Multi-lingual U.S. Presidents?

We always see Mr. Bush meeting with various world leaders. The newspapers occasionally tell us that “the two leaders met alone for some time, before continuing their discussion with top aides present.”

Now, we all know what Mr. Bush isn’t speaking Russian to Mr. Putin, or Japanese to Mr. Koizumi, or more recently, Arabic to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince (who’s name escapes me.)

Does George W. speak any other languages?

What about past U.S. presidents? Who was bilingual or multilingual? Who was the U.S. president to spoke the most languages?

I’ve George W. speak some Spanish, but I don’t think he’s fluent.

As for the most languages, Jefferson would be a good bet, but he probably didn’t have a lot of people to speak Latin and Greek with.

I don’t think any recent president has spoken a second language well enough to conduct official diplomatic business without the use of an interpreter.

Thomas Jefferson was Minster to France (proto-Ambassador, I guess) from 1784 to 1789. Given how intelligent he was, he probably picked up the language without too much trouble. This site claims, without evidence, that Jefferson spoke German.

This site says GW Bush “speaks conversational Spanish” to the point where he was able to give a bilingual radio address.

According to Facts About the Presidents by Joseph Nathan Kane, FDR spoke French in some situation during World War II, and James Garfield, who had a taste for the classics, took Latin and Greek in college, as well as German, which he used during the 1880 Presidential campaign, at one point addressing some German voters with “Wilkommen alle.” (Sorry, I don’t know how to get the German-style quotation marks.)

I have heard that (in private), George W can speak English. :wink:

You may remember that John F Kennedy used German when he spoke in Berlin, during the Berlin crisis. Unfortunately he said something like “Ich bin ein Berliner”.

A Berliner is a small bread roll, most of his audience simply giggled. Imagine your reaction today if GWB said “I am a Franfurter” or “I am a Hamburger”

This is a myth that’s been exploded a million times. here’s a site that discusses it at length.

Not true! Not true! –

My vote goes to John Quincy Adams, who probably had more experience in foreign capitals than any other person to become President. IIRC (I wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper about this very issue when someone said that GWB was the first President to speak to another head of state in the native language), Adams served in the following courts: France, Russia, the Netherlands, and whatever accounted for Scandinavia in his day. I believe I found that he was fluent in French, Russian, Italian, with a passing ability in Dutch and whatever Scandinavian language was required during his tenure.

dougie_monty, you leave out one of the more amazing facts reported about Garfield- not only was he able to write in Greek and Latin, he could do so simultaneously, writing in Latin with right hand and in Greek with his left.

Lighten up.

I was around at that time, although not in Germany. I had an older German friend (now dead) who was in Berlin for Kennedy’s speech, although he was not from the city.

My German friend pointed out the ambiguity in the comment. He was not sneering at Kennedy when he did so - like the rest of the audience, he cheered him. It’s the thought that counts.

Remember that this was when the Communist “Iron Curtain” was falling on Europe. Many Europeans had been abandoned by the USA, when the Russians, the USA and other former allies agreed to divide Europe into zones of influence. They were really happy about his support for West Berlin which was in danger of being swallowed by the Communists. They were relieved to find that Kennedy was drawing a line in the sand, putting his money where his mouth was, as we say.

I recall that Woodrow Wilson spoke Mandarin Chinese. And yeah, T.J. spoke French.

slightly OT, but i found it surprising that when dubyah went to Europe as the President of the USA, it was the first time he had ever been to Europe.

not to be a snob, but for a world leader? i’ve only been to london, florida, and vegas, but i’m not the american president.

He didn’t miss much. Might’ve helped him from getting some crazy liberal ideas.

Yeah, but not fluently! :wink:

And I’m sure most of us remember when Dan Quayle regretted never having learned Latin so that he could converse with the Latin Americans! :slight_smile:

IMHO, if we each spoke more languages there’d be less world conflict. call me naive, but in europe and montreal, most people speak three languages. in NY/LA, most people speak two languages.

i worship any american president who speaks two or more languages. it’s a self-improvement thing, and the diplomatic/peace-brokering results can be so powerful.

sh*t–perhaps i should go learn arabic and hebrew.

Good Ol’ TJ could read in at least five languages other than English, but as someone else pointed out it isn’t a diplomatic or conversational benefit to speak ancient Greek or Latin. He could read Italian, Spanish, and French, but no idea how talented a speaker he was of those, other than the French.

Hadn’t heard the German before but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit.

Herbert Hoover spent a long time in China so he was quite fluent in Mandarin. He and his wife were so good at it that they’d talk in it when they didn’t want White House aides to know what was going on.

Because as we all know, Europe, Montreal, New York City and Los Angeles are all known for their paucity of conflict. :smiley:

I suspect that you are correct, but I am also mindful of the concept of the HHGTTG’s Babel Fish which, by completely breaking the language barrier, was considered the cause of all the great conflicts in the universe. :wink: