9 Famous Bilingual People Who Are More Successful Thanks To Language

These people have drive, they have hustle, and they also have foreign language knowledge to propel them even further.
famous bilingual people

If you study the lives and habits of successful people, you might be able to identify a number of common traits. One, they’re hardworking and tenacious. Two, they don’t let failures and setbacks deter them. Three, a decent number of them know more than one language.

Speaking multiple languages isn’t only good for impressing people at stuffy cocktail receptions. Bilingual brains are also mentally sharper and better at multitasking. Foreign language knowledge can actually increase your earning potential, as well as open you up to more career opportunities. And it’s not hard to see why studying a second language might help make you more cultured and successful, too.

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If you’re not, here are a few people to inspire you as you set your sights on your chosen mountain peak.

1. Mark Zuckerberg

mark zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg’s rags-to-tech-CEO-riches story is well-publicized (and certain films have taken their poetic license with it). But it’s easy to see how his knowledge of Mandarin Chinese has helped him along the way. Zuckerberg says he studies the language daily in order to communicate better with his wife’s family, but there’s speculation that he may have also learned Mandarin for business reasons (like potential negotiations with the Chinese government regarding its ban on Facebook).

2. Jack Ma

jack ma

Alibaba accounts for a whopping 80 percent of China’s online shopping market and is the sixth-largest internet company in the world, processing more money in transactions than eBay and Amazon combined. The man who started it all was once a 12-year-old boy who would ride his bike each day for 40 minutes to a hotel so he could give free tours in English to the tourists. He eventually became an English teacher, which led to a job in Seattle as an interpreter. And eventually, that all led to his astronomical success as a tech leader.

3. Eddie Izzard

eddie izzard

Eddie Izzard is well-known and well-loved in the United Kingdom for his multilingual standup comedy, but he’s a bit of a Renaissance man in other ways: he ran 43 marathons in 51 days for a charity once, and he ran 27 South African marathons in 27 days as a tribute to the 27 years Nelson Mandela spent in prison. He also recently took a position on the British Labour Party’s National Executive Committee. But as it stands, Izzard may be one of the only comedians in the world who’s performed in French, German and Spanish, with plans to eventually write jokes in Arabic, Russian and Mandarin Chinese. This “schtick” has helped him distinguish himself and appeal to a wider audience.

4. Shakira

Noam Galai/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Her hips don’t lie, and neither do her multilingual abilities. Shakira has the ability to communicate pretty fluently in Spanish, Portuguese, English, French and Italian. She’s also ensuring that her son, Milan, grows up similarly well-rounded. She exposes him to Spanish, Catalan, English, French, German, Russian and Chinese. Perhaps as a result, she’s managed to sell hundreds of millions of records worldwide (the bulk of which were sold beyond the United States). She was also appointed to the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics in 2011, and she has made Forbes’ list of the 100 Most Powerful Women.

5. Natalie Portman

natalie portman
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Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem to an Israeli father and American mother, and she retains dual citizenship to this day. In addition to her fluent command of Hebrew and English, she is also conversational in Spanish, French, German and Japanese. In addition to being an Academy Award-winning actress, she has traveled to countries like Uganda, Guatemala and Ecuador to help promote micro-lending for women-owned businesses.

6. Penélope Cruz

penelope cruz
Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

In addition to being a native Spanish speaker, Cruz studied French in school. She also speaks Italian and English, which she learned later in life to be able to play certain roles, as well as to open herself up to a wider range of acting opportunities. She’s even won a David di Donatello award for her Italian-speaking role in Non Ti Muovere (Don’t Move).

7. Kobe Bryant

kobe bryant

Considered by many to be one of the greatest basketball players in all of sports history, Kobe Bryant is also not too bad of a budding polyglot. As a child, he moved to Italy with his family when his father, NBA player Joe Bryant, got drafted in the Italian League. He learned Italian during his time there, which helped him form connections with kids at school so he could play soccer with them. Today, he also speaks a bit of Spanish, and he’s been known to learn languages like Serbian and French so he can curse at referees in languages they don’t understand, as well as engage with his Serbian- and French-speaking teammates.

8. Serena Williams

serena williams

This tennis superstar has four Olympic gold medals to her name, but not all of her accomplishments are athletic. She also speaks French and Italian, and some reports say she’s also fluent in Spanish. In an interview, she once said that one of the reasons she decided to learn French — in addition to being able to speak one of the major lingua francas in Africa — was because she wanted to win the French Open, and to speak French when she won. Her sister, Venus, is also said to speak a number of languages, including French and Italian.

9. Madeleine Albright

madeleine albright
Lisa Lake/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images for Pennsylvania Conference for Women

Before she was the first woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright also had some multilingual abilities going for her, which prepared for her for eventual role in international diplomacy. She was born in Prague and grew up speaking Czech, and she studied Serbo-Croatian, English, French and Russian, too. She went on to become one of the most influential figures in the history of U.S. international relations.

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