Brits and Americans are often accused of not making an effort when it comes to foreign languages. There are actually many public figures from these countries who are proficient in other languages though, and who therefore serve as great ambassadors for language learning.
The majority are actors and sports stars, and like most language learners, they all had different reasons for learning – some are married to speakers of the foreign language, some have spent time working or living in that country and others just fell in love with the language from an early age.
Here’s a run-down of some of the best-known linguists in the celebrity sphere!
Bradley Cooper – Bradley Cooper’s language skills remained relatively unknown until a recent interview about The Hangover 2 was aired in which he spoke fluent French. According to an article in People magazine, his reason for learning the language related to the film Chariots of Fire – he said, “When I was a kid, I remember watching Chariots of Fire,” “And French is the official language of the Olympics. So there’s a scene where a guy was speaking French and I thought, ‘Man, that sounds so cool. I want to learn French.’.” It was thanks to a university exchange programme in Aix en Provence that he was able to learn the language.
Leonardo di Caprio – Although he was brought up in LA, Leonardo di Caprio was born to a German mother. He still has a lot of family in Germany, and regular visits to the country mean that he has managed to retain some of the German taught to him by his mother.
Johnny Depp – With a permanent home in France, and a long-term partner who is French (Vanessa Paradis), it’s hardly surprising that Johnny Depp has mastered the language. He’s a real advocate of the country and the language, and also of French wines! In fact, he loves them so much that he bought his own vineyard near St Tropez…
Colin Firth – Colin Firth is married to Italian film producer/director Livia Giuggioli and lives in both London and Italy. He speaks the language proficiently and says: ‘It’s wonderful to have an excuse to learn a language. [My wife’s] English is better than my Italian will ever be. But, if you’re going to live your life with someone you should, as a mark of respect, try to learn their way of conceptualising things.”
Eddie Izzard – Eddie Izzard is a popular comedian and actor who is probably best known of late for completing an epic 43 marathons in 51 days! He is certainly a multi-talented individual, and yet another of his skills relates to foreign languages…he speaks French, German and a little Arabic, and has even done comedy shows in foreign languages – no mean feat!
Diane Kruger – Diane Kruger was born and raised in Germany, and is therefore a native German speaker. She now lives in America and speaks fluent English, but she is actually also fluent in French thanks to a stint modeling in Paris earlier in her career. You can see her impressive language skills in the French film Anything for Her (Pour Elle in French).
Gary Lineker – The international nature of football today means that players move around from country to country fairly easily. Gary Lineker was one of the first big footballing stars to spend time at foreign clubs though, and not just that, but one of the first (and still one of relatively few) to learn to speak the language of his host country fluently. He speaks Spanish fluently and Japanese to a good level.
Natalie Portman – It’s fair to say that Natalie Portman is a multi-talented lady. Not only is she an Oscar-winning actress and Harvard graduate, but she also speaks five languages! She speaks Hebrew, German, Japanese, Spanish and some French too.
Gwyneth Paltrow – After spending time in Spain as a teenager, Gwyneth Paltrow fell in love with the country and vowed to learn Spanish proficiently. She still spends a lot of time there, and true to word, now speaks it to a very high level. She says she’s trying to pass on her language skills to her children too. Watch an interview with Gwyneth Paltrow in Spanish.
Paula Radcliffe – Although Paula Radcliffe is best known for her sporting achievements as a marathon runner, she is actually also a proficient speaker of both French and German. She gained a first-class honours degree in French, German & Economics from Loughborough University and says that she often gets to use them when she travels to Europe to compete in international events.
JK Rowling – The author of the Harry Potter books was a French teacher prior to concentrating on her writing career. She also has French ancestry, and is said to speak impeccable French. Her knowledge of the language is actually evident in many of the fabricated words and names that she included in the stories, which have French as their basis. Examples are Beauxbatons, which means beautiful wands, Fleur Delacour from ‘fleur’ meaning flower and ‘delacour’ meaning ‘of the court’ and Malfoy, from the French phrase ‘mal foi’ (meaning bad faith).
Kristin Scott Thomas – British actress Kristin Scott Thomas is now totally bilingual. Her native language is English, but having lived in France since the age of 19 she now speaks French completely fluently – she has made many French films, including the critically acclaimed ‘Il y a longtemps que je t’aime’ and ‘Leaving’.
Tilda Swinton – Over the last decade, Tilda Swinton has made a name for herself as one of Britain’s finest acting talents. One of her most taxing roles was in the 2010 film ‘I am love’, which required her to learn Italian. Her performance in the film was fantastic, and her standard of Italian was absolutely excellent.
Jonny Wilkinson – British rugby star Jonny Wilkinson has spent the last two years playing for French side Toulon, and made a concerted effort to learn the language. He has achieved a very high level, and regularly conducts interviews in French.
Taken from Cactus Language 20.07.11