Polyglots of the Present

Maya Angelou – I remember being in grade school and reading some of her poems and short stories. I liked her work then and I like it now. I was surprised to find that this fantastic American writer was also a polyglot. She speaks English, French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and the West African language Fanti.

Barry Farber – This conservative radio talk show host has a very good way to describe his knowledge of languages. He says that he marries the languages that he has studied the most and speaks the best and that he dates the ones that he has only studied a bit. These languages include Albanian, Bulgarian, Bengali, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hebrew, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Korean, Mandarin, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish, Swedish, Tibetan and Yiddish. I wasn’t originally going to include him because I can’t find the exact number of languages he knows but I felt that his description of language learning was too good to not include in this post.

Steve Kaufmann – A former diplomat and a businessman, Steve Kaufmann has become an avid language enthusiast on the World Wide Web. His website and his book are both free and share with others the methods that he himself has used to learn the languages which he knows, these being English, French, Mandarin, Japanese, Cantonese, German, Swedish, Spanish, Italian and some Russian and Portuguese as well.

Ziad Fazah – He is one of the most advanced polyglots in recorded history. Fascinated by languages and intrigued by the idea of becoming an interpreter at the UN, Ziad made the decision to learn all the world’s languages as a boy growing up in Lebanon. When Ziad entered early adulthood he found that an interpreter’s life was not as glamorous as he had thought when he was a boy and all but stopped learning new languages after that. One wonders what would have happened if he had been given the proper stimulus because he learned most of the languages included in the list below by his early twenties:

Albanian, Amharic, Arabic, Armenian, Azeri, Bengali, Bulgarian, Burmese, Cambodian, Cantonese, Czech, Cypriot, Danish, Dutch, Dzongkha, English, Fijian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Kyrgyz, Lao, Malagasy, Malay, Maltese, Mandarin, Mongolian, Nepali, Norwegian, Papiamento, Pashto, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Singapore Colloquial English, Sinhalese, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Tajik, Thai, Tibetan, Turkish, Urdu, Uzbek, Vietnamese and Wu Chinese.

Alexander Arguelles – Dr. Arguelles was raised as a fairly typical monolingual American. It wasn’t until college that he learned to love languages and even so it wasn’t until he was in his thirties that he decided to become a true polyglot. He has been a researcher and a professor on a number of continents and is competent in about three dozen languages, both living and dead. He currently dedicates his time to diverse linguistic activities such as translating, consulting and encouraging polyglottery throughout the world. As a part of this final effort he moderates an online forum about learning languages. His languages are listed below.

German, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Afrikaans, Icelandic, Frisian, Old Norse, Middle English, Middle High German, Old English, Old High German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Catalan, Occitan, Romanian, Latin, Old French, Russian, Polish, Serbocroatian, Czech, Bulgarian, Esperanto, Irish, Persian, Greek, Irish, Arabic, Hindi-Urdu and Korean.

Stuart Jay Raj – Mr. Raj’s yearly activities include being a business consultant, lecturer, language teacher, interpreter, translator and composer. Allowing himself to be influenced by his polyglot grandfather, Mr. Raj grew up in Sydney, Australia and was quite proficient in a rather wide array of languages by the time he started university. Having lived and worked in Thailand for close to a decade, Mr. Raj uses his languages to facilitate communication and cooperation between many different cultures from all over the world. His languages are listed below.

English, Indonesian, Malay, Thai, Lao, Mandarin, Spanish, Cantonese, Danish, Australian Sign Language, Norwegian, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Swedish, Urdu, Sanskrit, Korean, Arabic, Burmese, Karen, Tagalog, Tibetan, Vietnamese.

Wendy Vo – She is the hope of the polyglot future. The daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, eight-year-old Wendy lives in America and has many different tutors that teach her language and music, among other subjects no doubt. In addition to playing and composing music on the piano, Wendy speaks English, Spanish, Portuguese, Hindi, Japanese, Cantonese, Mandarin, French, Arabic, Russian and Vietnamese. To see her speaking these languages and playing the piano, see this previous post.

Fernando Henrique Cardoso – An accomplished sociologist and economist, university lecturer and former president of Brazil, Pres. Cardoso speaks fluent Portuguese, English, Spanish and French.

Sam Sullivan – Mr. Sullivan is the inventor of a number of items for the handicap, the founder of several non-profit organizations and the current mayor of Vancouver, where the 2010 Winter Olympics will be held. He also speaks English, French, Cantonese and Punjabi.

Celebrity Polyglots

Aishvarya Rai – English, Tulu, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu and Hindi

Andrew Divoff: English, Spanish, Italian, French, German, Romanian, Catalan, Portuguese and Russian

Christopher Lee – French, Italian, Spanish and German and a basic knowledge of Russian, Swedish, and Greek

Dolph Lundgren – Swedish, English, German and some Japanese and Spanish

Eddie Izzard – English, French and German

Famke Janssen – Dutch, German, French and English

Jackie Chan – English, Mandarin and Cantonese

Jennifer Connelly – English, French and Italian

Joaquim de Almeida – Portuguese, English, Spanish, French and German

Lucy Liu – English, Mandarin, Italian, Spanish and some Japanese

Maria de Madeiros – French, English, Portuguese and Italian

Masayori “Masi” Oka – Japanese, English, German and Spanish

Milla Jovovich – Russian, French, English and Serbian

Mira Sorvino – English, Mandarin and French

Natalie Portman – English and Hebrew and some German, French, Japanese and Spanish

Penélope Cruz – Spanish, English, French and Italian

Sarah Chalke – French, German and English

Sigourney Weaver – English, French and German

Takeshi Kaneshiro – English, Taiwanese, Mandarin, Cantonese and Japanese

Viggo Mortensen – Spanish, English and Danish

William Shatner – English, French, ASL and Esperanto

Honorable Mention

These two men are only bilingual but since neither was raised in a bilingual family and both are quite famous for accomplishments that are unrelated to their foreign language skills it seems amiss to overlook them completely.

Kevin Rudd – English and Mandarin

Tommy Lee Jones – English and Spanish