Multilingual US presidents

Oct 2015
814
Norway
#1
I'm interested in the language skilles of US presidents. I'll also like to know which one spoke the largest number of languages.
I think Clinton speaks German. Bush senior speaks French, but tried to hide it for political reasons (!). I don't know if Obama or Trump's knows any languages besides English. Please give us more info.
 
Oct 2015
814
Norway
#4
Thanks for the interesting link. So the US had president who didn't speak English as his first language (van Buren)! The language skills of some of the presidents are impressive (Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Teddy Roosevelt ), but the US must be one of few nations where the president can easily get by speaking only one language and a bi-lingual president is impressive.
 
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Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
2,883
Dispargum
#5
Very few Americans ever really learn a foreign language. Over the last sixty years most American school children have taken a foreign language, but what is taught in school is very quickly forgotten. Over the past 200 years American education has put far more effort into teaching immigrant children to speak English.
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
6,469
#7
Very few Americans ever really learn a foreign language. Over the last sixty years most American school children have taken a foreign language, but what is taught in school is very quickly forgotten. Over the past 200 years American education has put far more effort into teaching immigrant children to speak English.
The issue is in the US most public schools only offer a language class starting with High School, and most Americans would typically only have 2 to 3 years of taking a foreign language if they don't go on to college and take a foreign language there. And the foreign language classes in American high schools typically are not very demanding, I found that one year of college foreign language class was the equivalent of taking 2 years in high school. Most American.high schools.ans college undergraduate degrees don't require you to take a foreign language, it is mostly voluntary.
 
Apr 2014
203
Earth
#9
Herbert Hoover worked in China as an engineer for a mining company for about a year and a half in 1899-1900. His wife was with him and she studied the language and Herbert himself (who was a very intelligent man) learned a lot of the language while he was over there. He and his wife would speak Chinese when they wanted to have a private conversation and not worry about people hearing them.

Per Wikipedia on Herbert Hoover

The Hoovers lived in China from April 1899 until August 1900. Hoover's work in China revolved around the huge Kaiping Mines. Hoover worked as chief engineer for the Chinese Bureau of Mines, and as general manager for the Chinese Engineering and Mining Corporation. Later he worked for Bewick, Moreing & Co. as the company's lead engineer. Hoover's wife studied Mandarin Chinese and he also learned some of the language while he worked in China; it is said that they used it during his tenure at the White House when they wanted to foil eavesdroppers.

I am an American living in China for 17 years with a Chinese wife and I only now have a working knowledge of the language, I can speak some and read some but far from fluent. I blame myself for my laziness and relying on the wife. But in my defense, Hoover was very smart, educated and mostly young (around 25 years of age) and at least in my experience from teaching students here English from babies to adults, females pick up languages much more quickly, so if Mrs. Hoover, again as a girl in her twenties who studied and was very interested in the culture of the people, could learn the language quite readily. Really Chinese (or 普通话)isnt that difficult of a language to learn to speak if you apply yourself (tones are the worst part) but learning the written language is a bear. Probably the Hoovers could chat a lot in the language but characters beyond the first 200 most popular characters they didnt know (The most common Chinese characters)
 

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