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List of multilingual presidents of the United States


Of the 44 presidents of the United States, at least half have displayed proficiency in speaking or writing a language other than English. Of these, only one, Martin Van Buren, learned English as his second language; his first language was Dutch. Four of the earliest presidents were multilingual, with John Adams and Thomas Jefferson demonstrating proficiency in a number of foreign languages.

James A. Garfield not only knew Ancient Greek and Latin, but used his ambidexterity to write both at the same time. Both Roosevelts spoke French, and Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke German. Herbert Hoover spoke fluent Mandarin Chinese.

Adams, the second president of the United States, learned to read Latin at a young age. In preparation for attending Harvard University, Adams attended a school for improving his Latin skills. While posted in France, Adams became fluent in French.

Thomas Jefferson spoke and read multiple languages, which included French. After his death, a number of other books, dictionaries, and grammar manuals in various languages were found in Jefferson's library, suggesting that he studied additional languages beyond those he spoke and wrote well. Among these were books in Italian, Arabic, Irish, and Dutch. Regarding Spanish, Jefferson told John Quincy Adams that he had learned the language over the course of nineteen days while sailing from the United States to France. He had borrowed a Spanish grammar and a copy of Don Quixote from a friend and read them on the voyage. Adams expressed skepticism, noting Jefferson's tendency to tell "large stories."


Presidency President Dutch French German Greek Hebrew Italian Latin Mandarin Chinese Spanish Indonesian
2 John Adams Fluent Fluent
3 Thomas Jefferson Fluent Fluent Fluent Fluent Fluent
4 James Madison Fluent Fluent Fluent
5 James Monroe Fluent
6 John Quincy Adams Partial mastery Fluent Fluent Partial mastery Fluent
8 Martin Van Buren Native
9 William Henry Harrison Partial mastery Fluent
10 John Tyler Fluent Fluent
11 James K. Polk Fluent Fluent
15 James Buchanan Fluent Fluent
19 Rutherford B. Hayes Fluent Fluent
20 James A. Garfield Fluent Fluent
21 Chester A. Arthur Fluent Fluent
26 Theodore Roosevelt Fluent Fluent Partial mastery
28 Woodrow Wilson Fluent
31 Herbert Hoover Fluent Fluent
32 Franklin D. Roosevelt Fluent Fluent Partial mastery
39 Jimmy Carter Partial mastery
42 Bill Clinton Partial mastery
43 George W. Bush Partial mastery
44 Barack Obama Partial mastery

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Wikipedia

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