Celebrity linguists – setting the example

By on July 9, 2009

Of the UK’s richest under 30s, at least half (53 %) count languages among their skills, according to research, while only 14 % say they speak no foreign language at all.

According to MP Phil Willis “The lack of linguists in our society severely disadvantages us as a nation.”

As any Careers Advisor can tell you, the ability to speak another language is not only useful, it might be essential for a particular career path, or just might be the string to a candidate’s bow that makes them stand out from other applicants for a job.

With many young people answering “I want to be famous” to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, who among their role models are setting an example to youngsters that learning languages is a good idea?

Brit Actors who are multilingual include Ioan Gruffydd, who found fame among the cast of the Hornblower period drama series; and star of Fawlty Towers, and countless other comedy roles, Prunella Scales, who speaks French, German, Italian & Russian.

“The fact that I am bilingual is something I am extremely proud of. I’m one of a majority of young Europeans who can speak a second language – speaking two languages has given me access to two different cultures. It has also given me a wider perspective on the world.”

In the Hollywood camp, there is a wealth of language skills that many might find surprising, considering the airhead image many of us have of people in tinseltown:

Charlize Theron is of German and French descent. Her first language is Afrikaans; as we know from her films, she is fluent in English but also speaks some Zulu.

Gwyneth Paltrow speaks perfect Spanish, and also Italian – it’s said that some of her daughter Apple’s first words were in Spanish.

Danish actor Viggo Mortensen was raised in Argentina, so speaks Spanish fluently, as well as French, English, and of course Danish. Maybe a bit of Elvish too, you would hope!

Lucy Liu speaks Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, and Norwegian.

Horror film veteran and former Bond villain Christopher Lee speaks a whopping 7 foreign languages: French, German, Greek, Italian, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish.

As for Musicians, those involved in classical music often speak several languages, as musical directions and other text in music is commonly written in Italian, German or French, depending on the origin of the composer:

Violinist Vanessa Mae speaks French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese and a little German.

Gene Simmons (of Kiss fame) speaks German, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Japanese and Spanish. Can’t have spent all his time backstage applying black makeup, then!

Katherine Jenkins – not content with being a renowned Opera singer…she speaks French, German, Italian and Russian!

In the sporting arena, many famous sportsmen and athletes have made the effort to learn languages to ease a move abroad:

“My wife and I learnt Spanish and Japanese when I played at Barcelona and Nagoya. We spent hours and hours in tuition – yet we could have learnt either language at school. Modern languages prepare you for modern life.”

This year’s Wimbledon Champion Roger Federer is fluent in English, French and German, which is common for most Swiss people, but still impressive.

Anna Kournikova, Frankie Dettori and the F1 racing brothers Ralf and Michael Schumacher are also multilingual.

UK Newsreaders and TV Presenters are getting in on the act too:

Sir Trevor McDonald(Patron of CILT, the National Centre for Languages) speaks French, German, and Spanish

Kate Silverton, presenter of BBC’s Breakfast programme is fluent in Arabic

Jonathan Ross speaks Japanese & Russian

Keeping the Royal end up: Prince William speaks Welsh and after his trips abroad, a bit of Swahili.

It’s not just celebrities who speak languages either, with experts telling us many of Britain’s richest young entrepreneurs are also linguists, such as financier James Benamor (French) and tyres magnate Mike Welch (Spanish).

Let us know what you think – are the current generation of school pupils missing out on an education in languages?

Read more here:

“Languages – They’re so gay” – why school pupils should rethink their attitude towards learning languages

Raise your Game – interview with Leri Davies, Outreach and Information Officer at the European Commission office in Wales


[…] Neem nu Gene Simmons, de zanger van de rockgroep Kiss. Hij spreekt niet alleen Engels maar ook Duits, Hebreeuws, Hongaars, IJslands, Japans en Spaans. De Britse televisiemaker Jonathan Ross beheerst het Japans en het Russisch. En Prunella Scales, die Sybil (de vrouw van Basil) speelt in Fawlty Towers, is ook rad van tong in het Frans, Duits, Italiaans en Russisch. Meer voorbeelden leest u bij Web-Translations. […]

Meertaligheid loont | Vertaalbureau blog on Jul 15 09 at 11:48 am

[…] the Royal end up: Prince William speaks Welsh and after his trips abroad, a bit of Swahili. It’s not just celebrities who speak languages either, with experts telling us many of Britain’s richest young entrepreneurs are also … […]

Film in the Seventies » Blog Archive » Fast Friday links on Jul 17 09 at 4:13 pm


[…]Celebrity linguists – setting the example | Web Translations[…]…

present on Mar 27 12 at 4:49 pm


“In the Hollywood camp, there is a dearth of language skills that many might find surprising, considering the airhead image many of us have of people in tinseltown:”

dearth: A scarcity of anything; a practical deficiency; want or lack of a quality. (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary)

Steve on Jul 15, 2009 at 12:17 pm

@Steve – oops indeed!

Thanks for the pointer – now corrected 🙂

admin on Jul 15, 2009 at 12:26 pm

I reckon wealth was OK in the first place, based on a logical reading of the sentence plus 45 years as a practising English translator/editor. (Always read before you oops!)

Nick on Jul 15, 2009 at 1:39 pm

‘Wealth’ is the replacement – it was ‘dearth’ in the first place!

admin on Jul 15, 2009 at 1:50 pm

This is the first time I’ve heard that somebody thinks that languages are “so gay” (as a subject for boys to study in school — see link in the blog post). My advice to kids is to look at it the other way around: if you study languages, you’ll be meeting girls a lot.

MBM on Jul 19, 2009 at 4:48 am

You’re absolutely right MBM – there were always at least a third more girls in all of my language classes than boys.

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