Ever looked at your famous heroes or favourite celebrities with a curious fascination, and wondered just how they made it to where they are today? Maybe you’ve asked: “what do they know that I don’t?”. Well, we might have the answer!
You may never have made the connection, but one thing many famous people have in common is multilingualism. Whether they’ve grown up abroad or picked up the lingo from all those international premieres, there’s no doubt that Tinseltown is packed with people who can speak foreign languages.
Okay, so being multilingual won’t automatically turn you into a celebrity, but it will make you more interesting to talk to, and that’s a big first step, right? But if you’ve always known you’re destined to be a superstar, and your lack of languages is the only thing standing in your way (obviously), the good news is you can get to fixing that straightaway. The great news is that Memrise is an awesome choice for your learning journey, and there are so many other reasons why becoming multilingual can make life amazing. Just remember us when you’re famous, okay? (*Disclaimer: we take absolutely no responsibility if you don’t hit the big time…)
To inspire you even more, here’s a round-up of our favourite multilingual celebs:
1. Tom Hiddleston
His villain-turned-Avenger-turned-villain (frankly, we can’t keep up) character Loki may be the God of Mischief, but Tom Hiddleston himself may in fact be the God of Multilingualism. On top of his native English, he can speak French, Spanish and Greek. And that’s far from the end of the list, because this clever clogs is also learning Russian, Latin, German, Korean, and Mandarin Chinese. Consider our minds blown.
Catch him speaking Greek here:
2. Natalie Portman
For Natalie Portman, languages come naturally. Being of Israeli-American heritage, she’s had exposure to multiple languages and cultures from a very early age, and grew fluent in Hebrew and English as a result.
But she didn’t stop there, and has gone on to learn French, German, and even Japanese at varying degrees of fluency. Mazel Tov, Natalie.
Watch Natalie flex her language skills here:
3. Jackie Chan
How many languages does Jackie Chan speak? In order to build connections and work with those from mainland China, he had to learn Mandarin, which is a completely different Chinese dialect from the one he grew up speaking. Because what language do they speak in Hong Kong? Cantonese! This meant everyone’s favourite I-do-my-own-stunts good guy had to learn a whole bunch of new tones and pronunciations on his way to becoming a megastar.
And of course, Jackie speaks English too. If he didn’t, fan favourites like Shanghai Noon, The Tuxedo, and the Rush Hour series would be very, very different.
Here’s Jackie singing “I’ll Make a Man out of You” in Cantonese. 謝謝 Jackie!!
4. Mila Kunis
By now, most people have seen the epic clip of Mila Kunis jumping to defend co-star Justin Timberlake during a press conference in Moscow - here it is, in case you missed it. What also surprised most people is just how damn good she is at speaking Russian.
Born in Ukraine, Mila spoke exclusively Russian until she was 7 years old, when her family made the move to Los Angeles. On her second day in the States, Mila started school - and she didn’t speak a single word of English.
These days she seems more American than apple pie, but Mila’s certainly never forgotten her roots or her mother tongue, and she still speaks Russian with her family:
5. Novak Djokovic
If you’re at a pub quiz and the question “How many languages does Novak Djokovic speak?” pops up, the answer is ten.
The king of the tennis court speaks an incredible 10 languages in addition to his native Serbian, including English, Italian, German, Spanish, Arabic and Japanese! This puts him firmly in polyglot territory. One step further than just being multilingual, to claim this trophy you need to be totally fluent in at least five languages - something only one percent of the world can do. This is certainly impressive, but he’s still somehow a few (dozen) languages behind the person who knows the most languages.
Check him out here speaking in French:
6. Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Other than his famous smile and glittering acting career, Joe’s got a love for another country. He fell in love with the French language and culture while at college, even studying French poetry, and soon learned to speak the language like a native.
Enjoy this adorable compilation video of Joseph Gordeon-Levitt speaking French - AKA his favourite language.
7. John Cena
Let’s face it - a 250 lb professional wrestler is probably the last person you’d expect to be speaking different languages. During his time in the WWE, John Cena learnt Mandarin Chinese to help boost the show’s popularity in Asia - if that’s not commitment, we don’t know what is. Although, he has admitted that despite practising solidly for years, he still struggles to completely master all the ins and outs. In fact, he carries prompt cards around with him when he’s in China to whip out if he gets stuck during a conversation. That’s if he can get anyone to speak to him in the first place, being invisible and all…
Watch John sing the praises of China’s favourite chilli sauce (in Mandarin, of course)
8. Christopher Lee
A legend in the world of acting, we know him as Saruman, Count Dooku, etc…but what’s often not mentioned are his various other talents - one being his penchant for language learning.
Not only could Christopher Lee speak French, German, and Italian, but he was also rumoured to have proficiency in many others.
R.I.P Christopher Lee, we miss you.
9. Sandra Oh
Oh, Sandra Oh. Is there anything this woman can’t do? On top of building an insanely impressive acting career in hit shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Killing Eve, she’s also found time to become fluent in Korean, English and French.
Born in Ontario, Canada, to South Korean parents, Sandra picked up her first two languages from birth, but went on to learn French while studying at the National Theatre School of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. Bow down to the queen!
Watch Sandrah flex her french on Grey’s Anatomy here:
10. Salma Hayek
Her native tongue may be Spanish, but that certainly didn’t stop Salma landing major roles in a multitude of hit English-speaking movies, and even going on to earn a nomination for a Best Actress Oscar - the first Latin woman ever to do so, in fact.
She was born and raised in Mexico, and has a mix of Lebanese and Spanish heritage. At 12 years old Salma moved to Louisiana to study, and perfected her English. She also speaks fluent Portuguese and Arabic thanks to her parents and grandparents.
Here’s Salma Hayek telling Jimmy Kimmel why cursing in Spanish is so much better than in English 👀
11. Trevor Noah
Just how many languages does Trevor Noah speak? Before he became the host of the Daily Show, this young South African was known for his crisp stand-up comedy. Born during apartheid to a Swiss father and African mother meant he had quite the diverse upbringing, and as a result he speaks Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana, Tsonga, Afrikaans, and English. Not bad eh? If you want to hear him speak in various African languages, you should watch his “It’s My Culture” movie.
Here’s a video of Trevor unintentionally seducing Stephen Fry through the Xhosa language on the show QI:
12. Viggo Mortensen
Our last celebrity is no joke. Viggo Mortensen, AKA Aragorn, speaks to Elves in Sindarin and knows Middle Earth like the back of his hand. If you ever run into him on the streets, don’t be too surprised to find Viggo Mortensen speaking different languages.
The King of Gondor had a crazy childhood in multiple countries. He was born in the states to Danish and American parents and partially raised in South America. In addition to English, Danish, and Spanish, Viggo also speaks French, conversational Italian and even bits of Catalan. You can see him act completely in Spanish if you watch the historical fiction film Alatriste.
Here’s a video of Viggo Morensen speaking Danish:
Ready to learn a language?
One of the very best ways to pick up a new language is through immersion learning. This is how many of the celebs we’ve mentioned above have done it, and we can’t recommend it enough.
But, if you don’t have six months available to take off work and jet off somewhere exotic (because in the real world, who can?) the Memrise app is here to help. It’s so simple to get started, and we’ll teach you using game-like tests, video clips of real locals, and courses designed by native speakers. Just choose your language, and get going - we’re with you every step of the way.