We caught up with Michael Cohen recently to find out more about his reasons for studying Spanish at Speak! We got to know him and his talents so well that we even invited him to join our faculty, as a Hebrew tutor!
Michael has a fascinating Spanish story. He’s the first student we’ve had the pleasure of teaching with this particular, unique, historically and personally relevant motivation.
We know you moved to town recently, what brings you to Charlottesville? My wife Anna is an Orthopaedic Surgeon and is training at UVA for a fellowship in total joint reconstruction.
Tell us a little about yourself I’m a second generation rabbi from Chicago who met his wife in London! After rabbinical school I worked at a congregation in Wilmette, Illinois where I ran the Hebrew School and also did pastoral work. In addition to learning Spanish, I enjoy making art and playing squash.
What motivated you to begin learning Spanish at Speak!? In 2015 the Spanish government passed a law saying that Jews who could show that their ancestors were expelled from Spain in 1492 were eligible for citizenship! My mother is a Sephardi Jew and our family had lived in Turkey for about 500 years after the expulsion. With the law set to expire in 2018, I decided that my time in Charlottesville would be a unique opportunity to pursue Spanish citizenship for me, and more importantly, for my children. Among the requirements to become a Spanish citizen is to pass an A2 level examination in Spanish at the Cervantes Institute. Speak! has been my go-to destination for preparing me for the exam.
What do you enjoy about your classes with Kimber at Speak!?I love the festive atmosphere and the personal attention we all get. I find that speaking in a new language is considerably harder than understanding, and with such small class sizes we all get a chance to practice and improve.
What are your Spanish goals? Aside from learning enough Spanish to pass the A2 level exam, I’d love to learn enough to get an insight into Spanish culture and be able to get around as a visitor in Spain.
Do you speak any other languages? I am fluent in Hebrew and know very rudimentary German.
Travel! Have you traveled or lived in any Spanish speaking countries. Any future trips planned? My wife and I spent our honeymoon in Argentina, which was fabulous. Part of the application process is a trip to Spain, which I am very excited about. My wife and I talk about maybe getting a vacation house on the coast somewhere if we ever get the funds together. We have some friends who live in Europe and it would be a great way to get together on a more regular basis.
If you could become fluent overnight in any other language (i.e. one you’re not fluent in or studying) which would you pick, and why? I’d love to know Arabic. There are so many cognates between Hebrew and Arabic that it would be fun to have a better understanding of “pan-semitic.” It would also open a lot of cultural doors. German is a close second.
Current favorite Spanish word or expression? Frigorífico! There is a sense of wonder embedded in the word that I think captures the miraculous nature of the electronic appliances we take for granted. Not just a fridge, a frigorífico!