Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem but spent most of her life in the US. Did she stay true to her Jewish roots and learned Hebrew along the way?
Natalie Portman can speak Hebrew. She became fluent in the language while attending a Jewish elementary school and practiced at home with her father. She perfected her accent for the role in the Hebrew-language film A Tale of Love and Darkness.
Keep reading if you want to learn more about Natalie Portman’s Hebrew-speaking skills.
Learning to Speak Hebrew
Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem but spent her formative years far away from her home country. She held dual Israeli and American citizenship, and her parents decided to move and build a new life in the US when she was only three.
Her family moved around a lot, and she attended Jewish schools in Washington DC, Jericho, New York, and Long Island. She never lost interest in speaking Hebrew, and always stayed true to her Jewish roots.
“Being Jewish has always been a part of me, no matter where I have lived. In fact, it was hammered into me at a young age that being Jewish was my identity… Unlike my friends who have had to search for their identity, I never questioned mine,” Portman told Lufthansa Magazine.
In addition to studying Hebrew at school, she also made sure to practice at home. Portman used this language to communicate with her father and addressed her mother in English – thus becoming bilingual at an early age.
Portman demonstrated her Hebrew-speaking skills while taking part in Vanity Fair’s Secret Talent Theatre in 2017. She taught viewers how to pronounce some slang words, insults, and phrases that are commonly used in Hebrew.
In addition to being fluent in English and Hebrew, Natalie Portman tried learning several more languages. She’s also conversational in French, German, Japanese, Spanish, and Arabic.
In 2015, Natalie Portman made her directorial debut with the Israeli-American drama A Tale of Love and Darkness. It’s based on Amos Oz’s memoir of the same name and documents his childhood during the final year of Mandatory Palestine and the early years of independent Israel.
Portman optioned the rights to Oz’s book while having tea with the author and his wife in 2007. It took her eight years to bring this project to life, and she faced major pushback from the producers who wanted to film it entirely in English.
This decision didn’t sit well with Portman, who was determined to do justice to the book. Producer Ram Bergman told Hollywood Reporter that she wanted this movie to be “a love letter in Hebrew” and she was going to shoot it in this language, whatever the cost.
After years of struggling to get this project off the ground, Portman decided to do all the hard work on her own. She wrote the script and played the writer’s mother, Fania, in addition to making her directorial feature debut with A Tale of Love and Darkness.
Speaking in Hebrew throughout the film proved to be more challenging than expected. Portman’s accent was strongly influenced by her American upbringing, and using it would make no sense because her character was an immigrant from today’s Ukraine.
“I am pretty good but I still make a lot of grammatical errors, and I had to work a lot on my accent. It was okay to have an accent because my character in the movie is an immigrant, but it’s not OK for her to have an American accent,” Portman told The Independent.
The Oscar-winning actress realized that this was too big of a challenge to take on her own since she was also busy directing the film. She hired Israeli actress Neta Riskin to coach her, and eventually learned “every line in the script like the back of [her] hand.”