General Question

ibstubro's avatar

Has the U.S. had a bilingual president?

Asked by ibstubro (18765points) June 17th, 2015

I know you have to be native born, but has there been a president that transcended that to speak 2 or more languages fluently?

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25 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

Here you go

I would have assumed many spoke French without looking it up. French was the international language of business and diplomacy for many many years. When I was a teen people were just starting to choose Spanish over French to study in school. Related, but not really, my first American passports were all English and French. Only in recent years did they add Spanish.

dxs's avatar

Interesting. According to your link, @JLeslie, we’ve had a president whose native language was not English. Van Buren grew up speaking Dutch!

stanleybmanly's avatar

Isn’t G W Bush fluent in Spanish?

JLeslie's avatar

@dxs I noticed that. I know so many people born in America whose first language is not English that it doesn’t surprise me much. Especially way back in the day when our country was very new.

dxs's avatar

@JLeslie I do too, but you have to take into account the “typical American” image that has been fabricated. Xenophobia is rampant but perhaps it wasn’t back then because there were so many 1st gens?

ibstubro's avatar

Thanks, @JLeslie. Jeb made much of being fluent in Spanish during his candidacy announcement. I think that’s great, and prompted my question.

Fluent is a stretch for GW Bush, @stanleybmanly.

Pachy's avatar

We had a guy who had a tough time with one language, middle initial “W”.

JLeslie's avatar

@dxs It would be interesting to know how people felt about language in America 150–200 years ago. The Declaration of Independence was published in German when it was released.

Buttonstc's avatar

I wouldn’t call George W. multilingual. As a matter of fact he’s barely unilingual.

Anybody whose job involves having his finger on the nuclear button and can’t bother his little brain to pronounce it correctly, doesn’t get much credit from me no matter what types of excuses people offer on his behalf or try to say it’s not all that important.

Strictly speaking, that’s true since anyone listening knows what he means. But, good grief, it just makes him look like such an absolute dolt. And beyond that, a dolt who just doesn’t care.

I mean, it’s not as if no one has ever called it to his attention. I’m sure several have (in his pre-Pres. days) not the least of whom would be Condoleeza Rice. Daddy hired her as a coach for his dolt of a son when it began to be apparent that he would likely make a run for Pres.

Granted, most of her tutelage was focused upon getting him up to speed on foreign affairs, but I just can’t imagine her ignoring this.

Thus, my assumption that he couldn’t bother himself to care.

stanleybmanly's avatar

@ibstubro I get your point. Let’s just say I have a feeling that I read somewhere that he grew up with both languages.

Pandora's avatar

Wow. Thomas Jefferson was impressive. But I’m not surprised.

Educate and inform the whole mass of the people… They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.
-Thomas Jefferson

josie's avatar

Lots of them. Plus, for one of them English was a second language.

stanleybmanly's avatar

@Pandora Jefferson would be appalled at today’s America and the less than subtle recognition that there’s a great deal of money as well as political power to be harvested from ignorance.

kritiper's avatar

Jimmy Carter. He spoke English and Southern drawl.

RocketGuy's avatar

Some day: “pardon me… I speak jive”

Blondesjon's avatar

Nope. Every president has been strictly in to women only.

ZEPHYRA's avatar

Seriously and no offence, does the president not speak Swahili fluently?

fluthernutter's avatar

George W. Bush speaks some Spanish and has delivered speeches in the language. His speeches in Spanish have had English dispersed throughout.

According to @JLeslie wiki link, it seems like he was fluent in Spanglish. :P

JLeslie's avatar

Spanglish counts! I know I have it listed on my Facebook profile. I hear it all the time in TV. It must count. ~

dxs's avatar

@JLeslie That’s what I was thinking. I’m willing to bet they were more open to “outside” things because of not only what I mentioned earlier (they were fresh off the boat) but also because I’d guess it was too young for an “American” culture to even be established yet.

Here2_4's avatar

G. dub claims he speaks Mexican just fine. Huh? I think he struggles with English, and throws down some pretty good BS. I never heard him speak “Mexican”.

Zaku's avatar

I see from the chart that Thomas Jefferson tops the list with six fluent languages (including English), the only one who knew Hebrew, and the only one rated fluent in Spanish, or in Italian.

@kritiper Carter spoke Spanish too.

Darth_Algar's avatar


James Buchanan might beg to differ.

Kardamom's avatar

Apparently Bill Clinton and Thomas Jefferson were fluent in the language of love ~

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