Parlez-you español? 10 Multilingual Celebrities to Inspire

by Maja Bilbija

Many people think that celebrities are just people who have had the incredible luck to become famous, without ever having been to university or even having a real qualification, not to mention not being exceptionally intelligent.

But what only a few people know is that many well-paid Hollywood stars, singers or sportsman speak several languages fluently. Some of them are "just" bilingual, but many of them speak three, four or even eight languages, i.e. "multilingual". Don't believe it? Well, here are just a few examples of the multitalented actors who aren't just phenomenal in movies, on stage or on the pitch, but who would probably be quite successful as translators or interpreters.

1. Salma Hayek

The Mexican actress, producer and director is known for her movies Wild Wild West and Traffic. She has experienced worldwide success during her time as executive producer for the TV series Ugly Betty. But her language skills are a hidden talent – next to English and Spanish, she also speaks Arabic (her grandfather emigrated from Lebanon) and Portuguese. She studied International Relations at the Universidad Iberoamericana in City.

2. Milla Jovovich

The actress and model Milla Jovovich, who is known for her movies Resident Evil and The Fifth Element, and currently the face and spokesmodel of L'Oréal, was raised bilingual and speaks two more languages as well. Apart from speaking Russian and Serbian (her mother is Ukrainian and her father Montenegrin) she is fluent in English and French, too.

3. Novak Djokovic

Although not a typical celebrity but rather a successful sportsman, the Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic should not be missed off this list. The Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open winner and World No.1 speaks, as well as his Serbian mother tongue, English, German, Italian and French. Djokovic, who lived for four years in Germany and lives in Monaco, said about himself that he is a fan of languages – which is obvious!

4. Lucy Liu

She was one of Charlie's Angel and Princess Pei Pei in Jackie Chan's western movie Shanghai Noon, but this actress with Chinese roots is also a language pro. Her mother tongue is Mandarin and she learned English at the age of 5, but over the years she also became fluent in Italian and Spanish, she even speaks Japanese. She also has a BA in Asian languages and cultures.

5. Viggo Mortensen

Many of you will know him because of his impressive acting skills as Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings or as Sigmund Freud in A Dangerous Method, but only a few will know that Mortensen, who holds dual American-Danish citizenship, speaks 5 languages (English, Danish, Spanish, French and Italian) and understands 3 others (Norwegian, Swedish and Catalan). He grew up bilingual, speaking English with his American mother and Danish with his father. He also holds a degree in Spanish Studies and Politics. After his studies, he lived in Spain, England and Denmark. If you watch his movie Alatriste, for which he was nominated for the Goya Award for Best Actor, you can make your own mind up about his Spanish skills.

6. Audrey Hepburn

One of the greatest actresses of all time, who wasn't just a style icon but also known for her charitable activities (she was a Goodwill Ambassador of UNICEF), Audrey Hepburn remains unforgotten. Although she was born in Belgium, she had British citizenship because of her father. Her mother's family lived in the Netherlands; so she often travelled between those three countries and spoke English, French and Dutch fluently. She was also fluent in Italian and Spanish, partly because she lived for many years in Switzerland.

7. Shakira

She is not just a very successful singer from Colombia, with songs including Whenever, wherever and Waka Waka, but also fluent in four languages. Shakira who is of Spanish, Lebanese and Italian descent, is fluent in Spanish, English, Portuguese and Arabic, but has also some knowledge of Italian, French and Catalan. Even her name has a meaning; it's Arabic and means ‘Grateful'.

8. Natalie Portman

Known for her performance in Black Swan and awarded with an Academy Award for Best Actress, only few people are aware of the fact that Natalie Portman speaks 6 languages. She is fluent in English, Hebrew, French, Japanese, German and Arabic. She also graduated from Harvard with a degree in psychology, took graduate courses at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and was a guest lecturer at Columbia University. She said once to the New York Post: "I don't care if [college] ruins my career. I'd rather be smart than a movie star."

9. Roy Hodgson

The football manager of the English national team who also managed Liverpool, Inter Milan, as well as the Swiss, Finnish and United Arab Emirates national teams didn't just practise football skills with these respective teams, but apparently his language skills as well. In addition to English, he speaks fluent Norwegian, Swedish, German and Italian, but also Danish, French and Finnish. Only a few players would be able to say that they don't understand his instructions on the pitch!

10. Sir Christoper Lee

The English actor Sir Christopher Lee, who was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire "for services to Drama" and who was knighted by Prince Charles, is one of the most outstanding actors of all time. Movies like Dracula, The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars are among many others the most famous ones. But besides this immense career, he speaks eight (8!) languages: English, Italian, French, Spanish, German, Swedish, Russian and Greek! That's why he dubs his own voice in some movies.

Learning a language is a wonderful gift. It opens the mind and it opens up opportunities in your career. Never underestimate the benefits you will gain from acquiring this skill.

About the writer

Maja Bilbija is a professional translator with Kwintessential.

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