The world of Hollywood may be dominated by the English language, but just like the US itself, its population boasts a huge number of people who are fluent in more than one tongue.
From popular Hispanic stars who have made the crossover, like Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, to US celebrities who have a secret skill for languages (Jodie Foster speaks French; Gwyneth Paltrow Spanish) to those who have learned a language for their partner (Colin Firth speaks Italian; Jonny Depp speaks French), the world of film is a multilingual place.
EF English Live takes a look at five bilingual celebrities.
Sandra Bullock – German
Actress, producer and Oscar-winner Sandra Bullock was born and raised in the US but she speaks fluent German. Why? Because her mother was a German opera singer, and indeed met her father whilst he was stationed in Nuremberg. Born in 1964, she made her first film in 1987. Most recently she won her Oscar for Best Actress for The Blind Side in 2010. In 2000 she won a Bambi (a German equivalent of the Oscars) and made her acceptance speech in German.
Charlize Theron – Afrikaans
Born in South Africa, Charlize Theron’s first language is not English but Afrikaans, the language which is widely spoken in her native country. Now a Hollywood star, and a very respected and established one at that, it is easy to forget that English is not her mother tongue – especially as her South African accent has been replaced by a more Californian drawl. Yet this Oscar winner still speaks Afrikaans from time to time – such as this instance on CNN.
Mila Kunis – Russian
Actress Mila Kunis was born in the Ukraine and lived there until the age of seven – so Russian, rather than English, is her native language. What’s more she still speaks Russian with her family and her fluency and ease with both languages makes her a popular ambassador for her work in Russia and former Soviet states.
As well as defending co-star Justin Timberlake from the Russian media during a press conference for their film Friends with Benefits, she also has a very sharp wit and quick intellect to boot – not to be messed with, in either language! She even speaks Russian at the end of an episode of animated TV show Family Guy, in which she voices the character Meg.
Natalie Portman – Hebrew
A good friend of Mila Kunis, Natalie Portman goes a few better than her bilingual buddy – she can speak five languages fluently. Her two native languages are English and Hebrew. Natalie was born in Israel and her family moved to the US when she was three. In New York she attended Jewish schools which kept up both of her native languages.
She has dual citizenship of both Israel and the US and has often commented that she feels more at home in Israel. Now married to French ballet dancer Benjamin Millepied, Natalie is learning French and is likely to relocate to Paris in 2014. That will go nicely alongside the other languages she has taken time to learn – Spanish, German and Japanese!
Viggo Mortensen – Danish
Viggo Mortensen is a Danish-American citizen; so his dual nationality already sets him apart as an actor comfortable in more than one language. And, like Natalie Portman, he also has a passion and obvious talent for picking up other languages. He also speaks Spanish, as well as some Italian and French.
And unlike several of the celebrities also included on this blog, he uses his multi-lingualism at work. Mortensen is well-known in the US for English speaking roles from Lord of the Rings to The Road, but he has also been a big hit in his native Denmark, and enjoys acting in Spanish where he says he can get to the heart of the matter more quickly.