Transliteration is when we use English letters to phonetically represent Hebrew words. The correct way to spell Hebrew words is with Hebrew letters, therefore you may discover spelling variations in the English transliteration, such as: Chanukah vs. Hanukkah.
Speaking of Chanukah, there is no easy way to convey the Hebrew guttural sound made in the throat. It sounds like the “ch” in the name of the composer, “Bach.” Notice how this is different from the “ch” in Charlie.
This guttural sound is made by two Hebrew letters: khaf (כ) and het (ח). The difference in sound is usually indistinguishable. Either one may be transliterated as ch, kh, h, or ḥ.
Presented here are the most common phonetic spellings, using the Sephardic pronunciation, which is used in Israel.
When the following letters appear, they usually sound as they do in the word which is given as an example:
- a as in father
- eh as in red
- ee as in feet
- i as in feet, sometimes as in big
- oo as in moon
- o as in boat
- u as in push
- ai as in buy
- ay as in say
- ei as in eight
- tz as in nuts
Adapted from Welcome to the Family: Opening Doors to the Jewish Experience, by Lois Sussman Shenker