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Famous Multilinguals and Their Stories

 

Bill Cosby
, actor

“If you know two languages, the level of your intelligence
is multiplied a hundredfold in other people’s eyes.”

Celebrities Raising Bilingual Children
       See what the famous and fabulous do!
Guess Who Grew up Multilingually
       More than you think, here are a few.
Want to Add Someone to Our List?
       Sure, just send us a note!
Raising Multilingual Children
  • Johnny Depp, lives in France
    Actor (Pirates of the Caribbean, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Chocolat, Sleepy Hollow, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Edward Scissorhands)
  • Partner, Vanessa Paradis and two children
    Lily-Rose (7 years) and Jack (4).
  • Vanessa speaks French (her native language) to the children but they have to speak English to Johnny.

Johnny Depp is learning to speak French to keep up with his bilingual children. He told Britain's OK! magazine: "I still have the world's worst French accent but I'm working on it. "At least I can understand the language well enough to understand my children, but they don't have to think their daddy is an idiot!" He confessed: "My daughter is usually willing to make allowances for me and even says, 'Oh, c'est très bon, Papa!' (That's very good Dad). I love hearing that."

  • Madonna, lives in the UK and USA
    Singer and Actress
  • Husband, Guy Ritchie and two children
    Lourdes (10) and Rocco (6)
  • Both children speak French as Lourdes attends an immersion school, and she also speaks some Spanish.

Madonna and Guy Ritchie have no idea what their kids are talking about-because they speak in French constantly. Grandpa Ritchie has revealed that with both children attending the Lycee Francais in London, Lourdes has become fluent and Rocco is almost there. He says, "Rocco sure is picking up a lot of French. He speaks it all the time because Lourdes is fluent. They talk to each other in French all day, chatting away non-stop. It's funny. Neither Guy nor Madonna speak a word of the language, so they cannot understand anything." Although Madonna is pleased her children are becoming bilingual she feels a bit left out of their conversations.

  • Antonio Banderas, lives in USA and Spain.
    Actor (The Mambo Kings, Philadelphia, The House of the Spirits, Interview With the Vampire, Desperado, Assassins, Evita, Two Much)
  • Wife, Melanie Griffith and daughter Stella (9 years)
  • Daughter Stella has grown up speaking English while living in the USA, and Spanish when the couple lives at their second home in Spain.

"Melanie and I have two lives," says Antonio Banderas "a professional one that we developed in Los Angeles--apart from which it's the city where Melanie was raised, and the other, more familial, in our house in Spain where we live when we don't work." His wish is to impart the best of both worlds into his daughter. "I wanted that she have a marked Spanish character and that she speak the two languages very well. And clearly that she will respect her Anglo-Saxon side."

  • Steffi Graf, born in Germany, lives in USA
    Ex-tennis star, won an amazing 22 major championships
  • Husband, Andre Agassi and son Jaden Gil (4) and daughter Jaz Elle (2)
  • Rising her children bilingually with German and English.

Ex-tennis star and mother Steffi Graf speaks German to her children at home in Las Vegas while dad, Andre Agassi, speaks English to them. Although Andre knows some German, he keeps it simple with expressions such as 'good morning', 'how are you' or 'what are we doing today'
Peter Graf is a proud granddad who speaks German with the grandchildren and much enjoys their visits. "Jaden Gil was here in the garden and picked flowers for his mom. That was a precious moment. He also explored the room where his mom grew up with great curiosity. I find it important that the kids grow up bilingually to keep the connection with their heritage."

  • Kristin Scott Thomas, lives in France
    Actress (The English Patient, Gosford Park, Life As A House, Four Weddings and A Funeral)
  • Husband, Francois Oliviennes and children Hannah (15) Joseph (12) and toddler George
  • She speaks English to her children and dad French.

"I've always tried to have people who are working for me who are English-speaking, so the children stay bilingual, which makes it more complicated," she says. "Francois speaks to them in French and I speak to them in English."

  • Wesley Snipes, lives in USA
    Actor (Demolition Man, Blade I, II and III, White Men Can't Jump, and Passenger 57).
  • Wife, Nikki Parks, daughter Iset (6) and a son age (4)
  • Both children a growing up speaking English and Korean.

The family frequently visits Korea because it is where Nikki is from and Wesley calls it his second homeland. When asked about his grasp of the language, he shouted "On your knee!" in Korean bringing laughter to the crowd. He confessed "I learned it from my two kids and my Korean is improving."

  • Crown Princess Maria of Greece, lives in USA
    born Marie-Chantal Miller
  • Husband, Crown Prince Pavlos of Greece and daughter, Maria-Olympia (10) and sons Constantine Alexios (8), Achileas Andreas (6)
  • The children are growing up bilingually with English and Greek

"Right now we're trying to find a Greek nanny to teach the children and that should also encourage me to speak it more. Living in New York with a young family, it's so difficult to keep up on the language. We're not surrounded by Greeks all the time".
The princess has grown up speaking multiple languages. She spent her childhood in Hong Kong and was ten years old when she moved to Switzerland. She also studied at a bilingual school in Paris, France, before starting University.

Grew Up Multilingually
  • Albert Einstein, had Swiss and American citizenship
  • Theoretical physicist, Nobel Prize laureate
  • Born in Germany, and lived in Switzerland and Italy during his youth.

Grew up with German as his mother tongue but was fluent in Italian (which, along with German and French, is one of the three official languages of Switzerland.) When he graduated from high school, he was required to take exams in both in German in Italian

  • Pierre Omidyar, born in France, lives in USA
  • Founder of eBay, Silicon Valley billionaire,
    trendsetter and philanthropist.
  • Born in Paris to a French-Iranian family. They emigrated to the United States when he was six years old.

Pierre grew up in a French-Iranian family that placed a premium on intellectual pursuits. Omidyar's parents had been sent to France by their families as young adults to get a better education than was available in Iran in the early 1960s. Omidyar's father attended medical school; his mother studied linguistics at the Sorbonne. When Pierre, their only child, was six, they emigrated to the United States so that his father could begin a residency at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

  • Madeline Albright, lives in USA
  • Diplomat, Secretary of State

Madeleine Albright was born in Prague and later attended a Swiss boarding school. She and her parents moved to the United States when she was 11 years old. She became fluent in English, French, and Czech, and has good speaking and reading abilities in Russian, German and Polish.

  • Ben Affleck, lives in USA
  • Actor, (Daredevil, Dazed & Confused, Goodwill Hunting,)
  • Speaks English, Spanish and Arabic. He learned Spanish while living in Mexico as a teen.

Ben says, "Many people think that Jennifer [Lopez, ex wife] taught me Spanish, but I learnt it at 13 because I lived in Mexico when I was a teenager."

  • Shakira, born in Colombia now lives in USA
  • Musician (Laundry Service, Live, Off the record)
  • Shakira was born in Colombia to a Lebanese father and a Spanish-Italian mother.

She speaks Spanish, English Arabic, Portuguese, and Italian, and she can perform Arab belly dancing, which was taught by her Lebanese grandmother. But Shakira's first language is Spanish -- five years ago she couldn't complete a full sentence in English. "It's always been a big question mark," Shakira muses. "For a long time, I thought I wouldn't be able to think in English well enough to write songs. Then something clicked in my head, and everything changed. I could express myself in English".

  • Orlando Bloom, lives in the UK
  • Actor (Lord of the Rings Triology, Pirates of the Caribbean, Troy, Kingdom of Heaven)
  • Orlando grew up speaking French, hanging around his parents language school in Kent.

The actor has also faced the challenge of being dyslexic, but his mum says he has more than overcome it. And, he still learned both languages perfectly fine.

  • Noam Chomsky, lives in the USA
  • Father of modern linguistics, author and political activist
  • Noam Chomsky was born in the USA, the son of Hebrew scholar from a town in Ukraine and mother from what is now called Belarus.

Their first language was Yiddish, but Chomsky says it was "taboo" in his family to speak it. His family embraced Hebrew instead and brought him up "immersed in Hebrew culture and literature." Later in life he would teach Hebrew classes. In spite of this, and of all the linguistic work carried out during his career, Chomsky claims "the only language I speak and write proficiently is English."

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Your Guide to Raising Bilingual Children