There are some different letters that seem to have the same sound! Help!

A student asked me today about discerning between the letters כ and ק, ת and ט, and ע and א.  Here is my response to him!

Here’s the “problem:”

Forgive my old school style of expression from American baseball:  You have 2 strikes against you.  1.  You didn’t learn Hebrew as a child and 2. You probably don’t hear it spoken now. Having said that you’ve asked an important question that I want to respond to, because I don’t think that I address it “later on” in the series of classes that you’re presently viewing.

Firstly, You’ve pointed out letters that sound the same.  You’re right!  In more ancient Hebrew none of us, myself included, would have this problem because once upon a time these letters really had different sounds.  According to the Jewish tradition- and I’m not an academician- I call to your attention that for thousands of years the Jewish people primarily heard and spoke Hebrew….and the majority of people didn’t read it.  The consequence of that is that it is incredibly important that the listener hear the words correctly.  It follows that this magnifies the necessity that indeed the letters should all be recognizable by different sounds.

Here’s how things “look” today:

Today here in Israel we are by far the biggest daily users of Hebrew, and since our return to the land over the past hundred years, sadly we have to a large extent lost distinctions between the sounds of letters.  That occurs also in those letters that indeed “ought” to have different sounds.  Remember that most of us here today spent almost 2000 (!) years in exile outside of the land of Israel.

Now a days we do a lot of reading too, and that component really helps us learn and understand which letter is being used so to speak. (no pun intended)

At the end of the day the common man/woman understands what your saying or writing despite the ambiguity in sound of these letters.  I’m sure you’ll succeed too!

So to conclude, thanks for pointing out to me your need to understand this better.  I hope I helped.

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