In the US and UK, monolingualism feels like the default. Speak more than one language? Crazy, particularly if we’re aiming for fluency rather than asking “¿Donde esta la biblioteca?’, ‘Où est la Gare Saint-Lazare, s’il vous plaît?’ or ‘Wie komme ich am besten zum Bahnhof, bitte?’ and hoping that the answer is short, slow and sweet.
Yet, more than half the world is at least bilingual and there are whole continents and sub-continents where being able to speak more than one language is the norm. And there are people who in the US and the UK who are among that number.
Even in Hollywood.
Normally, Bradley Cooper is the one everyone points to when they want to be wowed by an American actor speaking a foreign language. After all:
- He is sexy
- He speaks French, which is sexy
- He’s a man
Perhaps more impressive is Ed Norton, who can speak Japanese:
However, point 3 – Bradley Cooper is a man – highlights an important point. It’s usually men who get the credit for this. So today, let’s spare a thought for some actresses who get less credit for bilingualism.
Okay, Charlize Theron is from South Africa, so her ability to speak Afrikaans (or Flemish) isn’t necessarily hugely impressive:
And Sandra Bullock has German family, so her speaking German isn’t necessarily miraculous:
But let’s spare a thought for Texas-born, Spanish family-less Amber Heard, who speaks fluent Spanish and has done entire interviews in Spanish for Aquaman:
And then there’s Natalie Portman who can speak – deep breath – Hebrew, French, Spanish, German, Japanese, Arabic and ASL.
It is of course worth noting that Portman has an Erdös-Bacon-Sabbath number of 11, so is clearly a smart cookie in other fields, too. However, that’s not quite as good as either The Wonder Years’ Danica McKellar and Blossom‘s Mayim Bialik, both of whom have the highest EBS number of any actor or actress: 10. Whether they speak anything other than English, though, I don’t know.