6 Famous Multilingual Women (Past and Present)

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International Women’s Day is all about celebrating the social, economic and political achievements of women around the world. It’s also about showing love and appreciation for the women in your life.

This year, we want to celebrate to the linguistic achievements of famous women from the past and present, and different parts of the world.

Here are six famous multilingual women:

1. Cleopatra

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How many languages did she speak? Around 9

Which ones? Greek, Ethiopian, Latin, 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.

2. Queen Elizabeth I

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How many languages did she speak? Around 10

Which ones? English, 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.”

3. Maria Gaetana Agnesi

How many languages did she speak? 7

Which ones? Italian, French, Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, German and Latin

Born in Milan in 1718, Maria Gaetana Agnesi became the first woman to be appointed a mathematics professor at a university, and the first woman to publish a mathematics textbook.

She spoke several languages from a young age, which earned her the nickname “the seven-language orator”.

4. Angela Merkel

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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.

5. 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!

6. 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).

Would you like to improve your language skills? Learn for free with Busuu today.

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