It’s International Women’s Day! To celebrate in style, we’ve found out some of the world’s most legendary female polyglots from across the world, from antiquity to today.
Queen Cleopatra VII (69-30 BC) could speak nine languages, according to Plutarch, and rarely needed an interpreter for diplomatic purposes. Her native language was Greek but she was feted for also speaking the Egyptian language perfectly – apparently a rare accolade for Egyptian rulers of the time.
Queen Elizabeth I
The current Queen Elizabeth speaks fluent French, but the first Queen Elizabeth of England (1533-1603) was said to speak ten languages. She was highly skilled in French, Latin and Italian, but could also converse in Spanish, Dutch, Latin, Welsh, Cornish, Scottish and Irish.
Noted Hungarian translator Kató Lomb (1909-2003) was one of the world’s first simultaneous interpreters and had a degree of fluency in seventeen languages. She could simultaneously translate Russian, German, English and French, and was completely fluent in Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Chinese and Polish. In case that wasn’t enough, she could also read Swedish, Norwegian, Romanian, Portuguese, Dutch, Bulgarian and Czech.
The actress (1929-1993), most famous for her role in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, grew up speaking Dutch and French with her Belgian mother, and went on to become fluent in four more languages – English, Italian, German and Spanish. She learnt Spanish later in her life while doing humanitarian work as a Goodwill ambassador for UNICEF.
Queen Silvia of Sweden
Born to a Brazilian mother and German father, Queen Silvia of Sweden can speak six languages fluently – Portuguese, German, Swedish, French, Spanish and English. She also knows Swedish Sign Language well, the national language used by the deaf community in Sweden.
Bollywood star Asin’s mother tongue is Malayalam, the official language of her home state Kerala in India, but she can speak eight other languages. She is completely fluent in Tamil, Telugu, Sanskrit, English, Hindi and French, and can also speak a bit of Italian and Marathi.
Super-famous Chinese actress and singer Karen Mok speaks six languages. Born in Hong Kong, she is fluent in English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Italian, German and French. She studied Italian Literature at university and married her German-born husband in Florence in 2011.