NOTE: I'm not a scholar of language and the only languages I have a working knowledge of are English, Math and Python. What is and isn't Filipino language has had a historical debate including legal and political. Please feel free to correct anything that I've got wrong here and accept my apologies!

Modern Filipino language contains many loanwords, so if one hears terms or phrases that can also be English (or Spanish) one can't necessarily say that the speaker has switched languages.

However, listening to CNN Philippines' PiliPinas Debates 2022: The Turning Point - 2nd Presidential Debate both the moderator and some of the debating candidates do switch between complete sentences in English and in Filipino. Just as one example in the 2 hour and 40 minute video, Leni Robredo's answer uses several English phrases when there is about 60 seconds left on the clock, and at 40 seconds left switches to English for several consecutive sentences and the subsequent response by Erensto Abella likewise alternates between English and Filipino.

Transcripts of a 2016 presidential debate (1, 2) also show a mixture of entire paragraphs in English.

Question: Besides the Philippines, are there any countries where presidential debates are bilingual, requiring the understanding of two (or more) languages to know what the candidates are actually saying?

  • 14
    From the phrasing, I take it you don't mean Canada where the debates are bilingual, but at different times. Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 6:31
  • 1
    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica I hadn't thought of Canada; yes it seems if each debate is in one language it wouldn't be an answer here. But I think it's a notable situation and perhaps not limited to Canada, so I think a separate question, something like "How to countries with more than one official language handle presidential debates? would be a good companion question and Canada's solution seems like it would make for an excellent answer!
    – uhoh
    Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 7:44
  • 8
    Ukraine immediately comes to mind as a place where people on television could simultaneously use two langauges (Ukrainian and Russian), although this has probably become rarer with the intensified Ukrainization after 2014. Switzerland is a country with 4 official langauges... but I am not sure whether they have mixed-language debates. Overall, monolongual societies, like those in North America or Europe are rather an exception than a rule on the World scale. This is better discussed in linguistics community though.
    – Morisco
    Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 7:45
  • 3
    Maybe you should clarify whether you really want answers only about presidential debates, which would exclude all countries with non-presidential systems that have no presidential debates at all, but might have multilingual debates e.g. before parliamentary elections.
    – kami
    Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 9:42
  • 3
    We had a bilingual foreign policy leader's debate in 2015 in Canada. But English translation were provided and Canada does not have a president... Debates within a party (e.g. some Conservative leadership debates) held in Quebec or in some other regions are also often officially or de facto bilingual, but interpretations are possible.
    – xngtng
    Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 16:02

7 Answers 7


Prior to the invasion of Crimea, this was common in Ukraine. In this 2009 video from the debates between Yushchenko and Yanukovych, you can see them switching freely between Russian and Ukrainian. However this tradition went away after 2014 and almost no Russian was spoken in the 2019 debates between Poroshenko and Zelensky. Given the latest escalation of the conflict, I suspect no future debates in Ukraine will be held in Russian.

Another country where this is common is Belarus. In this video of the 2015 town hall with Tatsiana Karatkevich (Lukashenko's main opponent at the time), you can see the audience asking questions in Russian while Karatkevich mostly answers them in Belarusian. Its presumed that anyone watching this program will be somewhat fluent in both languages.

  • 2
    Not sure this counts. The Slavic languages have a high level of mutual intelligibility, and Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian are all members of the East Slavic branch. The 2015 town hall you cite would be similar to an English speaker and a Scots speaker having a discussion in their native languages.
    – Mark
    Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 0:17
  • 7
    @Mark OP didn't specify the degree of mutual intelligibility Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 1:32
  • 12
    @Mark, somewhat true for Belarussian, not true for Ukrainian. By some metrics (like lexical similarity) there is more similarity between French and Italian than between Russian and Ukrainian. It's actually hard for a Russian to understand fluent Ukrainian, unless one is frequently exposed to it.
    – Zeus
    Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 3:36
  • @Mark To add, this is maybe often a bias because many Ukrainians are more or less fluent in both (especially olders) since they grew up being exposed to both. I agree that they are about as similar as French and Italian, for example Spanish and Italian are even closer to each other than Ukrainian and Russian (and they're not the same language, are they?)
    – Mayou36
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 12:44

Kenya has presidential debates where a mix of English and Kiswahili is used - see for example the second presidential debate in 2013. Candidates generally prefer to speak English but do slip into Kiswahili occasionally. To pick out one example, around the 2:36:50 mark, Mohamed Abdouba Dida from the ARK party gives his response in a mix of Kiswahili and English.

In a 2014 paper entitled The Language of Politics: A CDA of the 2013 Kenyan Presidential Campaign Discourse, James Nyachae Michira of the University of Nairobi observes that during the campaign, most candidates also employed a mix of languages to reach the widest audience:

English and Kiswahili are the official languages as provided by the constitution and politicians could use either of these languages in their campaigns. English is especially preferred in formal speeches where politicians read prepared speeches to their audiences while Kiswahili is mostly preferred during public rallies since it is the lingua franca. Typically, however, many politicians engage in code-switching and code-mixing involving those two official languages. Sometimes, they even revert to their own native tongues especially when they have a coded message meant directly to their ethnic communities. In the final analysis, few politicians are comfortable communicating entirely in either English or Kiswahili during political rallies


Belgium doesn't have a president, but considering that the monarch is largely symbolic and it's the Prime minister who holds all the power I guess that counts as a president here? Since Belgium is a bilingual (or technically even trilingual) country in parliament the debates are often held in multiple languages. Walloon politicians speak French, Flemish politicians speak Dutch. Some even mix the two up to the point where they switch language mid-sentence.

Since the Prime ministers are not chosen directly, as is the case for presidents in the US and Philippines, there's also no presidential debates. You'll have to decide for yourself if this answer counts or not then.

  • As an aside, having an indirectly-chosen prime minister does not preclude having televised political debates. Some (most?) countries in the Anglosphere with Westminster-style systems have televised political debates. Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 17:46
  • @MichaelSeifert We definitely have political debates. And those are bilingual indeed. But we do not have those debates where two (or more) candidates face off in a television show like it is the case in the US. The debates are more party vs. party, and after the elections when the coalition has been formed, the PM is elected by the parties of the coalition. We do of course have TV debates where individual politicians debate, but they are there as representatives of their parties and not as independent candidates for the position of PM.
    – Opifex
    Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 18:00
  • Interesting. In Canada, at least, the participants in the pre-election debates are the leaders of their parties, who would become Prime Minister if their party wins a plurality. Formal coalitions between parties are relatively rare—the very recent one being a notable exception—so there's not much mystery in who will be Prime Minister if a given party gets the most seats. Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 18:06
  • @MichaelSeifert in Belgium party leaders can become PM after the elections, but it's usually not the case. Most of the time they try to get their #2 on that spot. Coalitions are a certainty here because we don't have a dual-party system. They have to cooperate in order to be able to form a government that has the majority of chairs. In some cases (as is the case with the current sitting government) the biggest party isn't even included in the coalition. In fact: right now the two biggest parties are even left out, and all the smaller ones formed a coalition.
    – Opifex
    Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 18:09
  • 4
    I think the election which determines the head of the executive branch (i.e. "the government") is what's being asked about here. If the PM controls the government, then whatever election determines who is to become the PM (even if it's not directly, but through a party vote), should be right answer.
    – wrod
    Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 20:08

Switzerland qualifies for the "more": While the "President" is a collegium of seven members from different parties, it comes closest to what you would consider a President. It is also not directly elected by the people, and so there is no "presidential debate", however there are many political debates in Switzerland on elections and on initiatives/referenda in the public space, the answer goes for these political discussions; interpreting the question more broadly as "political discussion languages".

They speak usually (Swiss as well as High) German and French, sometimes even Italian (as Switzerland has four national languages, of which three are official). The large part of the population is only native in one of the three (to be precise, Swiss and High German are quite similar, yet different languages but usually counted as "one") and learns in school (and when working within the government or in general across the country) to speak at least one of the others too, sometimes three.

The spoken language in therefore often a mixture or both, or on of them, which is often the case in parliamentary debates, press-conferences and similar

  • 1
    Four national languages, three official ones ;p In any case, Swiss population essentially has zero direct say in who becomes a Federal Councillor and debates between national figures for electoral purposes are rare.
    – xngtng
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 17:27
  • 1
    @xngtng this is true, taking the "President" directly, such a thing does not even exist, neither the elections nor the "presidential debates". I adjusted the answer to reflect that and keep it, directed to a broader question about "political language" - from the OP the "exact" political occasion seemed rather irrelevant, but you are absolutely right, thanks!
    – Mayou36
    Commented Apr 6, 2022 at 20:36
  • You might also mention that parliamentary debates are multi-lingual, as are official press conferences by the federal government. But yes, since each language has their own media channels, televised debates are usually in that language.
    – meriton
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 2:14

The US. Kind of.

An edge case, but the 2019 Democratic primary elections for US president, several of the candidates spoke partially in Spanish during the debate. Whether this trend will continue remains to be seen (especially considering they got roasted pretty heavily for it, as it was seen as a publicity stunt).

  • 4
    I am not sure, but it's possible George W. Bush or Jeb Bush might have inserted a bit of Spanish into an earlier debate as well, (they both have used Spanish during campaigning and other political activities), and there's this little exchange
    – uhoh
    Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 20:51


Candidates speak both Mandarin and Hokkien.

Example: In the 2023-12-30 Presidential Debate (YouTube),

  • Lai Ching-te spoke mostly in Mandarin with occasional slips into Hokkien.
  • Ko Wen-je spoke mostly in Mandarin with occasional slips into Hokkien. Notably, in the opening 8-minute address, he ends the last 10 seconds of his time in Hokkien (this seemed clearly planned).
  • Hou Yu-ih spoke mostly in Hokkien with occasional slips into Mandarin.

At the start, each of the three candidates also greeted the audience in Hakka. But I didn't notice any use of Hakka afterwards. (Tsai Ing-Wen, President 2016–24, is Hakka but I don't think she used any Hakka during her official debates in 2015/16 and 2019/20 beyond perhaps some greetings.)

Note: Hou was the KMT candidate. The KMT is the most pro-China party and Hou's use of Hokkien was part of their strategy. South China Morning Post (2024):

During campaign rallies and televised speeches, Hou has made a point of playing up his local roots by speaking his Hokkien language, a dialect that his family has used since long before the KMT arrived on the island in 1949.

The decision to communicate in his native language, which is spoken by one-third of Taiwanese, was a tactic to help consolidate support from older people and swing voters, according to a KMT campaign worker.

More context from Reuters: "Speaking the tricky language of elections in Taiwan" (2011).

Languages spoken by Taiwanese permanent residents aged at least 6 (November 2020 Census):

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Hokkien is sometimes also called (1) Minnan or (2) "Taiwanese", but these are misnomers because (1) Minnan is a group of languages (of which Hokkien is merely one) and (2) calling Hokkien "Taiwanese" is like calling the English language "American".


Besides Spanish, Spain has five other co-official languages (though official use is limited to their region): Aranese, Basque, Catalan, Galician and Valencian.

Due in part to the increased presence of regionalist/nationalist parties in the Congress (compared to 30 years ago), and despite it not being explicitly allowed by the rules, it is not uncommon to hear some bits of Basque, Catalan or Galician in parliamentary debates.

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