Are Any U.S. Presidents Bilingual?

I came across this very interesting article (http://2012.presidential-candidates.org/Foreign-Languages.php) regarding the language ability or inability of former and current presidential candidates/presidents and decided it was worth reprinting below. It’s distressing how few politicians know a language other than English, given the fact they deal with international affairs as well. Happy reading!

Despite our nation’s long history of immigration, and the fact that almost all of our ancestors were immigrants, the control of a second language among the populace is surprisingly low. Not so with our presidents. Thirty of them were at least bilingual, with some mastering six (John Adams and Teddy Roosevelt), nine (John Quincy Adams) and even ten languages (Thomas Jefferson)!

While Greek and Latin were compulsory subjects for anyone looking at higher education at the time (Princeton, for instance, requires the proficiency of both languages to be considered for admission), the high rate of secondary languages among them indicates the understanding that languages offer them competitive advantages over their peers, either culturally or intellectually.

In an amusing anecdote, Jefferson, in an attempt to polish his Greek, drew the ire of his good friend John Adams by writing much of his letters in Greek. The two of them probably inspired Adam’s son, John Quincy, who became a translator at the age of 14! James Garfield, whose language skills remain a matter of debate, was also a notable linguist. At 27, he was appointed as the Professor of Ancient Languages and Literature at Hiram College.

Presidents

Fluent

Fair

Poor

George Washington

English

John Adams

English, Hebrew, Latin, French, Spanish, Greek,

Thomas Jefferson

English, French, Greek, Latin, Italian, Spanish

German, Arabic, Gaelic, Welsh

James Madison

English, Latin, Greek, Hebrew

James Monroe

English, French

Latin

John Quincy Adams

English, French, Russian

Dutch, German, Latin

Greek, Italian, Spanish

Andrew Jackson

English

Choctaw

Martin van Buren

Dutch

English, German, French

Latin

William H. Harrison

English

Latin

French, Choctaw

John Tyler

English

Greek, Latin

James Polk

English

Greek, Latin

Zachary Taylor

English

Millard Fillmore

English

Franklin Pierce

English

James Buchanan

English, Latin, Greek

Abraham Lincoln

English

Andrew Johnson

English

Ulysses S. Grant

English

Rutherford B. Hayes

English

Greek, Latin

French

James A. Garfield

English

Greek, Latin

Chester A. Arthur

English

Greek, Latin

Grover Cleveland

English

Benjamin Harrison

English

William McKinley

English, Latin, Greek

Theodore Roosevelt

English

French

German, Italian, Latin, Greek

William H. Taft

English

Woodrow Wilson

English

German, Latin, Greek

Warren G. Harding

English

Calvin Coolidge

English

Herbert Hoover

English, Mandarin, Latin

Franklin D. Roosevelt

English, French, German

Latin

Harry Truman

English

Dwight Eisenhower

English

John F. Kennedy

English

Latin

Lyndon Johnson

English

Spanish

Richard Nixon

English, Latin

Gerald Ford

English

Latin

Jimmy Carter

English

Spanish

Ronald Reagan

English

George H.W. Bush

English

Latin

Bill Clinton

English

German

Latin

George W. Bush

English

Spanish

Barack Obama

English

Spanish, Indonesian

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