Germantown resident Lilach Cohen-Holden is fluent in English, Hebrew and Spanish. She grew up in Israel and lived briefly in Cairo, Egypt, as a child when her father took a job as a diplomat in the Israeli embassy there. The 34-year-old has lived in the United States since 2011 and works as a contract translator for two companies.
What languages were you exposed to growing up?
I grew up in Tel Aviv. Then we were away for a few years during elementary school, where I studied at the Cairo American College [a K-12 school]. So I studied English there. It was a good experience to understand the American culture, the language, and get exposed to other people from other nationalities. Then we moved back to Rishon LeZion and I had to work more on the Hebrew writing. We spoke it at home, but I wasn’t as up to speed with the language as English. Both my parents knew Arabic. My mom comes from an Iraqi household, so she spoke it. And my dad studied it for many years.
How difficult was it to learn multiple languages as a child?
I had a private teacher who tutored me [in English] with flash cards. I was 4 1/2 or 5, so that was something that was pretty quick. I wasn’t exposed to Arabic because we were more in the embassy row and everything was in English. We had security guards who had to walk with us. They checked underneath the car. There were more precautions. And outside of the house they asked us to speak English.
Why do translations?
I love languages. I think it’s constantly evolving. You have to continue to stay up to speed and read, write and be fluent. You have to constantly work on the language and the terminology. So I do Spanish to English and Hebrew to English translations. Unfortunately it’s not a full time job. I like it, but I like interacting with people [better] and being on my feet. And I do the document translations, so it’s a bit of a lonesome profession.
What kinds of documents?
Veterans affairs, medical claims. If it’s Spanish then it’s mainly from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and those areas. A lot of companies send either book translations or case-by-case projects and depending on your focus and your experience they test and see if you’re skilled. I’m doing it not to be a professional translator, but I’m doing it because I enjoy it.
Is it harder to learn a language as an adult?
It depends on your exposure. For instance, my husband was not that exposed to other languages and cultures. It was a lot harder for him to pick up Hebrew. It’s a different structure and grammar. I think English and Spanish are very similar, so it’s just a muscle. If you continue to practice and strengthen it, you will continue to get better. People sometimes don’t want to make mistakes. They don’t want to sound dumb. We’re creatures of habit and we’re kept comfortable in our comfort zones. I think if we break that and try new things and not be afraid we can do so much more.
Is there a new language you’d like to master?
My dad’s side of the family is Hungarian. They’re Holocaust survivors. I would love to learn Hungarian, but it’s such a hard language. It doesn’t resemble anything else. It’s not like the Latin languages where you can make sense of it. I know basic terms but not anything more than a few words.