Introduction to Learning The Hebrew Alphabet (Alefbet)
The Alefbet is named after its first two letters, ‘Aleph’ and ‘Bet’. See below for an illustration of the letters of the Hebrew Aphabet, in the correct order (read from right to left).
As you can see the Hebrew alphabet is very different to the English. Two major differences are the fact that Hebrew letters and sentences are written and read from right to left (not left to right as in English) and that there are no capital letters. Some letters also have a ‘final’ version when found at the end of a word, e.g. Kaf and Mem).
See below for an illustration of the final letters.
The Alefbet doesn’t have vowel letters in the same way that English does. People who are fluent in the language can actually recognize written words without vowels (they use context and familiarity to help them identify the right word). Most Hebrew text is therefore written without vowels, e.g. in books, newspapers, handwriting and so on.
However, in order to make reading easier there is a system otherwise known as ‘Nikkud’ (meaning points) that uses dots and dashes written above, below or inside the letters, that can alter the way the word sounds.
Below is the word Alefbet written with and without Nikkud.
Letters with a dot inside them change their sound. E.g. peh– the ‘peh’ letter can have the sound ‘peh’ or ‘feh’ depending on whether it has a dot inside it or not. E.g. see below - the word for flower (perach) has a dot, and the word for key (mafteach) does not.
Sounds that are not natively part of Hebrew are built using apostrophes, e.g. the sound Ch (as in chair) is made using tzadi(k) with apostrophe (‘). The English sounds for ‘J’ as in Jonathan is written with gimmel and an apostrophe (‘). The French sound for ‘J’, as in Jacques, is written with zayin and an apostrophe (‘). See below, to read the word ‘sandwich’.
Hebrew can be written in a few different styles. For example, Hebrew books are usually in ‘block’ print, sacred documents use a special writing style with "crowns” on many of the letters, and handwriting uses a different style altogether – a modern script style (see illustration below).
Writing Hebrew words using the English alphabet is known as transliteration. Transliteration is more of an art than a science, and there is no universal agreement on the correct way to transliterate words. E.g. there is a Jewish festival that can be spelled ‘Chanukah’, ‘Chanukkah’, ‘Hanuka’, and so on.
Generally, ‘Ch’ is used for Chet, ‘U’ is for the ‘oo’ sound, ‘H’ is used for Heh.
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