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Americans are still impressed when someone can speak another language August 4, 2011

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Fun stuff.

Moviefone, one of the larger entertainment sites in the U.S., has posted a tribute to American celebrities who can speak a foreign language. Mila Kunis recently told off (in Russian) a Russian reporter who asked Justin Timberlake why he was making movies and not singing. Moviefone then decided to feature a bunch of celebrities, including Johnny Depp and Meryl Streep, who speak another language. Why is this news? Oh yeah, because most Americans can barely speak their own language let alone speak two… <sigh> Anyway, enjoy.



1. Natalie - August 5, 2011

A bit of a a correction to your title: “Americans are still impressed when someone can speak another language, even if they speak it badly.”

Okay, I’m joking, but only a bit. I can’t speak for most of the celebrities mentioned, but I find the whole discussion about Mila Kunis rather amusing because a) she was REALLY RUDE to that reporter and b) her Russian isn’t actually that great.

Jill (@bonnjill) - August 5, 2011

I agree. Her repeated “Что?” was pretty darn rude. But it got the movie publicity…

2. Paola Grochi - August 5, 2011

On the article, Gwyneth Paltrow really impressed me! It’s not common to find an American (or any English language native) to speak Spanish fluently and properly, and she nailed it!
Another celebrity, though not featured on the article is Viggo Mortensen, who lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina during part of his childhood and teenage years: not only does he speak as a native, he actually sound as your average “porteño” (people from Buenos Aires, and not from the provinces), it was really surprising, and please let me add, as an Uruguayan woman, pretty darn sexy, too.

3. Silvina JoverCirillo (@LatinaComm) - August 6, 2011

Hello Jill,

Funny you bring this up! At the moment I’m in Portugal for my brother’s wedding. My soon-to-be sister-in-law has an interesting heritage: Belgium, Portugal, Angola. Our side goes like this: Uruguay, Argentina, Spain, France. And then my U.S. side. In this house we’re speaking Portuguese, French, Spanish, and English. Nobody thinks anything of it! We code-switch, of course, without even thinking about it. Back in the U.S., some of my in-laws still think it’s exotic when I speak Spanish… You get the picture 🙂

4. Kevin Lossner - August 6, 2011

Sadly true and very tiring. Where I grew up in Southern California, few understood why I would have an interest in any foreign language other than possibly Spanish. My comment that more interesting chemistry journals were published in Russian and German than in Spanish mostly met blank stares….

5. Angela - August 8, 2011

I spend a lot of my time with Russians who grew up in Germany, speaking Russian only in the home, and to my mind, Mila’s Russian seems similar to theirs: childish, rude because it’s simplistic, aggressive and overly familiar, and very limited to vocabulary they would have come into contact with at home only. Another thing I would expect from Mila is an inability to read Russian — my best friend is one of these Russians, and when she came to visit me in Moscow years ago, I had to read all of the street signs and restaurant menus to her.

But the Mila Kunis clip was funny to watch. “Why do anything? Why are you here?!” LOL

6. Judy Jenner (@language_news) - August 8, 2011

Too funny, thanks for sharing, Jill. I guess it means job security for us, huh? My hubby is from Southern California and doesn’t speak a lick of Spanish (even though his neighborhood is actually named Conejo Oaks). Foreign languages simply haven’t been emphasized enough here — nor do they seem strictly necessary for those who can’t see beyond the borders of both the country and the English language.

Agreed with @Paola: very strong performance by Gwyneth Paltrow. Impressive.

7. Tess - August 9, 2011

The sad thing for us (or me at least) is that when living in the US we are so little exposed to foreign languages (unless we make an effort to expose ourselves) that many of the languages I knew well get very rusty. The only languages I know to perfection are the the ones I work with every day, English and Swedish, the others, French, German, Finnish and Italian get no exposure and “disappear” from my active mind. On another note, when travelling in Europe I have run into Americans who “wish that they would just speak English”.

8. EP - August 9, 2011

Although I think it certainly can be fulfilling to be able to speak a foreign language, I can’t really say that it broadens a person’s mind or makes him or her more cultured. I know many narrow-minded people who speak several languages and their ideas about culture don’t impress me very much either. I also think it is a bit one-sided to think that Americans are the only ones not interested in learning a foreign language. I know lots of Europeans who aren’t interested in learning one either. And in the end there are usually just simple practical reasons for wanting to learn one.

9. whiskerfeathers - August 9, 2011

Americans like most of the world are star struck and find celebrities to be fascinating. I recently wrote an article where I listed over twenty celebs who speak other languages including French, Spanish, German and Japanese to name a few. Some of them can even speak several languages! Whether we like it or not people hold them up as role models. Because we are living in such a globally aware world it really makes good sense to learn another language, especially for young people.

10. patenttranslator - August 11, 2011

Who is this EP guy with a non-clickable icon?

He’s so funny!!!

Didn’t he post under a different name saying the same thing recently either on this blog or another blog about translation?

Is he maybe like a sock puppet who keep saying the same thing, valiantly defending the bestest country in the world on different blogs?

Jill (@bonnjill) - August 11, 2011

You’re paying more attention than I am, Steve. But you can click on his name and it takes you to his website.

11. patenttranslator - August 12, 2011


Alles klar.

12. John P. Shaklee - August 14, 2011

I hear more often than not from LEP clients that my ability to speak Spanish is an anomaly. Perhaps Ohio slowly dissolves her parochial barriers slower than other sister states. Friends look upon bilinguals with reverence, as if we possessed powers a la Harry Potter. Thank God that doesn’t cause my pride to balloon. Years ago a mentor claimed “it only takes 250 words or so to begin communicating in a second language.” Not a difficult feat, eh? Let Miss Kunis speak as she wishes, no matter the register.

13. online english editing - August 17, 2011

Hmm… I think it should become a usual thing for everybody to speak his’ own language and 1 foreign at least. Mila doesn’t sound bad, at least she can speak and can be understood!

14. Paula - August 23, 2011

Very funny, and so true, thanks for sharing. Even if translators and interpreters can be happy about that, since it saves their profession, I can understand why Americans are not very fond of or interested in learning a foreign language. Imagine you live in such a huge country and you may never leave it, why would you think about other languages you might never need? During my stays abroad in the US, I have never met somebody speaking a foreign language and they were making fun of it. Therefore, it might not bother them a lot!

15. Natia - September 7, 2011

I know this to be true from personal experience. I am European, and the fact that I speak 5 languages fluently hardly surprises or impresses anyone here, since most people speak several languages as well. But if I tell an American or a Brit the same thing, they think I am very clever. They just dont seem to get that this is how many people in Europe grew up, and while its nice to be considered special, I have to face the fact that I am really not…

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