Speaking another language – or two, or three – is something that many individuals want to be able to do. It’s not hard to see why – you get exposed to different cultures, and quite frankly, a lot of foreign languages are just plain beautiful. It’s fun to learn them, and to be able to communicate with others around the world in their native tongue.
If you want to learn a second language, there are several ways to go about it. For some, they’re lucky enough to pick it up from family members through being exposed to it at home. For others, they need to knuckle down and learn it, either by taking a formal class or by teaching themselves through books and speaking the language with experts.
There’s no doubt about it, some people definitely have more of an affinity for languages than others. While many struggle to learn even a second language, there are others who manage to gain knowledge in three, four, five, or even more!
Though you’ve probably only ever heard most of the celebs on this list speaking English, as their success is primarily in the North American entertainment industry, they all have at least one, if not more, foreign languages in their back pocket. For some, it’s their native tongue and English actually came second, while for others have just picked up several languages over the course of their lives. Most haven’t done much work in their foreign language, but you can catch their expertise in the rare interview they may do in their non-English tongue.
Here are 10 celebrities who are multilingual.
10. Rita Ora – Albanian
Pop star Rita Ora was raised in London, but like many Londoners, she maintains strong cultural ties to another nation – Albania, in her case. Though her accent is proof of the many years she spent in London, she was actually born in Yugoslavia, now known as Kosovo.
She found her nation of origin important, and was determined to maintain her native tongue over the years. While countless celebs decide to learn the Romance languages like Italian and French, Albanian isn’t exactly as common unless you have it in your heritage, so Ora definitely sets herself apart from the crowd with her linguistic prowess.
9. Bradley Cooper – French
While he’s better known for his roles on the silver screen playing all-American guys, you’d be surprised to know that Bradley Cooper can speak the language of love incredibly well. He’s even bypassed the translators in several interviews with French media, instead choosing to conduct the interview entirely in French – that’s skill.
Cooper picked up the language while he was in college, choosing to study French alongside his English degree, and he cemented his expertise by going on an exchange program to Aix-en-Provence where he spent six months surrounded by French speakers and forced to constantly practice his second language. Honestly, though, Bradley – give some of the other guys a chance!
8. Sandra Bullock – German
Movie star Sandra Bullock may seem about as all-American as apple pie, but she actually lived in Nuremberg, Germany until she was 12! She grew up the daughter of a German opera singer, and while she may not have an operatic set of pipes, she definitely picked up a love of entertaining and a skill for the German tongue.
Bullock’s family travelled a lot while she was growing up, and finally settled in the United States just before she entered her teens. However, she’s maintained her German language skills over the years, stunning everyone with her impeccable German during both a 2012 Oscars speech and an acceptance speech for a Bambi award.
7. Salma Hayek – Spanish
Thanks to her exotic accent, it’s easy to figure out that English may not be Salma Hayek’s native tongue, but you’d be surprised to know just how many other languages she speaks. Having been born in Mexico, she of course speaks flawless Spanish. And, like many who learn Spanish as a native tongue and not through schooling, she also quickly picked up Portuguese.
Thanks to her grandfather who emigrated from Lebanon, she also added Arabic to the list of languages she can converse in. Well, if she ever gets tired of the American film industry, suffice to say that she could dabble in international media quite easily.
6. Natalie Portman – Hebrew
Most people know that Natalie Portman was born in Israel, so it may not be as surprising that she speaks fluent Hebrew – after all, it was one of her native tongues. However, Hebrew definitely isn’t the most common language to pick up, so she definitely stands apart from the crowd.
Not content to be merely bilingual, Portman spent her college years at Harvard studying several other languages including Arabic, German, Japanese, and French. While she may not have the same level of skill in these languages as she does in Hebrew, it’s an incredibly impressive accomplishment nonetheless.
5. Jon Heder – Japanese
If you’ve ever seen Jon Heder, the actor who shot to stardom as the strange and wonderful Napoleon in Napoleon Dynamite, you’ll likely concur that Japanese is probably the last language you’d expect him to speak. However, he does – and quite fluently!
What prompted his decision to learn Japanese? Well, Heder grew up a Mormon and spent three years abroad in Japan on his mission for the Church of Latter-Day Saints. While he was there, in addition to speaking with the Japanese about his religious beliefs, he also picked up the language. It’s definitely far easier to learn a language when you’re being constantly exposed to it, but it doesn’t make it any less impressive to learn, particularly a language like Japanese that is so dramatically different from English.
4. Charlize Theron – Afrikaans
Charlize Theron is pretty up-front about her South African background, but you might not know that Afrikaans is actually her first language – she only learnt English much later in life. Over the years, her South African accent has all but disappeared, but she can still speak Afrikaans like a native.
In interviews, she’s treated hosts to tidbits of her native tongue, and has also commented that she speaks the language constantly when she’s around her mother. Not many actors in Hollywood can say that they could comfortably converse in Afrikaans, so Theron definitely stands apart from the crowd. Who knows – perhaps she can incorporate her linguistic skill into a role some day.
3. Mila Kunis – Russian
Mila Kunis grew up in the Ukraine and Russian is her native tongue. The stunning actress actually didn’t speak English at all until she moved to the United States with her family as a child, when she eventually picked up the language by watching television shows – The Price is Right in particular.
While Kunis doesn’t really use her language skills in her film roles, she frequently speaks to the media in their native tongue when in Russia promoting her projects. In fact, many around the world were sharing a video of her critiquing a Russian reporter in an interview she did with Justin Timberlake to promote their film Friends With Benefits. If you know not only how to converse with someone, but how to give them a little dose of sass, safe to say you’re pretty proficient in that language.
2. Lucy Liu – Mandarin
Lucy Liu is a bit of a linguistic superstar, so prepare to be impressed. Her native tongue is actually Mandarin, thanks to her family’s roots, and she didn’t learn English until she was about five after her family had come to the United States.
She solidified her language skills by getting a B.A. in Asian languages and cultures, where she added Japanese to her linguistic resume. Oh, and over the years, she’s also picked up Italian, Spanish, and goodness knows what else. Lucy Liu has received a lot of attention lately for playing the Watson to Jonny Lee Miller’s Sherlock on Elementary, but with her affinity for languages, we foresee her leading her own show as a multi-lingual super spy one day.
1. Viggo Mortensen – Danish
Viggo Mortensen’s command of the Danish language comes from her father, who was of Danish descent. In fact, growing up, Mortensen was completely bilingual, speaking English with his mother and Danish with his father. However, the Lord of the Rings star wasn’t content with just two languages.
He later picked up fluency in Spanish, French, and Italian. Oh, and he also has a proficient understanding of Norwegian, Swedish, and Catalan. Hey, Viggo – are you trying to impress us? Because it’s working. He’s done work in Spanish before in the film Alatriste, but so far not in his co-mother tongue of Danish, so we can only wait for him to become Denmark’s next big superstar.