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Does Mark Harmon Speak Russian?

“Like I said, Nikolai Puchenko, everyone slips up eventually.”

Give any NCIS superfan this line and they will tell you that this was the moment Leroy Gibbs unveiled his ability to speak Russian. The line, spoken in fluent Russian, reveals Gibbs to be multi-lingual.

Leroy Gibbs is played by Mark Harmon. Special Agent Gibbs is an expert in his field and his language talents only make him more mysterious and intriguing. In the episode “Faking It,” viewers get to see him using Russian in action. 

The question is, are Gibbs’ language skills unique to the fictional character or does Mark Harmon speak Russian?


Following his graduation from Harvard Westlake School, Harmon attended Pierce College where he completed a two-year associate degree. While in his sophomore year, Harmon decided to accept an offer from UCLA, joining their college football program.

Harmon graduated cum laude in 1974 with a B.A. in Communications. Despite displaying talents and his chosen major, there is no evidence that Harmon picked up Russian or any other languages during his studies.

Language Skills

As an actor in NCIS, Harmon’s character employed a few of his real-life language skills. In many episodes, Gibbs converses with his on-screen colleague, Pauley Perrette, in American Sign Language. ASL was something that Harmon had learned many years before while in the police drama, Reasonable Doubts.

The NCIS character, Gibbs, is also seen to be a fluent speaker of Russian. The episode “Faking It’ sees Harmon speak Russian with ease. However, unlike ASL, it appears unlikely that it is a skill of Harmon’s. For the episode, Mark Harmon received guidance from a Russian-language Technical Advisor, Marina V. It is reported that Marina V also translated several dialogues and taught the actors to pronounce Russian words.

While Harmon may have continued to learn Russian after this episode, there is no evidence to suggest so.

Learning Russian

As Russian consists of an entirely different alphabet, the language is notoriously difficult for native English speakers to learn. Russian grammar and pronunciation tend to be complicated and unpredictable, making it difficult to grasp during the initial learning stages.

Ralph Fiennes, famous for his role as Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter, reportedly learned Russian for the film Two Women. Learning Russian was one of Fiennes’ hardest challenges that he faced in his acting career. Despite his practice for over two months, his Russian was dubbed over in the movie, proving how difficult it can be to completely perfect the Russian language.

Many other actors like Harmon and Fiennes are often presented with the opportunity to learn new skills for roles. Skills can range from learning an instrument, dance or fighting style. Actors that take the steps to learn these skills often stand out and deliver memorable performances.


Mark Harmon’s many talents have been expertly utilized throughout his acting career.

However, Mark Harmon cannot speak Russian. His Russian language skills look to be confined to the single episode of NCIS. However, he may still remember the Russian phrases he said while in character.

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  • Fiona is a freelancer with over three years of experience creating professional content. She has a bachelor's degree in English Language from Cardiff University and is passionate about linguistics and design.

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