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?
The Junior Language Challenge is a national competition for children aged 10 and under across the UK. One of the goals of the competition is to give young learners the chance to discover exciting new languages, and this year we’ve chosen Romanian as the first language.
But how much do you know about this European language? Here’s Ioana’s introduction to her mother tongue…
Some other fun facts about Romanian
- The Romanian language is 1,700 years old and is the only Romance language spoken in Eastern Europe. That’s why you’ll be surprised how many similarities it has with French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. However, it also retains a number of features of old Latin and also contains many words taken from the surrounding Slavic languages, as well as from German, Greek and Turkish.
- The name “Romania” comes from the Latin word “Romanus” which means “citizen of the Roman Empire.”
- Something that might come in handy is that Romanian is a phonetic language, so words are pronounced as they are spelled. Yay!
- A foreigner trying to learn or speak Romanian can expect positive reactions from native speakers. Most Romanian will certainly appreciate the fact that you are making an effort to speak their language.
- Romanians tend to be very good at foreign languages, they start learning as early as 6 years old in school either English, French or German and they add a second language at the age of 11. The majority of young people speak very good English and some of them even another one or 2 languages.
- Romanians love meeting new people and making friends; they are also renowned for their hospitality, so if you speak Romanian you have a pretty good chance of having a blast if you’re visiting this country.
- And speaking of travelling, Romania has amazing landscapes. In fact, Romania’s Carpathian Mountains are home to the largest undisturbed forests in Europe.
- Don’t deny yourself the ease of ordering delicious Romanian food that comes in generous portions, and you’re guaranteed to remember a trip to Romania as one of the best you’ve ever had.
La revedere și mult succes (goodbye and good luck)
If you’re a parent or teacher of children aged 10 and under in the UK, visit juniorlanguagechallenge.com to find out more about our annual competition, which is now open! Entry costs just £5, which is all donated to our fantastic charity, onebillion.
My name is Darren, I’m from Bath, England, and my language journey really began about 10 years ago.
I had studied French and German at school but I didn’t really enjoy them. I didn’t realise how useful languages could be until a friend asked me to help her learn some Latin for her nursing exam. She gave me the list of things she needed to learn with a look of sheer terror on her face and I told her ways to easily remember each word. You could see the panic in her eyes fade as she realised she could remember everything after just a couple of hours.
Soon after, I started working with a lot of Polish girls. It was quite difficult because only one or two of them could speak English, so I decided to try to learn enough Polish to be able to say “Good morning”, “You need to do this…”, “Would you like a coffee?” and other essential phrases. My first few attempts at communication were hilarious! My pronunciation was terrible and led to smiles and giggles, but they were all really impressed that I even tried and my blushes soon turned to grins of pride. I started doing the same when other new people arrived and was soon spouting phrases in Polish, Hungarian, Latvian, Romanian, and Greek. The look of happy surprise as a nervous new employee is greeted in his or her own tongue is itself worth the effort of learning.
I try to study a different language every day of the week for about two hours. Now I have friends from all over the world and teach English as a Second Language so I am lucky enough to be able to practise different languages every day. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been able to help someone in the street when they have asked someone in broken English if they know where some place is, or in a shop when they don’t understand what is being said to them by a cashier. One time I was even asked to help translate for a friend who had been attacked and needed to talk to the police. Languages are now very important in my life and are my biggest passion.
One last thing: my original attempts at speaking Polish eventually led to me marrying the girl of my dreams. Just another reason to start your own language adventure!
In the spirit of ‘Linguists Anonymous’, I am Felicity Jones, 45, and I am mildly addicted to learning other languages. I speak French, German, Spanish, Italian and some Mandarin. I have used uTalk to learn some Danish, and my January challenge is Greek.
Even as a child I would listen under the bed cover to a transistor radio beaming in words I could not understand from across Europe when I was meant to be asleep, and tried to make sense of the country names on foreign stamps. I then had the deeply unusual benefit of inspirational language teachers at school. Now, I travel a lot for my work and for fun, and as I always need to know how to say I am vegetarian – in Korean gogi bego is the most effective way to be clear about that – I have an excuse to learn at least a few words. Being able to say ‘thank you’ or ‘good morning’ makes travelling much more human.
What would I say to someone thinking about learning another language? Stop thinking about it and get going! The longer you think about it, the bigger the mountain seems. And don’t be afraid to communicate right from the off, even if you can only say hello or thank you – that’s why I love uTalk as it’s not just flat lists of words; you have to think, hear, speak even with your first words. And the Recall is an evil but effective section, the most like real life you can get to by yourself.
The most inspiring approach I have ever seen is Fluent in 3 Months by Benny Lewis. He uses ‘language hacks’ to accelerate confidence to SPEAK, an approach which transformed him from someone who thought they could not learn languages after school to fluency in seven languages and dabbling in more. Think like a child, open your ears, let yourself sound silly when you shape your mouth to make an unfamiliar sounds, ask someone how you say something in their language. Listen to the radio, read a children’s book, look at the signs in the airport and in shops, skype with native speakers and exchange your skills, go to a bar. Above all, speaking another language is only ever about connecting with someone else, with a different culture, a different way of being, however fleetingly and enjoying it. And if you have any doubt, apparently language learning stimulates the same part of the brain as other pleasurable activity!
Lucy was our first ever winner of the Junior Language Challenge and at age 23 has now chosen to take part in the uTalk Challenge learning Russian. Lucy already speaks Spanish, French, Italian, German and Latin and has been learning languages since she was 10 years old.
Why? Why not?
I was talking to some friends at work at the beginning of January, and it came up in conversation that I was learning Russian. ‘Why Russian!?’ one said. ‘Why not?’ was my reply. People are often surprised when I say that I love learning languages. I think to them, it seems a little removed from what I normally do (I work in science). And while I may have decided to work in science instead of languages, that doesn’t mean to say that they aren’t useful to me.
When I was about 10, a teacher from the local secondary school came to teach us Spanish once a week, and I thought it was brilliant! My teacher entered some of our class into the first ever EuroTalk Junior Language Challenge; being able to learn three different languages was even more exciting. Spanish, Greek (my first experience of a language with a different alphabet), and Saami – Santa’s language (northern Finland, to be exact). Taking part showed me that language learning was fun, and set me on a course of lifelong linguistics.
I’d describe myself as a patchwork of languages; I can speak each to a different level, ranging from Italian, my speaking is poor but my translation is decent, to Spanish, where I can happily hold a conversation. My latest is Russian, which I’ve always wanted to learn; I’ve just about got to grips with the Cyrillic alphabet. It’s fun to learn so many languages, it stretches my brain, and I love the feeling of being able to speak to someone in their native tongue, a mixture of pride and respect for their culture. However, that doesn’t mean to say that I don’t have problems! The use of the subjunctive in Spanish will forever escape me (in English we only use it in one specific way, when we say ‘If I were you…’), and those odd little verbs in every language that don’t follow the rules always hide away in the recesses of my mind when I want to use them.
How do I overcome problems? Practice! Practice speaking with others out loud, using odd verbs and new tenses and reading with literature from your chosen language starting with children’s stories and building it up (good for new vocabulary and surprisingly complex!) If you are learning more than one, try to compartmentalise them in your head; have a Spanish head and a French head. My Latin is extremely handy for any new scientific terms, I usually have a guess at what they mean before looking them up. My other languages are great for holidays, trips with work and just keeping my brain active. I certainly don’t intend to stop (I think I may try Basque next): you never know when you might need them!