The Sounds of Silence- Ulpan Online

Sounds of Silence

In the Hebrew Alphabet there are 3 letters that denote 3 consonants that sound almost the same in Modern Hebrew: א, ה, ע. On top of the fact that these 3 consonants produce almost the same sound, we can add that this sound is almost "empty". We cannot really describe it with the features we describe other consonants. It is as if the speaker produces merely a vowel, without a consonant to precede it. The fact that Hebrew orthography consists of 3 different letters signs suggests that once these consonants differed one from the other. But today many native speakers of Modern Hebrew cannot identify the differences between them yet alone produce them they way they were once produced. It is mainly a matter of ethnic background: speakers whose ancestors spoke languages in which the 3 consonants exist (such as Arabic dialects and Ethiopian languages) are more likely to be able to hear and produce them. And what about the rest of the Modern Hebrew speakers? How they manage their way in a language that consists of – as far as they are concerned – 3 almost identical consonants? The first solution is to be aware of the issue. For example, with people's names. 2 popular names for boys in Israel are אמיר (" tree top") and עמיר ("a sheaf"). 2 popular names for girls are אירית and עירית ("asphodel"). When asking for someone's name and realizing it is one of the above mentioned, it is always best to ask "How do you spell your name?". Another solution is to combine knowledge of spelling with context. Out of context the following words might seem to be understood exactly the same: אד ("a steam"), הד ("an echo"), עד ("a witness"). In context there is almost no room for confusion. Another example: אבה ("he wanted"), הבה ("let's"), עבה ("thick", singular feminine). It also helps when we remember that different letters have different functions. For example, the letter ה denotes not just a consonant but also the definite article. So in an environment where we expect a noun or an adjective to open with the definite article, we cannot mix up different words, such as: אננס ("a pineapple") and הננס ("the dwarf"). When it comes to listening comprehension, it is best to try to understand the text in its context. Do not try to guess the meaning of a word according to "how familiar is sounds", but according to "how it makes sense in a given context".