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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."
|6||John Quincy Adams||Partial mastery||Fluent||Fluent||Partial mastery||Fluent|
|8||Martin Van Buren||Native|
|9||William Henry Harrison||Partial mastery||Fluent|
|11||James K. Polk||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|
|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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