Novak Djokovic can speak a whopping 11 different languages
Having trouble learning a new language? If you’re rich enough, you might want to recruit the best tennis player in the world Novak Djokovic as your coach. With the world-beating Serb in your company, you would seldom require a translator or even ‘Google Translate’.
Novak Djokovic has been known as the strongest multi-linguist on the tour for a while now. But while you might have heard of the World No. 1’s love for languages already, you would be shocked to learn the extent of it.
To quote Charlemagne, “To have another language is to possess a Second Soul”. If his words are to be trusted, then Novak Djokovic has as many as ELEVEN souls.
You read that right; the 17-time Grand Slam champion can speak 11 different languages. Here is the full list:
We live in a world where almost every person is bilingual (look aside, Americans and Brits!) and many are even multilingual, knowing up to 4-5 different languages. But what do you call a person who can hold a proper conversation in 11 different languages?
Well, the dictionary term is a ‘polyglot’. But a better word would be ‘madman’! That is what Novak Djokovic is, both with his tennis and his never-ending desire to learn new things.
But despite knowing enough languages to communicate with 80% of the people on earth, Novak Djokovic prefers to stick to his roots and speak his native Serbian wherever he can. Listening to Djokovic give an interview in Serbian is quite an enriching experience; even if you don’t understand the language, you can make out the intricacies in his speech compared to the interviewers.
In addition to his native language, Novak Djokovic also excels in English – the official language of the tennis tour. If you ignore his thick Balkan accent, you’d think it is a native English speaker you’re hearing.
Here’s Novak Djokovic on the Letterman Show, perhaps giving David Letterman himself a complex about the latter’s first language. Djokovic can be seen sharing a few funny anecdotes, showing how quick-witted he is even when speaking a language that’s not his natal tongue.
For most people, knowing their own vernacular language and having a satisfactory command over their ‘work language’ would be enough. But not for Novak Djokovic.
The champion believes that it is respectful and courteous to the country and people you are visiting, to know at least the basic features and phrases of their language. In his own words, “It changes the energy and vibes you feel from the people you’re communicating with”.
But Novak Djokovic yearns to learn more than just the basic features of the various global languages.
It is one thing to give a monologue in a new language, but a whole different challenge to give a press conference and understanding a question asked in a foreign language – and then to answer the question in that language. Novak Djokovic seems to have mastered that art though; the Serb gave an entire press conference in French at the Paris Masters 2019, which thoroughly impressed many native French speakers as well.
Moving on to a bit east of France, German was probably the earliest foreign language that Djokovic excelled at. The Serb spent four of his formative years in Germany at the Nikola Pilic tennis academy, from the age of 12, and he put that time to good use.
Here’s an interview of Novak Djokovic speaking German from as early as 2008.
Djokovic worked with German tennis legend Boris Becker for three years, from 2014-2016. And their player-coach relationship seems to have strengthened the Serb’s command on the German language further.
Here Djokovic can be seen giving a supremely confident interview in German, at the Laureus Gala in 2016.
Moving further east on the map, what is possibly the most impressive aspect of Djokovic’s multilingualism is his knowledge of Chinese, Arabic and Japanese. These are three languages widely considered to be among the most difficult to learn, but that was no obstacle for the Serb.
Novak Djokovic got a grasp on Chinese language phrases pretty quickly, as seen in his interactions with the crowds at Beijing and Shanghai and with China’s former World No. 1 player Li Na.
Djokovic’s visible keenness on learning their language is among the many reasons he enjoys huge popularity among the Chinese fans. In his own words, maybe he “was Chinese in the past life”.
Djokovic has been learning Chinese since as early as 2013, as can be seen from this interaction he had with his younger brother Djordje (who might be envious of his brother for more than just his tennis skills).
Novak Djokovic has also made a sincere effort to learn another Asian language – Japanese. He thanked the crowd in the local language during the presentation ceremony after winning the Tokyo Open in 2019.
Novak Djokovic also tried his hand at speaking Arabic during his trip to Doha in 2016. While not flawless, it was a confident reply to an Arab interviewer in front of an Arabic crowd in their local language.
We can rest assured that Djokovic has been trying hard to improve his Arabic – and might have done so already – since then.
Coming back to Europe and European languages, Novak Djokovic can speak all of the three most popular Mediterranean ones – Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. Here is Djokovic having a full-fledged 13-minute conversation with Italian tennis player Fabio Fognini, which might make you wonder if the World No. 1 is hiding a secret Italian ancestry.
As the Italian language is considered to be a cousin of Spanish and Portuguese, the master linguist that is Novak Djokovic didn’t have much trouble in learning Spanish either.
Spanish is a fairly recent conquest for Djokovic; he couldn’t speak the language until 2013, as seen during his exhibition tour in Argentina that year with Spaniard Rafael Nadal. But within four years of that Djokovic could give an entire interview in Spanish, as we saw at the 2017 Madrid Masters.
Back in 2016, Novak Djokovic had also said that he was learning Portuguese from his close friend and former Brazilian World No. 1 Gustavo ‘Guga’ Kuerten.
Considering his quick grasping power, you can be certain that Djokovic is already humming songs and writing snippets in Portuguese. Also being a keen fan of Portuguese football club S.L. Benfica, the language adds even more appeal for the Serb.
Last but not the least, Novak Djokovic can also speak some phrases in Russian. However, we don’t yet know in detail the extent of his proficiency in the language.
There are athletes in other sports who come close to Novak Djokovic in this respect, but they all fall short. For instance, famous footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic can speak in seven different languages. The legendary Swede, being part-Bosnian, can speak his paternal language in addition to his native Swedish.
Ibrahimovic is also fluent in English, Italian and Spanish, having played in different countries speaking these languages. In addition, the AC Milan star can also understand sign language and is fluent in Braille – the writing system of the visibly impaired.
However, considering star footballers have to play in different countries with different languages, it is easy for them to naturally pick up the local language. But English being the official language of the ATP tour, tennis players are not compelled to learn anything other than that.
That is what makes Novak Djokovic’s feat of learning 11 languages (and hopefully more in the future) so very commendable. It is an incredible effort and speaks volumes of the champion’s desire to forever keep improving, both in tennis and in a personal capacity.
As they say, the world doesn’t need to be multi-lingual to appreciate a polyglot like Novak Djokovic!
TL;DR: Well, here’s a compilation of short clips of Novak Djokovic speaking all his 11 languages.