There was much more to the star of Roman Holiday and Breakfast at Tiffany’s than her movie career. Audrey Hepburn was well known for her charity work with UNICEF, and after spending her childhood in Belgium, Britain and the Netherlands, she was also fluent in English, Dutch, French, Italian, Spanish and German.
Rita Ora was born in Kosovo (then called Yugoslavia) to Kosovar-Albanian parents, moving to London when she was a year old. The pop star, model and X Factor judge speaks Albanian fluently and is proud of her heritage; last year she was named an honorary ambassador for the Republic of Kosovo.
Former yachtswoman Dame Ellen Macarthur learnt to speak French when she was 21 and living in a French boatyard while she prepared for a solo transatlantic race. She’s now fluent and says she would never have been so successful in her career without knowing the language, which helped her build relationships with other sailors and gain sponsorship.
Comedian (and record-breaking marathon runner) Eddie Izzard is currently touring with his stand-up show Force Majeure, which he performs three times a night, in three languages: French, German and English. In 2014, he was named the Guardian’s public language champion, and told the newspaper: “There’s a political basis for me to learning other languages, because if we don’t come together in the world then the world’s not going to make it.”
JK Rowling studied French and Classics at university, and when she came up with the idea for the Harry Potter series in 1990, she was working as a bilingual secretary for Amnesty International. She later moved to Portugal and split her time between teaching English as a foreign language and writing the best-selling books.
The Facebook founder surprised everyone in 2014 when, during a visit to Tsinghua University in Beijing, he started speaking Mandarin – and continued for half an hour. Though his efforts got a mixed reception from the press, the audience seemed delighted – and we were pretty impressed, too.
The star of Napoleon Dynamite is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and served a two-year religious mission to Japan after high school, where he became fluent in the language. And though he now describes himself as “a little rusty”, he still sounds pretty good to us.
Tim Peake is the first British astronaut to go to the International Space Station – but before leaving Earth he had to learn Russian (the language of the controls in the Soyuz capsule used to get to the ISS), and has described this as the hardest part of his 14 months’ training.
Okay so we already mentioned Tom Hiddleston in our last post, but frankly, we never get bored of listening to him speaking loads of languages – among them French, Spanish, Greek and Italian, plus some Mandarin, Russian and Korean. And he studied Latin at university…
The Lord of the Rings star was born in New York, but spent his childhood in Venezuela, Denmark and Argentina, leaving him fluent in English, Spanish and Danish. He also speaks some French and Italian, and understands Norwegian and Swedish.
Does your favourite celebrity make the list?
Happy Leap Day! The 29th of February comes around every four years, but how much do you know about this extra day?
What is Leap Day?
Originally the Sumerians divided the year into 12 months and allocated 30 days for each month. This was adapted by the Egyptians, who realised that this didn’t fit in with the amount of time taken for the Earth to orbit the sun. The Egyptians decided to add five days in at the end of each year to give us the 365 days we have now; however, these five days were just for partying and celebrations – sounds good, right?! The leap year then came about from the Gregorian calendar, with the idea that one day would be added onto February every four years.
Leap years around the world
No one seems to know why it is called a ‘leap’ year, but there are other names for it around the world. In German a leap year is called ‘Schaltjhar’, in Russian it is ‘année bissextile’ and in French it is similar with ‘anno bisestile’. Interestingly in Italian it is called ‘l’ann d’la baleina’ which translates to ‘the whale’s year’, after a belief that whales only give birth during leap years. In many countries a leap year is believed to be bad luck; Russia and the Ukraine believe that getting married or buying a house during a leap year is unlucky. In Taiwan it is considered really unlucky; the Taiwanese go so far as to say that parents are more likely to die during a leap year.
What’s all this about women proposing?
Perhaps the most well-known leap year tradition is the idea that women can propose to men in this year. This is believed to be introduced by an Irish nun who thought that women had to wait too long for suitors to propose and convinced St Patrick to give women permission to ask a man to marry them once every four years. It was thought that if a woman did want to propose she had to wear breaches or scarlet petticoats in order to do so.
In certain European countries it was thought that if a man refused the proposal they should pay a penalty. In Finland they had to buy the lady fabric so she could make her own skirt. In Denmark, the suitor had to buy her twelve pairs of gloves so the lady could hide her embarrassment at not having an engagement ring.
What if you’re born on 29th February?
People born on the 29th have to decide which day to celebrate their birthday for the other three years. However the chances of being born on the 29th of February are 1 in 1,461. For those that are born on this day, the city of Anthony (next to Texas) celebrates the leap year with a four-day festival; this is done to celebrate the leap year babies’ birthdays. There are also Facebook groups for people born on this day, and many restaurants and retailers offer ‘leap day’ deals.
Is it your birthday today? Or did you propose?! Tell us about it!