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5 Americans You Didn't Know Spoke Chinese

Sara Lynn Hua | October 20, 2015 | | 0 Comments

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.

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.

Theresa Vail
Miss Kansas 2013, Miss America Top Ten finalist

Theresa Vail is known for being full of surprises. She is the first Miss America contestant to openly display two large tattoos during the swimsuit competition. She is also the first U.S Army Sergeant to appear in the beauty pageant. In a recent interview, Theresa Vail surprised everyone by saying, “I love Chinese people,” in Mandarin with no accent. She revealed that she double majored in chemistry and Chinese in college, while boasting a 3.8 GPA. It’s always impressive when Caucasians can speak nearly fluent Chinese, and seeing a tall, blonde, and gorgeous beauty queen do it makes it all the more impressive. But that’s exactly what Miss Vail’s platform was about – defying stereotypes.

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.” We approve as well, Mark, we approve.


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.

Sara Lynn Hua

Sara Lynn Hua

Sara Lynn Hua is a contributing writer and editor for TutorMing. She grew up in Beijing, before going to the University of Southern California (USC) to get her degree in Social Sciences and Psychology. When she’s not reading up on Chinese culture, she enjoys traveling the world. Follow her travels on Instagram at @hautesaracha.

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