Can you read Hebrish?

When I first started to learn Hebrew, the prospect of reading without vowels was daunting. (Most printed Hebrew contains consonants without the vowel notations-- it's like reading Englsh lk ths. Hrd, rght?) Except that it isn't like reading English like that.

When you become comfortable in Hebrew, you develop a sense for its patterns. If a word is past tense or present tense, for example, you know what its vowels will sound like. Dipthongs or consonant clusters (which pepper English) are rare in Hebrew, so between almost every consonant there will be one vowel-- which your brain starts to automatically insert.

We even insert vowels into acronyms. The acronym for Torah, Neviim, Ctuvim-- the complete Hebrew Bible (pentateuch, prophets, writings)-- is not "T.N.C" but "TaNaCh." Tzava HaHagana LeYisrael -- the Army for the Defense of Israel-- becomes TzaHaL. Chutz LaAretz-- Outside the Land (i.e., anywhere not Israel)-- is Chul. You also know that what will be a hard "p" at the start of a word will be a soft "f" at a word's end. Hebrew makes sense. Vowels appear naturally, where they fit.

This breaks down when you run into Hebrish (Engrew, if you prefer)... English words that have been adopted into Hebrew or simply written in Hebrew characters. Whenever I struggle to read a word, I usually realize in the end that it's English. How good are you at reading Hebrish? The good news is that you don't even need Hebrew skills to try to read these, for the most part-- you just need to learn the aleph-bet!

  1. (Hint-- a צ with an apostrophe after it makes a "ch" sound)
  2. (Hint-- a ג followed by an apostrophe makes a "j" sound.)
  3. (The first word is Hebrew-- "hachi," meaning "the most. The second word is based on an English word.)
  4. (This is a tricky one, but I had to fit my Israeli Amazing Race obsession in somewhere. The Hebrish word is highlighted, and if you think about how reality shows work you can probably figure it out.)
  5. (The first word is a name. The Hebrew is second.)

  6. (Related to #11!)
Can you figure these out? Post your guesses in the comments! I'll post the answers soon!


  1. Sooo, let me see:
    1. cat scratcher
    2.instalator - plumber
    3. Salon Abraham (funny!)
    4. Extra large
    5. double lotto
    6. American Pancake
    7.the sexiest
    8.this was tricky - like "the ones that talk back"?
    9. Hava International
    10. Big Ben
    12. Horoscop
    13. double lotto (again?)
    14. 10 classical

    I always like to try to guess how to read the words that are borrowed in Hebrew from other languages...
    BTW, my daughter's name is Maya, too

  2. Oops-- I'll take out the doubled double lotto. :) Excellent job!!

  3. There's also an honorable mention that isn't on the list because we didn't have a picture of it: A mall by our house called גרנד קניון (you can guess that one as extra credit...)

  4. lol, I have no clue yet. I do have a sort of related question for you Maya. I am learning Hebrew with Rosetta Stone, that way when I make Aliyah in a little over a year I can speak Hebrew, Yesterday I noticed that I have a choice between with Vowels and without Vowels. From someone in Israel which one do you think I should use?

  5. Ok... I'll make a stab at these :-). Haha, I've always found these really tricky....
    1. welll, uh... 'cat' something or other??? Cat Screecher??? AH!!! WAIT!!! It's 'cat scratcher', like something a cat SHOULD scratch, instead of its owner's good sofa :-)
    2. insulter??? (someone who gives an insult???)
    3. salon ____ (their work??)
    4. Extra Large :-)... Read More
    5. ______ lotto (maybe 'with devil'????)
    6. American pancake????
    7. The most successful????
    8. no clue at all... but then, I don't watch these types of shows :-).
    9. Chavah International
    10. Big Ben :-)
    11. Astrology
    12. Horoscope
    13. 10 classics???

    This was great fun!!! More! More! :-).

    Love, Ima in America :-)

  6. Wait-- first one to post the extra credit one-- GRAND CANYON :-)... a little 'pun'... cute :-)

    Haha, these were delightful :-).

    Love, Ima in America

  7. Yonatan, I'd suggest that you try reading without vowels... but it also depends on your current comfort level. At a certain point you'll find that reading WITH vowels slows you down, and you'll prefer to read without vowels. On the other hand, if reading without vowels is currently very hard for you, you should probably stick with vowels for a while. I personally suggest that you get a subscription to Yanshuf (www.hebrewtoday.com)... it's a fun little weekly newspaper that has a good selection of voweled and non-voweled Hebrew. I found it really helped me improve my reading before aliyah!

  8. Actually, Yonatan, go for the 'beginner' version of 'Yanshuf'--BEREISHIT... it's excellent! And *definitely* get the version with CD's-- well worth the extra price. It feels rather like you're reading a 3rd grade 'Weekly Reader' (I may be showing my age here!), but it's one of the best things I've done to improve my understanding and vocabulary.

    I also VERY highly recommend the amazing www.learnhebrewpod.com website-- downloadable podcast Hebrew lessons, plus lots online there at their site. VERY helpful, moves nice and slowly, delightful Israeli teachers. And very reasonable subscription fees (and lots to do free, too....).


  9. Maya, Love it! Can't believe I only discovered your blog now. I love Hebrish, the best language out there and cracks me up every time. I took a graphic/multimedia design course and every other word was in Hebrish. I wrote down a few: http://www.thebigfelafel.com/hebrish-is-one-funny-language/
    Totally linking to your blog from The Big Felafel!!

  10. I love the name "Grand Canyon"! I take it that's a shopping mall? I could read all but #8, but considering I haven't had a TV in 8 years, I hope I can be forgiven the cluelessness!

  11. Thank you for the post, Maya. It's engaging, entertaining, you must be a teacher. I am studying for the aliyah and at this point switching from Bereshit to Yanshuv. This reading has really opened my vocabulary. Now I feel a need for a good electronic two-way English-Hebrew pocket dictionary. What do you know about them? Can you recommend one? Isn't it easer to punch up a new word rather than use a paper or online dictionary? Are there simple one way Hebrew-English dictionaries as well? Just for look-up translation. They must be cheap, don't they?

    Calgary, Canada

  12. I LOVE your blog!! I have been holding onto this one forever and now found a kindred spirit to share this one with..
    It was at the airport, upon entering the security gate..now this is reversed since I can't type in Hebrew font, so you'll just have to image what this looks like in Hebrew letters "SEMITRAILERIM" (using the English, followed by "IM" to indicate plural.)OUCH!!!


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