There was a snippet on the news this morning about John Kerry being scheduled to speak to a Hispanic audience this week, and I wondered if he’d be able to address them in Spanish. And that got me thinking about what a boon it would be for Presidents to be able to speak at least one other language.
Have any other US presidents spoken one or more languages aside from English?
I couldn’t find out which languages Woodrow Wilson knew, but i’m willing to bet that he had a couple.
Wilson received a Ph.D. in history from Johns Hopkins University (still the only president to get one), after getting his undergraduate degree at Princeton.
That educational path in the late nineteenth-century would have included at least one, and possibly as many as four, other languages. It wouldn’t surprise me if he did Latin, Greek, French, and German at Princeton. French and German were considered essential among professional historians back then, and may well have been required for admission to the Hopkins Ph.D. program.
I know Bush’s people say that he speaks Spanish and that the press as repeated the claim, but no one seems to be able to produce any evidence of its veracity. Reciting some lines written by someone else =/= speaking the language. I doubt Bush could form more than the most rudimentary phrases (“quiero una cerveza”) on his own.
To be factually fair, IIRC G.W. Bush can speak Spanish without having someone phonetically spell it out for him. However, it’s clunky, rudimentary Spanish, just enough for a quick chat with (say) a waiter in a restaurant. Just don’t expect him to hold a prolonged in-depth conversation in the language.
IIRC President Martin Van Buren grew up in a household where Dutch was the primary language.
Jimmy Carter’s Spanish isas good or better than George W. Bush’s Spanish. I’ve seen him interviewed on Mexican television, and while his accent was thick - he seemed to have a grasp on basic sentence structure. LBJ probably knew more Spanish than both, but I don’t think he used it much as president.
John Kerry speaks French, but I don’t think he has used Spanish. His wife Teresa is fluent in several languages, and campaigns in Spanish.
James Monroe was U.S. ambassador to France, and spoke French very well.
John Quincy Adams also spoke French very well, which was invaluable during his time as Secretary of State, since French was then the international language of diplomacy.
He also spoke Russian quite well, having spent several years as U.S. ambassador to the Tsar’s court.
As Elvis mentioned, Herbert and Lou Hoover both spoke Mandarin Chinese fluently, having spent many years working as mining engineers in China. Legend has it that they found it handy to start speaking Chinese, any time they wanted to have a private conversation in a public forum.
No cite on this but I’d hazard the guess that Hoover was very competent in Russian too. He was internationally famous before becoming President on the basis of his early-1920s spearheading the collection and distribution of massive amounts of foodstuffs to combat a severe famine in Russia.