We see them everywhere: on the big screen, in the tabloids, on TV. But how well do we really know our favorite U.S. movie stars? We might be able to name every film they’ve starred in or what they wore to the Oscars this year, but their foreign language abilities may come as a surprise. Here are 17 famous American multilingual movie stars — actors and actresses who can speak at least one other language besides English.
17 Multilingual Movie Stars And The Other Language(s) They Speak
Sandra Bullock — German
Sandra Bullock’s mother was a German opera singer and her father was a U.S. Army employee. Bullock was raised in Nuremberg, Germany, for 12 years of her early life, where she learned to speak German fluently.
Bradley Cooper — French
While studying French at Georgetown University, Bradley Cooper participated in an exchange program that sent him to live with a host family in the south of France for six months. He’s held on to his French language skills to this day.
Natalie Portman — Hebrew, French, Japanese, German and Spanish
Even if her acting skills don’t thoroughly impress you, her language skills should; Natalie Portman is one of the most multilingual movies stars. She was born in Jerusalem to an Israeli father and American mother. She learned to speak Hebrew and English fluently, and she is also conversational in Spanish, French, German and Japanese.
Zoe Saldana — Spanish
Zoe Saldana is a first-generation Dominican-American. The Guardians of the Galaxy star is bilingual in English and Spanish, and has said she wants to make sure her future children speak Spanish as well.
Edward Norton — Japanese
After graduating from college, Edward Norton moved to Osaka, Japan, and worked for his grandfather’s company, the Enterprise Foundation. While he was there, he learned to speak Japanese, and he still breaks it out on occasion, like in the video above.
Renee Zellweger — German and Norwegian
Born to a Norwegian mother and a Swiss father, Renee Zellweger is one of those multilingual movie stars who had a leg up when it came to foreign-language exposure. Though born in Texas, she learned to speak Norwegian and German.
Will Smith — Spanish
Will Smith says he learned Spanish little-by-little from both talking to people in Los Angeles and visiting friends in Spain on various occasions. Smith has given several interviews in Spanish.
Gwyneth Paltrow — Spanish
When she was 15, Gwyneth Paltrow lived with a host family in Spain for a month and fell in love with the country. She said Spain became her second home, and she learned to speak Spanish fluently. She even taught the language to her kids, Apple and Moses, in an effort to raise them bilingually.
Mila Kunis — Russian
Born in present-day Ukraine (the Soviet Union at the time), Mila Kunis grew up speaking Russian. She moved to the United States at age 7 but continued to speak Russian with her parents. In the video clip above, Kunis uses her language skills to defend Justin Timberlake when a Russian journalist questions him during a press conference.
Leonardo DiCaprio — German
With a middle name like Wilhelm, it makes sense that Leonardo DiCaprio speaks German. He was mostly raised by his mother, who was born in Germany, and was close with his German grandmother. He spent several summers visiting her in the small town in Germany where she lived. DiCaprio is one of those multilingual movie stars who’s not completely fluent in another language, but he knows enough German to get by.
Ben Affleck — Spanish
Ben Affleck learned Spanish when he spent a year living in Mexico as a teenager, and he has continued to hone his skills throughout his acting career. He’s even shown off his Spanish abilities in interviews and movie scenes. Apparently, Affleck’s favorite Spanish word is sacapuntas, which means “pencil sharpener.”
Jodi Foster — French
Jodi Foster attended a French-language prep school in Los Angeles, which is where she learned to speak the French language fluently. Since then, she has visited and worked in France, as well as delivered her own lines in French films. Foster can also speak some Italian, German and Spanish.
Jon Heder — Japanese
Known solely for playing the eponymous role in Napoleon Dynamite, “movie star” might be a generous description for Jon Heder to put him in the “multilingual movie stars” list. But what he lacks in star power, he makes up for with his ability to speak Japanese. Heder spent two years as a Mormon missionary in Japan, where he learned to speak the language.
Jack Black — Spanish and French
Apparently, Jack Black taught himself how to speak both Spanish and French. He says he spends a lot of time practicing his Spanish in front of the mirror and that he enjoys making the shapes with his mouth, particularly with the word miercoles (“Wednesday”).
Jada Pinkett Smith — Spanish
The other half of the Smith power couple also speaks Spanish. While very little information exists on Jada Pinkett Smith’s language skills, it appears she may have learned on her travels, including a trip to Costa Rica. She showed off her Spanish in an interview on Univision’s morning show.
Matt Damon — Spanish
When Matt Damon was a teenager, he went on language-immersion trips to Mexico and Guatemala. He said he started his trips with a Spanish course and then stayed with a local family. Damon later married Argentina-born Luciana Barroso, furthering his connection to the Spanish language.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt — French
His time spent studying French poetry at Columbia University coupled with his love for cinema were the sparks for Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Francophilia. He learned to speak French fluently and showed it off when he played the French high-wire artist Philippe Petit in The Walk.