More Than Funny Business: A Stand-up Comedian’s Perspective on Multilingualism Posted by on Sep 4, 2013 in Archived Posts

I never thought a cross-dressing stand-up comedian would deliver some of my favorite arguments in support of language learning, but Eddie Izzard did just that in this article:


Now picture those ideas coming from this guy (caution: F-bomb warning!):

Not exactly the kind of guy you’d turn to for language learning advice, right? Well, it’s not all funny business with Eddie Izzard. On his latest stand-up tour, he’s performing shows in the language of the spectators, speaking French to his audiences in France. He only considers himself 65% fluent in the language, though, so how does he do it?

The way every language learner should—by giving it a shot and asking for help when he needs it. If he’s stuck on a word up on stage, he’ll ask to audience to give him a hand.  Clearly he enjoys the challenge. After French, he says he’ll continue with German, Spanish, Russian, Arabic, and then who knows what.

Why would he bother? An English speaker could certainly get away with an English show all over the world. Well, first thing’s first… literally. He’s the first stand-up comedian to take his act multilingual in languages he doesn’t fully comprehend. It’s adventurous on his part, and an extra source of laughs for his audiences.

But besides the pioneer global tour, and the the profits he’s pulling in from it, he cites communication and concord as two motivating factors. He recognizes the importance of communicating on a level playing field—without a common language we are reduced to gestures and child-like interactions. Sharing a language is a gateway to meaningful communication. Not just on an individual level, either. Izzard perceives the need for unity in the global community, and cites learning many languages as a path to achieve it.

Maybe this is a little heavy coming from a guy who worships Monty Python and aspires to wear a dress on every continent. But if you ask me, I think we can learn a lot more from a guy like Eddie Izzard other than that there’s a freaking “h” at the beginning of “herb”.

Who influences you to learn languages? Share your insights in the comments!

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About the Author: meaghan

Meaghan is the Marketing Communications Manager at Transparent Language. She speaks enough French and Spanish to survive, and remembers enough Hausa to say "Hello my name is Meaghan, I'm studying Hausa." (But sadly that's it).


  1. Allison Shields:

    I’m a musician/singer/songwriter…so I am inspired by musicians/singers/songwriters in the language I am learning which happens to be Swedish. I am listening to Jill Johnson and Sonja Alden who are absolutely wonderful performers with great voices.

    • meaghan:

      @Allison Shields Hi Allison,
      Listening to music is one of my favorite ways to learn and practice a language, especially since you can do so idly by just listening and absbording, or be more involved and look up new words and expressions used in the lyrics. I imagine it’s even more powerful for you, as a musician yourself! If you haven’t used it before, is a great site for finding foreign music. If you look up the Swedish artists you enjoy, it’ll give suggestions for similar artists. Good luck & keep it up!

  2. Sheila Morris:

    I learned Swedish because of an interest in Scandinavian folk-dance and folk-music. I wanted to travel to Sweden and take courses that would not be offered in English….and I did! Several times. Eddie’s got the right idea, you have to just wade in and ask for help as needed. Most people are quite generous about this.

  3. Shouko:

    I’m almost the same as this man I think (execpt I’m a girl so it’s not as horrible as him to see me in a dress (lol))

    Even if I could speak with people in English (wich is not my mother tongue), I prefer to learn the languages of the countries where I wish to go.

    With this in mind, I just had to meet friends who do not speak English or my mother-tongue, they speak only their country’s language.
    That’s how I first learned Japanese and now I’m beginning German because I love Austria (and my boyfriend).

    Soon I’ll be a 4 language speaker. That means I will be able to feel (almost) at home and secure in the countries where they speak those languages. (Not everyone speak English, and in those group of people, there are some very interresting ones!)

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