The Hebrew Alphabet: How to Read and Pronounce Each Letter

One of the GPS curriculum requirements for converting to Judaism is “a basic ability to read Hebrew in a way that allows you to follow and participate in prayers.” The unfamiliar Hebrew alphabet, looks daunting to most potential converts to Judaism. This post will be the first in series in which I will teach you the basics of Hebrew reading.

Please note that the GPS only requires that you can READ the Hebrew words to be eligible for conversion to Judaism. You are not required to understand the words you are saying to have met the requirement. It goes without saying that this should only be temporary. The words of prayer express our relationship with Hashem. We should certainly make it a priority to learn the meaning of those words.

Hebrew Accents

Hebrew, like many other languages has many different accents. The differences between the accents stem from the dispersion of the Jews to communities around the world. Jews in each geographical region developed slightly different accents for Hebrew. There are four major accents that developed over the millenia: Sephardic, Yemenite, Ashkenazi and Chassidish.

As a matter of historical fact, it is interesting to note that none of these accents fully preserved the original Hebrew pronounciation. In the recent decades some Hebrew revivalists in Israel have attempted (with little success) to bring back the original Hebrew pronounciation. This article focuses on the common Hebrew accents – despite the fact that they aren’t perfectly correct.

Sephardic Accent

The Sephardim are the descendents of the historic Jewish communities of the Middle East and North Africa. These communities developed, perhaps influenced by the local languages, developed and accent which is distinct from the accent of the European Jewish communities.

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who revived Hebrew as a spoken language in the 20th century, viewed the Sephardic pronounciation as being historically more accurate than the other accents. His preference for the Sephardic pronouciation led to the adoption of the Sephardic accent (with some minor changes) for modern day Hebrew speakers. Thus, even non-Sephardic Jews will speak Hebrew in a Sephardic accent and the Sephardic accent became the most widely used accent despite the fact that Sephardim are only about 30% of Jews worldwide.

Other Accents

Interestingly, despite the fact that Modern Hebrew is spoken with a Sephardic accent, the other accents are still in use for prayer, Torah study and sometimes in Jewish music. Thus it is not uncommon in Israel to go to a synagogue where the prayers are conducted with an Ashkenazi accent but the announcements will be in a Sephardic accent.

Outside of Israel, the most dominant accent is the Ashkenazi accent. The Chassidish accent is a variant of the Ashkenazi accent but exclusively used within Chassidic communities. Finally, the Yemenite accent is the rarest of them all. It is actually almost unheard of outside of Israel and rare even within Israel.

Choosing an Accent

When converting to Judaism it is important to pick one accent for Hebrew and stick with it. Generally speaking, if you are converting in Israel it would be best to stick to the Sephardic accent. If converting outside of Israel, it is generally easier to go for the Ashkenazi accent because it is more widespread in the diaspora communities.

Pronouncing the Hebrew Alphabet

The letters of the Hebrew alphabet represent consonant sounds. There are no vowel letters in Hebrew. Vowel are symbolized by a set of dots (known as nikkud) around the letters. In this article, we will focus on the consonant letters. The vowels will be described in another article.

New Consonants

Hebrew has 22 consonant letters. Most of the Hebrew consonants have exact parrallels in English. Four Hebrew letters are consonants which don’t have parallels in the English Alphabet: Aleph, Ches, Chof and Ayin.

Each of these letters had a different pronounciation in the ancient Hebrew accent which is preserved in some of the rarer accents today. However, in the common modern day accents (Sephardic and Ashkenazi), the pronounciation of Aleph is identical to Ayin and the pronounciation of Ches is identical to Chof. So there are only two new consonant sounds to learn: Aleph/Ayin and Chof/Ches.


The academic name for the pronounciation of Aleph/Ayin is “the Glottal Stop“. Academics like to make it all complicated when it is all really simple: the Aleph/Ayin are basically a consonant that doesn’t have a pronounciation on its own. It is always attached to a vowel and signifies that the vowel is pronounced as is – without an accompanying consonant.

So think of Aleph/Ayin as this: _h. Depending on the vowel inserted, it will be pronounced Ah, Eh, Ih, Oh, Uh.


That was easy.

Now for the Ches/Chof pronounciation. This one is more tricky. English speakers never use this consonant, so there is some practising in order to try to get this right. Academics complicate and confuse by calling it a Voiceless Uvular Fricative (how do they come up with these names?).

So how is it pronounced?

I have made two recordings of the Ches/Chof. Try listening to them both. In the first recording, the Ches/Chof sound has been exaggerated so it can be heard clearly. In the second recording, the Ches/Chof sound is pronounced as usual so you can hear how it usually read.

Ch – Chah, Cheh, Chih, Choh, Chuh – Ach, Ech, Ich, Och, Uch,

Ch – Chah, Cheh, Chih, Choh, Chuh – Ach, Ech, Ich, Och, Uch,
Transliterating the Ches/Chof

Because the English language does not have a parralel consonant to Ches/Chof, there is no exact way of transliterating Hebrew words with these consonants into English. There are three ways that English speakers transliterate. The most common is Ch.

Although ‘Ch’ in English is generally pronounced as in chair. This will never be the pronounciation meant when a Hebrew word is transliterated into English. Hebrew does not have the Ch as in chair consonant – so ch will always represent a ches/chof.

Less commonly the Ches/Chof is transliterated as kh or ‘H. This is generally the spelling preferred in academics.

Hard and Soft Forms

Originally 6 Hebrew letters had hard and soft forms. Of these original six, the Sephardic pronounciation preserved 3 and the Ashkenazi accent preserved 4. These forms are differentiated by placing a dot in the middle of the letter for a hard form. The soft form has no dot. See the table below.

As discussed above, the Sephardic and Ashkenazi Hebrew accents differ from eachother. Most of these differences are in the pronounciation of the vowel sounds. The only difference in the consonants is this one. The Ashkenazim have a hard and soft Tav, whereas the Sephardim only have a hard Tav.

End Forms

Five of the 22 Hebrew letters have a slightly different symbol when placed at the end of the word. The pronounciation remains exactly the same as the regular form.

Table of Hebrew Letters

With all of that in mind. We are now ready to learn the Hebrew letters. The table below shows the 22 Hebrew letters with their Sephardic and Ashkenazic pronounciation. As mentioned above the pronounciations are identical except for the soft form of Tav (last row in the table).

One of the best ways to memorize the letters is to write them out using a pen or pencil. Drawing the letters creates familiarity with them which makes it much easier to differentiate between them and recall the consonants they represent.

Sephardic NameAshkenazi NameHebrew LetterSephardic PronounciationAshkenazic Pronounciation
AlephAlephא_h (insert vowel)_h (insert vowel)
BetBeisבּ‎(with a dot)‎BB
KafKofכּ (with a dot)‎KK
Kaf (final form)Kof (final form)ךּ (with a dot)‎KK
Chaf (final form)Chof (final form)ךChCh
Mem (final form)Mem (final form)םMM
Nun (final form)Nun (final form)ןNN
AyinAyinע_h (insert vowel)_h (insert vowel)
PayPayפּ (with a dot)‎‎PP
Pay (final form)Pay (final form)ףּ‎ (with a dot)‎‎PP
Fay (final form)Fay (final form)ףFF
TzadikTzadikצTz (as in Ritz)Tz (as in Ritz)
Tzadik (final form)Tzadik (final form)ץTz (as in Ritz)Tz (as in Ritz)
ShinShinשׁ (dot at right)‎ShSh
SinSinשׂ ‎(dot at left)SS
TavTovתּ‎ (with a dot)‎TT


Once you have reviewed and memorized these letters, you will be ready to start learning to read the Hebrew vowels. These will be described in another article with Hashem’s help.


B’Hatzlacha – Wishing you success!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *