Many of us look at our heroes or celebrities with a curious fascination.
We ask, “How did they get there? I could never do anything close to the things they’ve achieved.”
Good news is that’s not completely true!
What’s something many successful people have in common? You’ve probably never made the connection, but it’s multilingualism! Who knows, there just might be a correlation somewhere! Speaking multiple languages won’t necessarily turn you into a celebrity, but it will make you more interesting to talk to, and that’s basically the same thing right?
Let’s see a few examples, shall we?
1. Johnny Depp
The state of Kentucky is never the first thing that comes to mind when Johnny Depp is mentioned.
We all know him for his role in Pirates of the Caribbean. You wouldn’t think it of an alcoholic pirate but Johnny has mastered another tongue. He speaks the language of romance due to a relationship he had with French actress Vanessa Paradis. Despite having a reasonably high level in the language, he’s adorably self-deprecating.
In most award ceremonies around the world, acceptance speeches are a commonality. When Johnny Depp received a César Award in 1999, he shrewdly avoided giving a speech by having it pre-recorded. He then played it for the audience from the microphone. But rest assured, his French is good.
You can watch that speech here:
2. Natalie Portman
This beautiful actress is fluent in multiple languages. Being of Israeli-American heritage, she had an early exposure to multiple cultures.
But she didn’t stop there. Her curiosity blossomed and she decided that one other language isn’t enough. She saw the value in connecting with others and where languages can bring you.
According to the internet, she’s gone on to learn French, German, and even Japanese at varying degrees of fluency. Mazel Tov.
3. Jackie Chan
“War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’!”
It may have been written to protest war in Vietnam, but it’s good rhythm. Everyone loves to dance to it, especially Jackie Chan, at least when Agent Carter shows him how in the movies.
Jackie Chan is from Hong Kong which means he’s a native Cantonese speaker. In order to build connections and work with those from mainland China, he had to learn Mandarin which is a completely different language. And of course Jackie speaks English. If he didn’t, the Rush Hour series would never have existed.
Here’s Jackie singing “I’ll Make a Man out of You” in Cantonese. 謝謝 Jackie!!
4. Charlize Theron
As famous as she is, there’s a high probability that you’ve been pronouncing her last name wrong.
Charlize is from South Africa of an Afrikaner background meaning that her native language is Afrikaans. This vibrant language is a descendant of Dutch brought over from colonial days past. Her last name is pronounced with a rolled ‘R’ and sounds more like Tron.
5. Novak Djokovic
Whether you watch tennis matches religiously or not, you’ve heard of Novak Djokovic. Or is that because I shop at Uniqlo?
The tennis king speaks six languages. In addition to his native Serbian, he speaks English, Italian, German, Spanish and French! He even quoted this folk proverb during an interview: “Learn a new language, get a new soul.”
6. Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Other than his smile and acting career, Joe’s got a love for another country. He fell in love with the French language and culture in college and followed to fluency. Definitely not the typical case, which shows this is definitely something admirable about him.
7. Mark Zuckerberg
Everyone knows speaking a language is nerve-wracking. Imagine doing public speaking in another language?
A few years ago, I remember scrolling Facebook when this video went viral. The CEO of Facebook took the plunge and demonstrated his command of Mandarin at an event at China’s famed Tsinghua University.
We gotta give it to him. Zuckerberg knows how to win a crowd, but also get vulnerable! If he’s allowed to make mistakes, so are you.
8. Christopher Lee
A legend in the world of acting, we know him as Saruman, Count Dooku, etc… But what is often not mentioned is his various other talents. He was part of a metal band and sang into his 90’s. He even released an album just before his passing. Like what, who does that? Especially at his age.
I’ll only slightly mention his language repertoire. The beast of a man spoke French, German, Italian and is rumored to have proficiency in others. Just as impressive is how he’s one of the few actors that managed to stay married with a clean record.
R.I.P Christopher Lee, we miss you.
9. Queen Silvia of Sweden
Queen Silvia may not be an elected official but she is integral to Sweden and the world. German by birth, she speaks three Germanic languages and three Romance languages. Her marriage to King Carl-Gustaf XVI led to Swedish and her own mother spoke Brazilian Portuguese. French, Spanish, and even Swedish Sign Language comprise her majesty’s repertoire. You can only imagine how this helps in diplomatic relations and maintaining world peace.
If you think that royalty is pointless, I sympathize. But you might be surprised that their money goes to more causes that we hear about.
10. Pope Francis
If there’s one world leader that’s been trending for awhile now, it’s Pope Francis! The first Pope of South American heritage was born in Argentina of Italian ancestry. It’s estimated that around 60% of Argentines have Italian blood which has even influenced their accent to an extent. Being the Pope, he speaks Italian, is conversant in Latin, German, French, Portuguese and bits of English.
Here’s a video by LangFocus that discusses the Pope’s language skills.
11. Trevor Noah
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. According to an NPR interview, 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” DVD. Though hysterically funny, it will be hard to understand unless you’re familiar with South African culture, politics, and sports.
“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. He speaks to Elves in Sindarin and knows Middle Earth like the back of his hand.
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, he also speaks French, conversational Italian and bits of Catalan. You can see him act completely in Spanish if you watch the historical fiction film Alatriste.
Here’s a video of him speaking Danish:
No Matter Who You Are Learning a Language Is Important
Isn’t it great? You don’t have to be a celebrity to charm people. Sometimes all you need is to care for others and love conversation. Oftentimes, languages are the best key to the doors of people’s hearts. Take it from the people above.
Want to speak a new language?
A breaker of every stereotype one can give (except that he loves rice and wears glasses), Indonesian-American Fiel Sahir is the author of Between3worlds.com hailing from New York City. He passionately teaches empathy through cultural exploration and conversation. A classical guitarist by trade, he is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Classical Guitar performance in Düsseldorf, Germany. He is also the Director of Int’l Outreach and Partnerships for Polyglot Indonesia. You can contact him directly via firstname.lastname@example.org and get a conversation started.