We generally only see one side of celebrities: the superficial smiles on the red carpet, or the interviews full of gushing praise about new film projects. With a little more research, however, one can uncover all sorts of hidden talents. We decided to search for the most multilingual celebrities, and here’s what we came up with.
10 Of The Most Impressively Multilingual Celebrities
Natalie isn’t only an Oscar-winning actress, she’s also academically very gifted. She holds a Psychology degree from Harvard University, where she contributed to a paper entitled Frontal Lobe Activation During Object Permanence: Data From Near-Infrared Spectroscopy. That title in itself sounds like a foreign language, but Portman has gone beyond mastering the language of science. She speaks English and Hebrew as native languages, and can also speak French, German, Spanish and Japanese! Quite the role model.
Colin Firth learned Italian when he started dating his wife, the film producer and director Livia Giuggioli. He’s now fluent, and says with some confidence that he would be able to act in an Italian film — as long as he could play an Englishman who speaks Italian. Apparently, Firth is particularly fond of insults in Italian, as they’re used more sparingly than in English but to greater effect. And it’s not only the words he’s mastered. If you watch him speaking Italian, you immediately notice how he adopts the typical Italian gestures, without which Italian simply wouldn’t be Italian.
Owing to the fact that she attended a French-speaking prep school, the Lycée Français de Los Angeles, Jodie Foster can speak French fluently. In fact, she can speak it so well that she’s acted in French films and has dubbed many of her own films into French. Her interest in foreign languages doesn’t stop there, however. Foster can also get by in Italian, Spanish and German.
Cruz speaks Italian, French and English on top of her native Spanish. While she picked up her French in high school, Cruz learned Italian and English later in life in order to play certain roles and further her acting career, even winning awards for films in which she played an Italian-speaking character. That takes an impressive amount of discipline and dedication! Her Italian is so good that she even assumed the role of Mario in the Nintendo ad for the game New Super Mario Bros 2 in 2012.
Mila is originally from Ukraine and moved to the U.S. at the age of seven with her parents. She recalls having difficulties at first, struggling to understand the culture, people and the language. She now speaks both Russian and English perfectly.
Waltz first came to public attention in the Quentin Tarantino film Inglourious Basterds, where he played the perverse Austrian SS officer Colonel Hans Landa. Landa switches effortlessly between German, English, French and Italian, and, in a famous scene, delights in torturing Brad Pitt’s undercover crew of “Italian” filmmakers by coercing them into repeatedly pronouncing their Italian pseudonyms. In real life, Waltz is hardly less impressive. While by his own admission not completely fluent in Italian, he speaks German, English and French fluently, and dubs his own movies into French.
Kristin Scott Thomas
Not to be outdone by Waltz, Kristin Scott Thomas also dubs her own movies into French. She’s lived in France since the age of 19 and speaks the language perfectly, even attesting to sometimes feeling more French than British. She’s won many accolades and a fair few BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations for her roles in French language films.
Mortensen burst onto the scene with his role as Aragorn in The Lord Of The Rings, where he slipped in and out of the Elvish tongue. It probably didn’t take him long to pick up Tolkien’s invented language — Mortensen is something of a global citizen. He holds dual American-Danish citizenship and speaks Danish, English, French and Spanish fluently, as well as having some grasp of Italian, Catalan, Arabic, Norwegian and Swedish. He may very well be one of the most multilingual celebrities out there.
You may be surprised to see Arnold in this list, but give credit where credit is due — this is a guy who moved to the U.S. from Austria at the age of 21 hardly able to speak English. He then went on to graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Superior with an International Marketing degree, obtain American citizenship and, of course, become The Governator of California. In contrast to some of the aforementioned actors, and somewhat comically, Arnie’s proposal to dub himself in German was rejected due to his rural Austrian accent being too thick.
Besides being an enduring icon of elegance, Hepburn was also something of a maestro of multilingual celebrities. Hepburn had a very international background: she was born in Belgium to a mother of Dutch descent and a father of mixed Austrian-British descent. She was raised with English as her mother tongue and also learned Dutch while living in Holland. When the Nazis occupied Holland during World War II, she adopted the Dutch-sounding name Edda van Heemstra so as not to be conspicuously of English lineage. She also learned Spanish, French and Italian later in life.
This article was originally published on May 10, 2016 and has been updated with more recent information.