5 Americans You Didn't Know Spoke Chinese

You probably didn't know about these five Chinese speakers.

Who do you know that speaks Chinese? You might have heard of the more popular, well-known Westerners, such as China's Canadian TV personality Da Shan, as well as the former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. However, there are also many lesser known Westerners that have achieved success with the Mandarin tongue, especially those in the U.S.

Here's a list of 5 Americans that you didn't know spoke Chinese!

Herbert Hoover
31st U.S President

Considering how often China appears in the media, you would think that more politicians would consider studying Chinese as a second language. However among all U.S Presidents to date, President Hoover was the only one fluent in Mandarin. Before his career in politics took off, he worked as an engineer at the Chinese Bureau of Mines in Tianjin. When he came to office in 1929, he had to tackle the issue of the Great Depression, so unfortunately he did not use his Mandarin fluency to further diplomatic relations with China. Though apparently he put his Chinese skills to good use: he spoke to his wife in Mandarin in the White House to prevent others from eavesdropping.

John Cena
WWE Wrestler, Actor

In 2016, John Cena stunned Chinese fans as he held a press conference almost entirely in Chinese! He mentioned that his Chinese was a bit "mama huhu" (a Chinese term for "so-so") and while he struggles with some Chinese tones, his speech has very few errors. The decision to have Cena learn Mandarin was a very smart move on the part of WWE, who has made advancements in broadcasting their wrestling shows to the Chinese market. WWE has a language center that specifically trains their talent to learn other languages, to make them more marketable on a global scale. If John Cena endears himself to the Chinese people, WWE can expand their viewership to millions more people.

Bob Woodruff
ABC News co-anchor and television journalist

Bob Woodruff garnered attention for being injured in the line of duty: while reporting on the 2006 Palestinian elections in Iraq, he was critically injured by a roadside bomb. However, he eventually made a full recovery and returned to ABC News. Before his career with ABC, Woodruff had little to do with television or news reporting. He studied law in Michigan and started as a bankruptcy associate, before moving to Beijing to teach law. His Chinese fluency proved useful there, as CBS hired him to be an interpreter for the Tiananmen Square Protests in 1989. Soon after, he abandoned his law practice, and worked at several local stations before being permanently picked up by ABC News in 1996. He once again exercises his Mandarin skills in the ABC documentary, Chinese Inside Out.

Mark Zuckerberg
Co-founder and CEO of Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg is obviously known for creating Facebook, the juggernaut of social media. But did you know that he is also conversationally fluent in Mandarin? One would assume that he studied the language in order to break Facebook into the Chinese Internet market. However, in an interview with CNN, Zuckerberg revealed his motivations for studying Chinese: he wanted to impress his then-girlfriend’s grandmother during their trip to China. Clearly he succeeded, as the couple tied the knot two years later in 2012. Mandarin proved challenging for the Facebook CEO. While learning the language, he invited Chinese-speaking Facebook employees into his office each day for conversation practice. He once complained to his wife about being bad at listening in Mandarin and she responded, “Mark, you’re not good at listening in English, either.”

Related: A Chinese Person's Perspective on Mark Zuckerberg's Mandarin


Mira Sorvino
Academy Award Winning Actress

Mira Sorvino is best known for playing Linda Ash in the Woody Allen film, Mighty Aphrodite, as well as Marilyn in the 1996 film, Norma Jean & Marilyn. She pursued East Asian Studies at Harvard University, doing a one-year exchange program in Beijing, China. While attempting to launch her acting career in New York City, Mira Sorvino actually taught Mandarin to earn money, in addition to the clichéd waitressing job she held. This eventually helped her film career, as Sorvino claims that she’d always been drawn to Asian filmmakers and has a love for Hong Kong films in particular. In 1998, she was cast opposite Chow Yun-Fat in The Replacement Killers, and the two were able to converse in Mandarin during filming.


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