SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – The ability to speak foreign languages was once considered important to both Presidential candidates and voters.
George W. Bush speaks English and conversational Spanish and believes that learning languages shows respect for other cultures, and he introduced the National Security Language Initiative, which pushed for language diversity, in Jan. 2006.
“It’s a gesture of interest,” W said at an international education summit. “It really is a fundamental way to reach out to somebody and say, I care about you. I want you to know that I’m interested in not only how you talk but how you live.”
But W isn’t the only U.S. President who learned a foreign language. Here is a list of a few of our nation’s former Presidents and the languages that they spoke.
Martin Van Buren learned to speak Hudson River Dutch before he learned English–he is the only U.S. President who learned English as a second language. And James Madison spoke French with a Scottish accent. He also spoke Greek, Italian, and Latin.
Barack Obama attended a school where Indonesian was the primary language when he was a child, but the former president says he has forgotten most of the language. His native language is English.
Then there’s the strange rumor that James Garfield could write in Greek with one hand and in Latin with the other at the same time. (Garfield was ambidextrous.) He also campaigned for the presidency in two languages: English and German.
Theodore Roosevelt spoke French with a German accent, and he read in German and French. He also made two public addresses in French in 1916, and though his French was grammatically incorrect, it is said that he was easy to understand. Roosevelt also spoke English.
John Tyler, James Buchanan, and Chester A. Arthur knew English, Latin, and Greek. James Polk did, too, and he even gave an address in Latin at his college graduation ceremony.
John Quincy Adams was fluent in English, French, Dutch, and German. And though he was not fluent in Italian, Russian, and classical Greek, he studied each of the languages. He could also read in Latin.
Bill Clinton spoke English and a little German during a speech in 1994. He took German in college.
John F. Kennedy also spoke English and a little bit of German during a speech in West Berlin in June, 1963. He was not fluent in the language, though.
Woodrow Wilson took German while earning his Ph.D. in history and political science, but it is said he read the language quite slowly. He also spoke English.
James Monroe was fluent in English and French. His entire family spoke French to one another when at home. The reason for their proficiency? Monroe was once a diplomat in Paris.
Franklin D. Roosevelt learned to speak English, German, and French during his childhood. He also knew some Latin. In 1936, FDR gave a speech in both English and French.
While he was not a president, founding father Benjamin Franklin was fluent in six languages: English, Italian, Spanish, Latin, French, and German.