How to Learn the Hebrew Alphabet

Learning a new language invariably begins with learning a new alphabet. As I started to look at the Hebrew letters, I told myself a story to help me remember the sounds that they make. Hope you enjoy it:

Once upon a time, there was a boy called Ahlep, but everyone called him ‘Alf’ for short. He was as strong as an ox, but unfortunately he didn’t have a head, so he couldn’t speak. All he could do was use his strength to throw things.

Alep makes no sound.

One day, Alf threw a ball.

The ball flew away from Alf and landed on a boat. There it was, a ball on a boat.

Bet — a boat with a ball, says b (Notice the ‘mast’ is straight, not curly.)

But the boat was Very angry. It threw the ball away, leaving a vacuum in the place it had been.

Bet — a boat with a vacuum says v

The ball rolled away, to where a man was playing golf. His name was Gimel, and he enjoyed golf. Gimel hit the ball and it rolled away.

Gimel — plays golf and says g

The ball rolled to a door. A man called Dalet opened the door, and the ball rolled inside.

Dalet — a door, says d

Through the door was a very hot house. There was hay, all over the floor, and it was burning. . . soo hot. Luckily, there was a hole and the ball escaped through the hole, into cool air.

He — hot hay, says h

The cold air made the ball veer away  in a totally new direction – up he went, then veered to one side as the letter Waw tossed him.

Waw — veers away, says v

He tossed the ball above him: “OH!”

Waw with a ball on top is a vowel — says oh!

Then he tossed the ball in front, and bounced him off his tummy: “Oooh!”

Waw with a ball in front is a vowel — says oo

The ball rolled towards a zig-zag path. Down he rolled, zig-zag, zig-zag. . .

Zayin is a zigzag, says z

. . . all the way  to a fence with a gate. He couldn’t get through, he was caught.

“I c-c-can’t get through,” the little ball choked. There was no hole. He choked in dispair.

Het — sounds like chhh (as if you are choking).

To make matters worse, behind him was a serpent, with a long tail that reached up and curled behind him. It was a terrifying tail.

Tet — sounds like t

But all was not lost. From nowhere, a hand appeared and threw a little yod. The yod flew threw the air and hit the serpent, cutting off its tail. “Yyyeess!”

Yod — sounds like y

The  serpent was dead, and the dead body curled on the ground around the ball. It was such a shock, the ball began to cough.

Kap with a ball, sounds like k (Notice that it is curly, not like the straight mast of the boat.)

The cough grew worse, so the ball rolled away, choking as he went, leaving the corpse of the dead serpent behind him.

Kap with no ball, sounds like ch, the same as Het (another curly letter).

(Later, someone buried the corpse in the ground.)

Kap at the end, sounds like k

The little ball was still rather shakey, so the next letter let him sit on his lap.

Lamed — sounds like l

They rested for a while beside a mountain. The little ball sat at the foot of the mountain, listening to water running past.

Mem — sounds like m

Then the kind letter with a lap got out a map with corners, and they planned where the ball might go next.

Mem — at the end, sounds like m (Notice it has corners.)

The little ball pressed his nose against the map with corners (he hoped to see somewhere with fish, but there were none.)

Nun — sounds like n

He rolled up the map with corners and tried to nail it into the ground, but the top was too floppy.

Nun at the end, sounds like n (Notice the top is slightly more angled than the last kap.)

However, he soon found a stone to support it. The stone was round, like a circle and it made a good support.

Samek sounds like s

While he was rolling the circular support into place, the little ball realised he was being watched. The next letter sat, silently leaning against a tree, watching with eager eyes. This letter never said anything at all.

Ayin — is silent

But more worrying, behind the silent eyes of watching letter, was peeping the face of the next letter. It had a very large mouth, and someone had thrown money inside. The little ball wondered if he should pay the peering face.

Peh — sounds like p

He decided not to, and like a phantom the coin in the face faded away.

Peh without a coin — sounds like ph

The phantom folded smaller and smaller until he was simply a long thin shape with only a curl for his faded phantom head.

Peh at the end, sounds like p

When the phantom faded away, everyone realised it was Saturday. They were so happy, they waved their arms in the air. Someone took the coin that had fallen from the face of the phantom, and they bought pizzas. (The little ball wondered if they might find some  fish hooks and go fishing, but Saturdays were always fun, so he waved his arms like everyone else.)

The letter Sade sounds like ts or zz
He was still waving his arms at the end of the day, when he went to bed.

After all the excitement of Saturday, the little ball dreamed. He dreamt about a magic key that he kept  quietly until he needed it. The dreams chased round and round in the back of his head.

Qop sounds like k

He dreamed the magic key took him to see a rose, but the stem had curled over, and all the petals had fallen to the floor. It looked as if it was bowing its head in shame, poor rose.

Res sounds like r

The rose had lost its petals because it had been shaken by a silly octopus.

“We must go,” said the little ball, “and sort out the silly octopus.”

Sin (with the ball on the left) sounds like s

So,the magic key took the little ball out to sea. Suddenly, up from the waves came the arms of an octopus. It had seen the little ball and it reached, higher and higher until it had grabbed him. It tossed him with its left arm, making his teeth chatter.

“Let me go!” demanded the little ball, “this is a sin.”

The octopus tossed him to the right. “Sshh,” said the silly octopus, “the sun is shining and you’re all right now.”

Sin (with the ball on the right) sounds like sh

Then, with a giant wiggle of his arm, the silly octopus threw the ball towards the land.

After he was thrown, the ball spun through the air (making the sign of the cross) until he rested under a giant table. The table had one leg made from a tail, which stuck out at the side like a toe. The tablewith-a-toe reminded the little ball of the circular snake, and he decided he had had enough adventures for one night.

Taw sounds like t (Always check for the toe.)

“Take me home,” he said to the magic key. He left the tablewith-a-toe alone. That was tough.

The next thing he knew, he was safely back, in his own bed, and it was Sunday morning.

And that is the end, of the Hebrew Alphabet Story. Perhaps not the best story in the world, but sometimes a little silliness helps us to remember the sounds of the letters. Thanks for reading.

Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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If you enjoyed this, take a quick look at ‘Hebrew in a Nutshell.’ :

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