101 Hebrew pronunciation for English-speakers
It doesn’t matter how great the authorities and how many the ignorant, it is still wrong to call our upcoming Torah Portion of the Week “Shoftim.”
There are two syllables in this word, Sho– and fe-teem.
Each Hebrew syllable generally consists of one vowel and one or more letters before and/or after the vowel. When two letters in a syllable precede the vowel, they are separated/connected by a semi-vowel, an audible Shewah. (The word Shewah itself has one syllable. The two prior letters are the Sh and the W, with an audible Shewah between them.)
NB: The Shǝwah is pronounced Ə or ǝ like in Duh! Not as the e of Quack.
Similarly, there is a Weekly Portion called Bǝha’alottǝchah, not: Bǝha’alotchah. Also: Bǝreisheet, not: Breisheet. Shǝmot, not: Shmot. Bǝshalach, not: Bslach. Tǝroomah, not: Troomah. Shǝmini, not Shmini.
Similarly, the Jewish Credo starts with the word Shǝmah, not: Shmah or: Shemmah. Also not: Shǝmaaa. It ends in a letter, though ignored by many.
Another letter too often ignored is in Yisra’eil. Not: Yisreil (or: Yizra’eil). Almost all the books say that the Alef and the Ayeen are not pronounced. That is untrue. They are pronounced by an interruption in airflow.
Also the h must not be skipped at the start of any syllable. People with the tradition of saying: Eloiheinoo, guard themselves not to say: Eloyeinoo.
In Hebrew, every letter, if pronounced, has the same sound, no matter what sounds follows or precedes it.
So, the c is always pronounced: S. Also when it’s close to a hard sound, like in: Chessed, not: Chezzed, and: Choos, not: Chooz.
Very important is to pronounce G^d’s main Names properly.
Those whose tradition has Addonai make sure not to say: Addoonai.
Those whose tradition has Addoinoi make sure not to say: Addeenoi.
In any case, don’t pronounce it: I-dunno or I-deny.
The most prominent molecule in the human body is called in Hebrew: Ma-yeem, not: Ma-ym. We live under the sky: Shama-yeem, not: Shama-ym. We left slavery from Mitzra-yeem, not: Mitzra-ym.
Whenever a word is all too familiar or frequent, chances are we’d say it on the automatic pilot. And that gives our Evil Inclination an opening to mess it up. That fits. Religion is not meant as a customary backdrop.
That’s the hardest when you know a text by heart (you think). If it reads: Vashalom, doesn’t say: Bashalom. It easily changes the meaning. (G^d isn’t at peace when He blesses us, but rather, He blesses us with peace.)
The Levites are called: Lǝveeyeem, not: Lǝvee’eem.
When singing Hebrew, let’s not violate it and mispronounce.
So, two separate words don’t get connected. Words are not split up. The proper syllable still gets the stress. So: ElloKEInoo, not: Eh LOH kei NOO.
This should cover 99% of the Hebrew.
For those with a musical ear: How do you prevent yourself from learning wrong pronunciations when they are all around you? One trick: Say (at least to yourself) the right pronunciation each time a word gets violated.)
The first priority is to do it right. Only when you took case of acting properly, the intention becomes the essence.
There are times to be sloppy. And there are times to be respectful.