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What Languages Does Obama Speak?

As a politician and a President who has visited and lived all over the world, you might expect that President Barack Obama may speak multiple languages. At least just to get by on diplomatic visits to other countries. So, what languages does Obama speak?

Does Barack Obama Speak Multiple Languages?

On the campaign trail back in 2008, Obama said that he’s actually only fluent in English, so he can’t speak multiple languages to a native level.

This doesn’t mean that he cannot exchange pleasantries and greetings in another language as we’ve all probably seen on international visits, but this could be learned pre-visit as a courtesy, or that may be the limit to his language knowledge.

Barack Obama

Why Can’t Obama Speak Multiple Languages?

Obama moved around a lot as a child, living in Indonesia with his mother from ages six to ten before moving back to Hawaii. While speaking about language education he lamented that he didn’t have the opportunity growing up to be fluent in another language during his US school years.

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As a politician and later as a President, the chances are high that there was normally a translator or interpreter around to smooth out any chances for miscommunication, making serious language learning non-essential.

Can Barack Obama Speak Indonesian?

If you live in a different country as a child, the chances are good that you’re going to pick up some of the language, if not become completely fluent. Obama attended an Indonesian language school while he was living out there, so he used to be fluent in Indonesian. 

However, when he returned to the United States, he wasn’t using his Indonesian language skills as much, or at all really, so they started to wane and disappear. It’s the same with any skill, if you don’t use it – you lose it! 

It’s normally a lot easier to learn a language when you’re a child and your mind is still developing and you’re in the mindset of learning at school every day. Another proven way to learn a language is through immersion and necessity, by living in a place that speaks your target language.

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The combination of these two popular language learning strategies most likely enabled a young Barack Obama to become fluent in Indonesian as a child.

On a visit to Indonesia, the then-president said that Obama exchanged greetings and pleasantries with fluency, showing that he hadn’t forgotten it all in the end!

Here is Obama giving a speech on his visit to Indonesia, talking about his time living there as well as using a few Indonesian phrases: