Japan's first lady may have pretended not to speak any English to avoid talking to President Donald Trump at the G20 dinner in Hamburg last month.

In an in-depth interview with the New York Times, Trump revealed that he was sat next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife, Akie Abe, during the dinner attended by all the G20 summit participants and their spouses.

Trump described Abe as a "terrific woman" but admitted conversation did not flow smoothly as "she doesn't speak any English".

"Like zero?" Trump was asked by New York Times journalist Maggie Haberman.

"Like, not 'hello'," Trump replied, admitting that it had made the two-hour dinner rather awkward. "So the dinner was probably an hour and 45 minutes," he said.

"So I'm sitting there. There was one interpreter for Japanese, 'cause otherwise it would have been even tougher. But I enjoyed the evening with her, and she's really a lovely woman," he added.

But here's the thing: Akie Abe does speak English.

In fact, she is practically fluent and frequently delivers speeches in English around the world. In 2014, she was the keynote speaker at the Ford Foundation at a global symposium on coastal resilience.

The two met previously when Shinzo Abe visited the US in February. The Japanese president was one of the first leaders to experience Trump's awkward handshake.

Abe was filmed looking extremely uncomfortable as the US president gripped and patted his hand for 19 seconds. The two world leaders met at the White House before travelling to the billionaire's Mar-a-Lago retreat with their wives. It is unclear whether Akie Abe also remained silent then.

Trump Akie Abe
US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania wave with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe while boarding Air Force One as they depart for Palm Beach, Florida on 10 February 2017 REUTERS/Carlos Barria

While Trump and Abe sat next to each other in awkward silence, Melania Trump was merrily conversing with Vladimir Putin at the other end of the table.

"Toward dessert I went down just to say hello to Melania, and while I was there I said hello to Putin. Really, pleasantries more than anything else," Trump said. The conversation lasted around 15 minutes, he said. The pair's discussion at the high-profile dinner raised eyebrows, given the intense scrutiny the two leaders are under amid allegations of Russian interference in the US election.

When asked what he discussed with Putin, Trump replied: "Just talked about — things."

"Actually, it was very interesting, we talked about adoption," he added. "We talked about Russian adoption. Because, you know, he ended that years ago."

Putin banned American families from adopting Russian children in 2013 in retaliation against President Barack Obama signing the Magnitsky Act into law, which called for sanctions against 18 Russian officials suspected of committing human rights abuses. Donald Trump Jr. claims that the Russian lawyer he met with last summer at Trump Tower spent most of the meeting calling for a reversal of the Magnitsky Act.

He claims his father was not aware of the controversial meeting at the time.

"Well, I never saw the email. I never saw the email until, you know..." Trump told the New York Times.