Celebrities Speaking English at Different Levels

I have spoken several times about the US Government’s five point rating of a person’s mastery of a language. Instead of writing more about it in great detail, I thought it would be fun to give examples of what these levels of foreign language mastery sound like. Please understand that this is my own interpretation of what people sound like at levels one through five based on what I have read. I would also like to point out that these examples only have to do with spoken language and not any other aspect like reading or writing.

Tom Hanks Has a Hard Time with English

In this clip from the movie Terminal, Tom Hanks portrays a Slavic tourist who is, at the beginning of the movie, a great example of someone who has a level 1 mastery of a language.

Paz Vega Gets Her Point Across

This clip comes from the movie Spanglish. The Spanish actress Paz Vega plays a Mexican immigrant to the USA who decides to learn English so as not to need her daughter to act as an interpreter for her. This conversation with her boss (played by Adam Sandler) is a good example of someone speaking a foreign language at a level 2.

Her English is pretty authentic here. At the time of filming, Paz Vega was conversational in English but not much more than that so the studio hired an escort interpreter to follow her around the set to make sure nothing was lost in translation.

Gaspar Ulliel Is Very Good But Still Sounds French

In this recording Gaspar Ulliel is being interviewed about his role in the movie Hannibal Rising. Notice that he says some words perfectly, with no accent at all! Then he mispronounces the words youth and events and uses expressions that sound a little weird in English. This is a good example of a level 3 mastery. He’s confident enough to act and be interviewed in English, just as long as we are patient with his accent.

A Croatian with Very Impressive English

This is another interview but with actor Goran Visnjic who plays a doctor on the hospital drama E.R. If his name didn’t sound foreign (to Americans) and if I weren’t including him in this list you might not pick up on his accent. This is amazing because he didn’t get serious about learning English until his twenties and said that he was uninterested in and was bad at English in school. His English is a good example of level 4.

How Does Hauer Rutger Do It?

This Dutch actor speaks perfect English. He could, and probably does, pass for an American and probably even a British person. This, in and of itself, is amazing but what is even more amazing is that I don’t believe he had any big advantage in learning English. He was a horrible student who dropped out of school early and did a stint in the Dutch military at a young age. Both of his parents were Dutch so I don’t think that he was raised in a bilingual home. It seems that, at the age of an adult and with a poor academic record, Hauer was able to learn to speak English with a perfect British accent and a perfect American accent! He is one of the few people I know of to attain a level 5 in adulthood.

This first clip is from his famous monologue in the movie Blade Runner where I always thought that he was a British actor. The next clip is several decades later when he was being interviewed about his role in Blade Runner, but this time with an American accent.


One Response

  1. How about Spain’s Javier Bardem in “No Country for Old Men”? Or even his speech at the Academy Awards — he can go so quickly and so effortlessly between Spanish and English. His performance was amazing in the movie, and his English was absolutely perfect!

    Some day that’s how I want my Spanish and Portuguese to sound (as if I am a native speaker of each language).

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