List of Multilingual Presidents

Theodore Roosevelt was fluent in three languages and conversational in two more.  Editorial credit: Everett Historical /
Theodore Roosevelt was fluent in three languages and conversational in two more. Editorial credit: Everett Historical /

About half of the men who have served as American presidents have displayed adequate knowledge of writing or speaking a language other than English. Martin Van Buren remains the only president who spoke English as the second language with Dutch being his first language. Thomas Jefferson was fluent in five foreign languages while John Adams was fluent in three languages and could communicate in a further five languages. The following are the American presidents who spoke languages besides English.

List of Multilingual Presidents.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States. He served from March 4, 1801, to March 4, 1809. He was fluent in English, French, Greek, Italian, Latin, and Spanish. Jefferson also spoke partial Arabic. He learned Dutch when he joined Adams in the Dutch Republic and French when he joined Benjamin Franklin in France. Jefferson claimed that Spanish was so easy that he had learned it in 19 days at sea.

John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams was the sixth American president. He served from March 4, 1825, to March 4, 1829. Adams was not only fluent in English, French, and Latin but he also had partial knowledge of German, Dutch, Greek, Italian, Spanish, and Russian. Adams learned these languages while on his stay and study in Europe. He honed his Dutch and German by translating at least a page of each to English every day.

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt was the 26th president of the United States. He served from September 14, 1901, to March 4, 1909. Roosevelt spoke fluent English, French, and German but could read books in Italian and Latin. He occasionally held conversations in German and French, but his Italian grammar was “lawless.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) was the 32nd president of the US. He served from March 4, 1933, until his death on April 12, 1945. Aside from English, he was taught German and French by governesses who tutored him at a young age. FDR also learned a limited amount of Latin from his governesses. He honed his German and France during his many trips abroad.

The First American-Born President

Martin Van Buren was the eighth president of the US. He served from March 4, 1837, to March 4, 1841. Van Buren was the first American born president but the only president in American history whose first language was not English. He was born and raised in a Dutch dominated village of Kinderhook in New York State. His parents were of Dutch origin and therefore spoke Dutch as a first language. He learned English in the late 1780s when he attended school. Van Buren also spoke partial Latin.

List of Multilingual Presidents

RankPresident NameLanguages Spoken
1John AdamsEnglish, French, Latin
2Thomas JeffersonEnglish, French, Greek, Italian, Latin, Spanish
3James MadisonEnglish, Greek, Hebrew, Latin
4James MonroeEnglish, French, German, Latin
5William Henry HarrisonEnglish, Latin
6John TylerEnglish, Greek, Latin
7James K. PolkEnglish, Greek, Latin
8James BuchananEnglish, Greek, Latin
9Rutherford B. HayesEnglish, Greek, Latin
10James A. GarfieldEnglish, Greek, Latin
11Chester A. ArthurEnglish, Greek, Latin
12Theodore RooseveltEnglish, French, German
13Woodrow WilsonEnglish, German
14Herbert HooverEnglish, Latin, Chinese
15Franklin D. RooseveltEnglish, French, German

More in Society