I know I'm bringing back an old thread, but I've a question on the Ashkenazi / Sephardic difference language-wise.
If I understand correctly, modern Hebrew is basically the Sephardic pronunciation- if this is what I should eventually study when learning the language, should I not go that route from the start and get the Sephardic versions of prayer books and such? I see on Artscroll where they offer both Ashkenazi and Sephardic versions of just about everything.
Or, is my choice of which "version" of Hebrew to learn really driven by my immediate community?
Only some of the "right-wing" Orthodox groups still primarily use the Ashkenazi pronunciation of Hebrew. That said, some of the older members of my congregation still use Ashkenazi pronunciation.
But I urge you to first put a serious effort into learning to read Hebrew rather than immediately using transliterations. It is admittedly hard for most adults---it was exceptionally hard for me. I even read Torah on a regular basis so I practice reading Hebrew every single day and yet I still can't sight read it fast enough to sing faster-paced Hebrew songs if I''m not familiar with the words (I don't read transliteration all that well either and have purposely mostly avoided relying on transliteration for many years now.) But some people have less trouble with it than I did, and you should see whether you might be able to learn to read Hebrew easily enough to never get into the habit that it hard to break of relying on transliteration. Besides that, I find that people invariably mispronounce words when they read transliteration.
EKS materials are good. And Debbie is right - learn 'Israeli' style Hebrew. Only quite old people and very orthodox still use Ashkenaz (Yiddish-ish) Hebrew. (Israeli Hebrew isn't really quite Sephardic, but kind of 'Sephardic lite'. True Sephardic Hebrew and variants thereof (like Yemeni) is very beautiful, but difficult for English speakers to pronounce exactly right.
Well, I wouldn't call people only a few years older than I am "quite old"---some of the members of my minyanim who still use Ashkenzi pronunciation are not yet 60. One thing that I have noticed about my sponsoring rabbi's Hebrew pronunciation is that when he davens (prays from the liturgy), teven though he uses Israeli pronunciation, it is more "American-sounding" to me whereas when he leyns (chants Torah with trope) he has a more Israeli accent. He is in his late-60's, so I'm guessing that what I actually hear in his davening is slight remnant of an Ashkenazi accent which is hard to shed after hearing the traditional liturgy all the time in Orthodox day school and shul growing up. He probably essentially knows it all by heart and has deep seated memories of the liturgy with Ashkenazi pronunciation whereas he doesn't know all of Torah by memory.
The Modern Orthodox synagogue that many of my neighbors attend and which I have attended for bar mitzvahs uses Israeli pronunciation. I have never attended a synagogue that uses the Ashkenazi pronunciation. I have only heard it from members of my minyan. When they lead davening, most of the rest of the congregation continues to use Israeli pronunciation.
I love the Yemenite accent because they tend to enunciate more than most Israelis and I can hear an ayin when they speak.