Is there a way to sound out whether to spell או or עו ? Or do they sound just alike, and we just have to memorize the spelling? Native English speaker, so I understand having to just memorize which letter to use when more than one makes the same sound! but I was just wondering.
In ancient Hebrew, the sound was different; in modern Hebrew, they are both silent (except for attached vowels, which are usually not marked anyway).
(Wikipedia says that ‘some older Mizrahi speakers’ distinguish the two, pronouncing ע with its ancient deep gutteral sound. This sound is also preserved in many dialects of Arabic in the cognate letter ﻉ.)
So, "I am eating a bird" is incorrect? I know עוף is more general in biblical Hebrew, but it isn't the same in modern, I guess?
You are right in a way, the word "עוף" speaking scientifically and in the broad aspect of the word does mean bird. However, if you talk about food then it only means chicken, and you will probably never say "אני אוכל ציפור" (unless you actually are eating a bird other than a chicken, which is quite weird here in Israel :P)
It is mostly used at restaurants and butchers - and then only the plural is used פרגיות. When you want a chicken shawarma or skewers you will ask for פרגיות (and will actually get weird looks if you ask for עוף).
You use one for food and one for the animal (like cow vs beef). תרנגולת is for the live animal and עוף is for food
Is there a way to distinguish "I am eating chicken" from "I am eating a chicken"? Would the latter use תַרְנְגוֹלֶת?
Since there is no indefinite article in Hebrew it goes either way, but I believe it would be a tiny bit more awkward in English to say "a chicken" unless it's alive.
What's the difference from I eat or I am eating and how can I fin it out if the Hebrew writing shows אני אוכל עוף
In Hebrew, and a lot of other languages, there is no difference between the "simple present" and the "present progressive" with "-ing". Context lets you know what is meant. In English, however, the simple present means you do something in general. i.e. "I eat meat" means I am a meat eater. "I am eating meat" means I am eating meat right now. "Do you eat breakfast?" "Yes, I generally eat breakfast everyday." "What are you doing right now?" "I'm eating breakfast right now."