Which US President Spoke English as His Second Language?

, Staff Writer
Updated March 5, 2021
President Martin Van Buren spoke Dutch
    President Martin Van Buren spoke Dutch
    Smith Collection/Gado / Contributor / Archive Photos / Getty
    Used under Getty Images license

Since presidents of the United States of America must be born in the country, you may be wondering if it's possible for English to have been the second language of any of the presidents. The answer is "yes." One president mastered another language before learning English. Which U.S. president spoke English as his second language? Keep reading to find out and learn more information about multilingual presidents.

Martin Van Buren: English as a Second Language

Which president spoke English as his second language? Martin Van Buren did. He was born and raised in Kinderhook, New York, though his parents were Dutch. The rural community where he spent his childhood was a Dutch settlement. Even though he was born in the U.S., he learned to speak Dutch before learning to speak English. He is the only U.S. president for whom English was a second language.

  • Martin Van Buren was born in 1782. He spoke Dutch at home with his parents, then learned to speak English in school.
  • He married in 1807. He and his wife had five sons. She passed away in 1819. He did not remarry after her death.
  • Van Buren worked as a lawyer, then moved into politics.
  • Prior to the presidency, he served as a U.S. Senator, Governor of New York and Secretary of State.
  • He became the eighth president in 1837. He served one term, leaving office in 1841.

List of Multilingual Presidents

While Martin Van Buren remains the only president to learn English as a second language, he is not the only one with the ability to speak more than one language. John Quincy Adams spoke more languages than any other president, and 20 of the first 46 U.S. presidents spoke at least two languages.

John Quincy Adams: Eight Foreign Languages

Wondering which president spoke the most languages? John Quincy Adams, the 6th U.S. president, spoke more languages than any of the others who also held the role. In addition to English, he spoke eight more languages.

  • Latin
  • Greek
  • French
  • German
  • Spanish
  • Italian
  • Dutch
  • Russian

Thomas Jefferson: Six Foreign Languages

The answer to the question of "How many languages did Thomas Jefferson speak?" is an impressive one. In addition to English, the 3rd U.S. president could communicate in the following six languages.

  • Latin
  • Greek
  • French
  • Spanish
  • Italian
  • Arabic

Presidents Who Spoke Three Foreign Languages

A total of three U.S. presidents spoke three languages in addition to English.

  • James Madison (4th president) - Latin, Greek and Hebrew
  • Theodore Roosevelt (26th president) - French, German and Italian
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt (32nd president) - Latin, French and German

Presidents Who Spoke Two Foreign Languages

Quite a few U.S. presidents were trilingual. A total of 10 U.S. presidents could speak two languages in addition to English.

  • John Adams (2nd president) - Latin and French
  • Martin Van Buren (8th president) - Latin and Dutch
  • William Henry Harrison (9th president) - Latin and French
  • John Tyler (10th president) - Latin and Greek
  • James Polk (11th president) - Latin and Greek
  • James Buchanan (15th president) - Latin and Greek
  • Rutherford B. Hayes (19th president) - Latin and Greek
  • James A. Garfield (20th president) - Latin and Greek
  • Chester A. Arthur (21st president) - Latin and Greek
  • Herbert Hoover (31st president) - Latin and Chinese

Presidents Who Spoke One Foreign Language

There have been five bilingual U.S. presidents. These presidents spoke one language in addition to English.

  • James Monroe (5th president) - French
  • Woodrow Wilson (28th president) - German
  • Jimmy Carter (39th president ) - Spanish
  • Bill Clinton (42nd president) - German
  • George W. Bush (43rd president) - Spanish

Presidents Who Spoke Only English

The 26 U.S. presidents who are not included on this list spoke only English. This includes Joe Biden (46th president), Donald Trump (45th president) and Barack Obama (44th president).

More Interesting Facts About US Presidents

It's fascinating to learn interesting facts about the people who have served as president of the United States of America. Now you know which U.S. president spoke English as his second language and which presidents spoke more than one language. Build on your knowledge by discovering which president served three terms. Next, find out which presidents were left-handed. From there, you may want to explore key differences between presidents and prime ministers.