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Lesson Transcript

Shira: All About Hebrew Lesson Number 4 – Hebrew Pronunciation Made Easy. Welcome back to HebrewPod101.com.
Amir: [שלום] (Sha'lom)
Shira: And welcome to this episode of All About Hebrew. In this lesson, we're going to share about Hebrew pronunciation.
Amir: Hebrew has some letters that may seem a bit scary the first time you pronounce them. But we'll help you get a good foundation that will set you on the right track.
Shira: From experience, one of the best ways to get Hebrew pronunciation down is to listen and repeat and then listen and repeat again.
Amir: Just copy the sounds a native speaker makes, like me.
Shira: Just like that annoying song you can't get out of your head. One day Hebrew will get stuck in your head and you'll be set for life.
Amir: So try to copy the sounds of the letters and the words I say today. That'll get you on the road to speaking Hebrew.
Shira: True. Learning about the Hebrew alphabet first will help make things clearer.
Amir: Let's briefly repeat the characteristics of the Hebrew alphabet.
Shira: There are 22 in total in the Hebrew alphabet, and five general vowel sounds that accompany these letters.
Amir: And when these vowels are read in words, they sound as follows. [אה] (Ah) as in tart, [אה] (Eh), as in bet, [אי] (I) as in ski, [או] (o) as in more, and [או] (u) and in loop.
Shira: There are many symbols for these five vowel sounds, but like we said in our All About lesson on the alphabet, you likely won't be using these vowel symbols for very long.
Amir: We won't go through the whole alphabet in this lesson, but if you really want to progress in your Hebrew pronunciation, you can listen to our pronunciation series online. Just go to HebrewPod101.com to download them.
Shira: Right. So there are a few important points about Hebrew pronunciation we need to tell you about.
Amir: The first thing we need to mention is where you put the accent in Hebrew words.
Shira: That's an easy one. Most Hebrew words have the stress on the last syllable. And if the stress is not on that last syllable, it's probably on the second to last syllable.
Amir: But be careful, depending on where the accent is, the meaning can change too.
Shira: For example, although the following two words are spelled exactly the same, if I put the stress on the last syllable and say [בוקר] (Bo'ker), I'm talking about a cowboy. If I move the stress to the syllable before and say [בוקר] (Bo'ker), I'm talking about morning.
Amir: Moving on to the second point, the letters of the alphabet.
Shira: The Hebrew alphabet is made up of only consonants and the whole structure of the language is centered on those consonants.
Amir: There are five consonants sounds in Hebrew that may be a little foreign to a non-native speaker.
Shira: Yes, let's hear them now.
Amir: Ok. The first letter we want to introduce is [צד״י] (Tsa'di). You make the sound by placing your tongue against your upper teeth and sending through a quick puff of air.
Shira: If you are familiar with the word [קיבוץ] (Ki'buts), you'll notice that the sound comes at the end of that word.
Amir: Moving on to the next letter. [חי״ת] (Khet). You articulate this letter by creating friction with your tongue near the back of your mouth. It's like when you say Bach.
Shira: This is one of the letters that many people are afraid of. Sometimes I get it stuck in the back of my throat and I just can't get it out.
Amir: That's why you need to practice, practice, practice. Just say it over and over until it flows freely from your mouth. The next letter is [רי״שׁ] (Resh). This is a letter articulated in the same place, but like a roller R.
Shira: This is a tough letter for non-native speakers to pronounce.
Amir: It surely is. I can usually tell a foreign speaker by the [רי״ש] (Resh).
Shira: Oh, no. Is it that bad?
Amir: No, no. you're ok. There's no need to worry. There are so many immigrants in Israel now that you can feel fine speaking Hebrew no matter how you pronounce the letters.
Shira: That's true. I've always felt quite confident speaking Hebrew in Israel, because I know that Israelis are very patient with non-native speakers.
Amir: Ok. Let's move on to the letter that even Israelis can't agree on how to pronounce. [עי״ן] (A'in).
Shira: Yeah, I've never succeeded with that one.
Amir: You and most of the population. The correct way to pronounce it is way back in your throat. Many [ספרדי] (Sfara'di) Jews use it correctly when they speak, but most Israelis just articulate it like an [אל״ף] (A'lef).
Shira: Notice that we didn't give you a sound to go along with this letter. We only told you how to say it. That's because [עי״ן] (A'in) is one of the five letters that carry the sound of the following vowel.
Amir: Today, two of these letters are sometimes treated as vowels. These letters are [יו״ד] (Yod), which is sometimes used like the vowel E, and [ו״ו] (Vav) which is sometimes used like the letter O.
Shira: These are not the only letters that change sounds from time to time. Six other letters called the [בגד כפ״ת] (Beged kefet) letters traditionally change sound depending on where they are placed in the word.
Amir: Only three of those letters still change sound today. They are [בי״ת] (Be'it), which carries both the [ב] (b) sound and the [ו] (v) sound, [כ״ף] (Khaf), which carries the [כ] (k) sound and the [כ] (kh) sound, and finally [פ״ה] (Pe), which carries the [פ] (p) sound and the [פ] (f) sound.
Shira: Amir, while we're talking about letters that change sounds, maybe we should mention [שין] (Shin) and [שין] (Sin).
Amir: Well, [שין] (Shin) and [שין] (Sin) are actually two different letters represented by the same symbol. A dot of the top right or left of the symbol distinguishes the one from the other.
Shira: But we shouldn't stop there. On top of [שין] (Shin) and [שין] (Sin), there are a few sounds that don't exist in Hebrew that are represented by letters in the Hebrew alphabet with a slight alteration.
Amir: You mean sounds such as [ז'ה] (Zha), as in pleasure? [צ'ה] (Cha) as in church? [ג'ה] (Ja) as in job? And [ת'ה] (Tha) as in thanks.
Shira: Those were the ones I was thinking of. So what do Israelis do when they want to write foreign words with these sounds?
Amir: Well, they simply take letters close to these sounds, and they adapt them by adding an apostrophe. So the sound [ז'ה] (Zha) is represented by [זי'ן] (Za'in) with an apostrophe. [צ'ה] (Cha) is represented by [צד״י] (Tsa'di) with an apostrophe. [ג'ה] (Ja) is represented by [גימ"ל] (Gi'mel) with an apostrophe. And [ת'ה] (Tha) is represented by [ת״ף] (Tav) with an apostrophe.
Shira: Now remember, one of the best ways to get Hebrew pronunciation down is to listen and repeat, and listen and repeat again, which is something you can do at HebrewPod101.com. You have audio files of native speakers and even a voice recorder for you to see how you sound in comparison.
Amir: So we look forward to seeing you at the website.