The Most Famous Multilingual People in History

Mar 16, 2017 | Good to Know

multilingual people history

History is full of figures who knew more than one language. Let’s take a look at some famous historical polyglots.

Elizabeth I (September 7, 1533 – March 24, 1603)

Being royalty or a politician means getting a lot of benefit from knowing multiple languages. Someone in a position of power needs to be able to communicate fluently with many different officials and citizens. Now people in power have translation tools that can allow them to get by, but in the olden days? You had to fully rely on language proficiency to communicate. Maybe that’s why Elizabeth I (pictured above) knew seven different languages, English, Flemish, Welsh, Scottish, Irish, Greek and French.

Sir Richard Burton (March 19, 1821 – October 20, 1890)

Sir Richard Burton was perhaps the most gifted linguist in the world. He knew as many as 29 languages. Language fluency wasn’t just his hobby, but it was necessary for his lines of work. As an explorer, soldier, writer, cartographer, spy, ethnologist and diplomat, Sir Burton benefitted from having a large language repertoire. Sir Burton spoke English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Hindustani, Gujarati, Marathi, Persian and Sindhi among others.

Friedrich Engels (November 28, 1820 – August 5, 1895)

You likely know of Karl Marx, but do you know who Friedrich Engels is? Co-author of The Communist Manifesto, Engels helped to found Marxist theory without getting any of the credit. Engels worked as a businessman, journalist, philosopher and social scientist. He was fluent in English, French, Polish, Russian, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Irish Gaelic and Milanese dialect (a form of Italian) among others.

J.R.R. Tolkien (January 3, 1892 – September 2, 1973)

J. R. R. Tolkien’s writing credits include the novels “The Hobbit” “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Silmarillion.” Tolkien was a famed linguist not just in spoken languages but also for creating his own language systems. Tolkien could speak 35 different languages, but also developed Quenya and Sindarin which appear in his books.

José Mourinho (January 26, 1963 – Current Day)

José Mourinho, manager of Premier League football club Manchester United, is a modern polyglot. Originally from Portugal, Mourinho is considered to be an incredible soccer coach. He was named among the 10 greatest coaches since the founding of UEFA by the administration itself. Mourinho speaks English, Spanish, Italian and French.

One More Polyglot…

Want to know another polyglot? Me! As the author of this blog and language enthusiast, I currently speak English, Spanish, French, Dutch and German. It may not be as impressive as Tolkien or Sir Burton, but anyone who is willing to learn more than one language should be applauded.

I have an extreme passion for the translation industry, and that requires being familiar with multiple languages. The world contains many languages, and content should be written to cater to the needs of the global language system. Is your content global-friendly?