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4 Famous People Who Learned English as a Second Language

Did you know that many famous people in various industries that we hold with high regard had to learn English as a second language before they became famous? Some have accents and others do not, but they all share one thing in common: they originated from another country which did not use English as its primary language. In all fields from to entertainment to science and technology, many successful and groundbreaking people have embraced English as a second language.

Entertainment – Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger is perhaps one of the most famous Americans who come to mind because he has crossed many arenas in his achievement of fame. The Austrian-American actor was born July 30, 1947. In the late 1970s Schwarzenegger began learning English as a second language and graduated from Santa Monica College and got his American citizenship in 1983. He is well known for achieving success in many fields such as acting, directing, investing, body building, business, philanthropy and politics. He is considered by many as the best body builder of all time as well as an action-film icon. Best known for his Terminator films, Schwarzenegger began lifting weights at the age of 15 and won the Mr. Universe competition at the age of 20. He also served as the 38th Governor of California from 2003 to 2011.

Business – Jack Ma

Another name that may be familiar is Jack Ma, Founder and Executive Chairman of Alibaba, China’s largest e-commerce company and the sixth largest Internet Company in the world. This Internet Company accounts for 80% of online shopping in China. It processed nearly $250 billion in online transactions last year, which is more than eBay and Amazon combined. Ma grew up in Hangshou, China and wanted to learn English at the age of 12. To accomplish this goal, he cycled 40 minutes each day to a hotel that foreign people stayed at to learn and practice his English skills. In exchange for the practice, Ma would take visitors on tours of the city. He did this for eight years and then studied to become an English teacher. He was working as an interpreter for a trade delegation in 1995 in Seattle, where he was introduced to the Internet for the first time.

Journalism – Joseph Pulitzer

Many have come to know the Pulitzer Prize as one of the most prestigious awards for journalism. However, what many people may not know is the founder of this world renowned prize for writing was Joseph Pulitzer, a non-native of America. He was born in April 1847 in Hungary. He immigrated to the United States at the age of 17 and immediately went to the First New York Cavalry to serve in the America Civil War. He was fluent in German and French but knew very little English. Eventually, he made his way to St. Louis., where while doing odd jobs, he immersed himself in the study of English and Law. He established a school for journalism and introduced his highly coveted Pulitzer Prizes.

Politics – Martin Van Buren

In the realm of politics, an interesting person who learned English as a second language is Martin Van Buren, the eighth president of the United States and Founder of the Democratic Party. The first Van Buren emigrated from Holland in 1633. Van Buren was baptized Maarten Van Buren in Kinderhook, New York in 1782. He was the first president who was born in the United States after the American Revolution. Although he was born a citizen, Van Buren grew up in a Dutch speaking community and spoke only Dutch in his home. Unfortunately, his presidency was filled with challenges and is not considered to be outstanding one. However ironically, his nickname “Old Kinderhook” popularized the expression “OK” which is widely used today.

The list of famous people who didn’t start out speaking English but learned the language and went on to do many outstanding things in their careers is long. The next time you come across the name of an actor, singer, inventor or politician whose name sounds foreign, look up their biographical information, and you may find out that they had the same struggles with learning English as a Second Language as most non-native speakers. These individuals, nonetheless, went on to conquer their language challenges while creating a legacy for generations to admire and emulate.

Are you ready to take the leap and learn English as a second language? Sign up for one of our Intensive English Courses today, or Contact Us for more information.

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