Mark Zuckerberg to John Cena: famous people you didn’t know could speak Chinese

With over 1.2 billion speakers worldwide, it is no wonder Chinese has become a more popular choice among language learners in recent years.  In the United States alone, students enrolled in Chinese have seen 100% growth in schools between 2013 and 2015. But among foreign Mandarin learners, who is the most surprising?

Here is our top 5 reviewed by Mandarin Shooter Quest:

Mark Zuckerberg

Zuckerberg learning Chinese

In October of 2014, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg impressed audience members at Tsinghua University by delivering a speech and answering questions entirely in Mandarin. Though his pronunciation and grammar cannot be considered by any means fluent, he was praised by many native Chinese for his attempt to learn the language at all. While Facebook is still banned in China, it seems Zuckerberg’s resolve extends beyond his desire to master the language saying “you can’t have a mission to want to connect everyone in the world and leave out the biggest country.”

The Verdict

Vocab and Grammar: While one blogger likens Zuckerberg’s efforts to “an articulate seven-year-old with a mouthful of marbles” his command of the language is commendable  3/5

Pronunciation: Though heavily accented, with the help of his wife and the numerous resources that come with a net worth of $63 billion, we have no doubt Zuckerberg’s Chinese will improve significantly 2/5

Chinese reaction:  There was a mixed bag in the reception of Zuckerberg’s first public attempt at Chinese with responses ranging from simply “bad” to  “this CEO is so cool, I want to cry.” Most can agree however that conducting a 25 minute Q&A in a room full of native speakers is no small feat 4/5

John Cena

When thinking of WWE superstar John Cena, “language aficionado” is probably not the first thing that springs to mind. However, while speaking at a WWE press conference about expansion to China, Cena proved he was more than just a (pretend) wrestler, conducting an almost three-minute speech in Mandarin. Apart from what can be assumed as a fairly rigorous training regime, WWE also offers free language courses as part of their talent “Wellness Programme.” In an interview with Sportsnation, Cena explains his interest in the language stems from his desire to foster better relations between WWE and the Chinese market.

The Verdict

Vocab and Grammar: While simple, it is clear Cena really understands what he is saying, making the speech coherent and engaging 3/5

Pronunciation: Like Zuckerberg, Cena’s speech was heavily accented however it is clear he understands the vocabulary he is using 3/5

Chinese reaction: There is something inspiring about watching a 120-kilo wrestler in a pinstripe suit conduct a press conference in Mandarin. Western social media lost its mind over Cena’s speech, however as WWE is still relatively unknown in China, only time will tell whether he will become a Weibo sensation. The star does now have an official account so he is well on his way  2/5

Kevin Rudd

Majoring in Chinese at the Australian National University, Kevin Rudd tops this list as having learned Chinese the longest. His command of the language can be largely attributed to his time spent at the National Taiwan Normal University. During his time as Prime Minister, he conducted numerous speeches and Q and A’s In Mandarin and is the first (non-Chinese) leader to be fluent in the language. With a Chinese son in law, and all his children studying the language, it is clear Mr. Rudd has a great affinity for the language and culture of China.

Anyone who has taken on the challenge of learning Chinese can sympathize with the viral video of Mr. Rudd having…. a difficult time with speech preparation using an array of colourful language to describe the frustration often experienced when learning a second language. If Mr. Rudd could carry out such a paroxysm, then he most certainly tops the list in command of the language!

Vocab and Grammar: Though modestly describing his Chinese as “getting worse and worse” Rudd is able to answer complex questions regarding foreign policy and Chinese culture with ease, noticeably impressing his interviewers 4/5

Pronunciation: Mr Rudd is a clear winner when it comes to his understanding of the tonal structure of Chinese, something that comes with study the language for over 30 years4/5

Chinese Reaction: many Chinese commentators have commended Rudd’s Chinese language skills and attributed his close ties to China with his strengthening of bilateral relations between China and Australia.  Although even with this advantage, didn’t manage to survive a leadership spill  4/5

Kanye West

Kayne West mastering the art of the chopstick aged 10

Kayne West mastering the art of the chopstick aged 10

It might come as a surprise to many that before Kanye West dominated the music and fashion spheres, he was just a ten-year-old kid wearing double denim eating "chaofan" in China.  Yes, young Yeezy did in fact spend a year living in China while his mother was a visiting professor at the University of Nanjing. While his mother was once reported saying Kanye did pick up the language while attending a local school, those hoping for ‘Ye to drop some Chinese bars in his next album will be disappointed as it seems the rapper did not continue with the language upon his return to the States.  Perhaps Saint Pablo’s next venture could be taking up Putonghua?

The Verdict

Unfortunately for us, there is no footage of little Kanye spitting verses in Mandarin, however the thought of the rapper spending a year in China does add another layer to the life of Pablo  1/5

The First Families

IIn 2009, President Obama’s then 9-year-old daughter Sasha got to practice her Chinese on none other than Chinese leader Hu Jintao, during his visit to Washington. Not a bad first language exchange! Not to be outdone however, Arabella and Joseph Kushner, the oldest kids of first daughter Ivanka Trump, serenaded Chinese president Xi Jinping during his first meeting with their grandfather. Arabella, who is just five years old, has been learning the language since she was a toddler, with a video of her reciting a poem going viral on Chinese social media in 2016.  Perhaps young Arabella can teach her Grandfather some Chinese idioms before his next meeting!

The Verdict

Vocab and Grammar: As these young Chinese students don’t have the benefit of age on their side, their command of complex grammar and vocabulary cannot be expected to be anything but…adorable. We have no doubt that with the benefit of time (and the opportunity to rub shoulders with China’s most influential people) will set them up for Mandarin mastery.

Chinese reaction: A video showing five-year-old Arabella Kushner singing in mandarin hit 18 million views in less than 24 hours, an impressive feat for such a young learner!  4/5

And the winner is…..

KANYE! Okay, so in terms of command of the grammar, vocab and intricacies of the Chinese language, Mr. Rudd is a clear winner. His understanding of not only the language, but the political and social constructs of China is highly impressive…. However we can still hope Mr West stumbles upon this article and decides to take up Mandarin before his next album?