5 of the most famous multilingual women throughout history

Young women blowing confetti from hands. Friends celebrating outdoors in evening at a terrace.

Happy International Women’s Day! Today is all about celebrating the social, economic and political achievements of women around the world. It’s also about showing love for the women in your life! Last year we shared some history and traditions of this day. This year we want to bring your attention to the linguistic achievements of famous women from different centuries and countries around the world. Let’s start by going way back in time…


How many languages did she speak? Around 9

Which ones? Greek, Ethiopian, Latin, Trogodyte and the languages of the Hebraioi, Arabes, Syrians, Medes and Parthians to name a few.

Cleopatra’s native language was Greek as she came from the Ptolemaic dynasty, a family of Greek origin that ruled Egypt after Alexander the Great‘s death. Knowing so many languages helped Cleopatra in diplomatic and financial negotiations. As you can see, she was a skilled linguist and would have no problem learning new languages when it was necessary to do so. Pretty impressive, eh!


Queen Elizabeth I

How many languages did she speak? Around 10

Which ones? French, Flemish, Latin, Greek, Italian, Spanish, Welsh, Cornish, Scottish and Irish

Knowing so many languages meant that she could communicate with people from all parts of the country and could always find common language to speak to visitors and ambassadors from the courts of Europe. In 1603, the Venetian ambassador, Giovanni Carlo Scaramelli, wrote that Queen Elizabeth “possessed [these] languages so thoroughly that each appeared to be her native tongue”


Angela Merkel

How many languages does she speak? 3

Which ones? German, Russian and English

The German chancellor was raised in East Germany where all the students were required to learn Russian at school. She went to Moscow as a teenager and won prizes for her achievements in the language. These days she uses it mainly for diplomatic purposes. Merkel also knows English but rarely speaks it in public. 


Karen Mok

How many languages does she speak? 5

Which ones? English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Italian and French.

Chinese actress and singer-songwriter Karen Mok was born in Hong Kong. She went to university in the UK and learnt Italian whilst studying Italian Literature in Italy. In one of her interviews she said that she “could have done the role in English, Cantonese or Mandarin”. In 2011, she married her German-born husband. So maybe German is next on her list!


Penélope Cruz

How many languages does she speak? 4

Which ones? Spanish, French, Italian and English

Born in Madrid, Cruz learned French at school and studied English and Italian in order to play certain roles and advance in her acting career. She even won a David di Donatello award for her role in the Italian film Non Ti Muovere (Don’t Move).


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