to tell from the word’s transcriptions in the posts.
Read this word: יָה (ya) – oh dear, oh no, gee, gosh, wow!
Let’s learn a new vowel. This one looks like a little dash mark under the consonant: אַ This is also pronounced like the ‘a’ in father. Try it with the consonants you’ve already learned:
הַ אָ יַ הָ יָ אַ (reading from right to left they are ‘ha’, ‘a’, ‘ya’, ‘ha’, ‘ya’, ‘a’)
נ – (nun – נוּן)
The fourteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is called ‘nun’ (pronounced ‘noon’) and has the sound of ‘n’ as in ‘now.’ By now you should be able to read this man’s name in Hebrew יַנַאי (yan-nai – remember, the א is silent here.)
מ – (mem – מֵם)
The thirteenth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is called mem and has the sound of ‘m’ as in moon.
תּ / ת – (tahv / tahf – תָו)
The last letter of the Hebrew alphabet is “tav,” which has the sound of ‘t’ as in tall. Note: The letter tav can also take a da-gesh (the dot in the middle of a letter – תּ). In modern Hebrew, tav with or without the da-gesh is pronounced simply as ‘t.’
Here’s a new word for you: מַתָנָה (ma-ta-na; gift, present) – remember, the letter ה is normally silent at the end of a word.
Here’s one more vowel that also sounds like the ‘a’ in father: אֲ a dash with two vertically aligned dots.
Here’s a summary of the letters we have learned in this post, along with the transcription I’ll be using:
The three vowels (אָ אַ אֲ) will be transcribed as ‘a’ and pronounced as the ‘a’ in father.
Try reading these words (remember, Hebrew is read and written from right to left):
אֲני – I, me
אַת – you (to a woman)
אַתָה – you (to a man)
הַיי – hi!
מַה – what?
Our last two vowels look like this (using alef as a carrier):אִ אִי . One is a single dot under the consonant, and the other is a combination single dot with the letter י (yod). These are pronounced like the “ee” in seen and feet. Let’s practice with a few more words.
אִימָא (ee-ma) – mother
הִיא (hee) – she
מִי (mee) – who?
How are you doing so far? There’s one more thing you will need to know about the Hebrew alphabet.
Five Hebrew letters are look a bit different when they appear at the end of a word (these forms are sometimes called sofit (so-feet) forms). Fortunately, the five letters sound the same as their own counterparts, so you do not have to learn any new sounds (or transcriptions); however, you will need to be able to recognize these letters when you see them. For now we’ll look at two of them.
ם – (mem sofit) this is what the letter mem (מ) looks like at the end of a word:
נִים (neem – string, cord)
מָם (mam – another name for the letter ‘mem’)
תִם (teem – to finish)
הִים (heem – ocean, sea)
ן – (nun sofit) this is what the letter nun (נ) looks like at the end of a word:
תַן (tan – jackal)
מִין (meen – kind, a sort of)
מַן (man – of, from)
אַן (an – where to?)
Think this might be enough for today? Yes, I agree. Please look it over again when you have the time, or print this out so you can learn it offline. Give me a couple of days and in the next post I’ll be giving you six more letters and six more vowels. לְהִתְרָאוֹת (le-heet-ra-ot – see you soon)!
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