Learning the Language: Tips for Latter-day Saint Missionaries

A large percentage of missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are sent to a foreign land, and the majority of them, and even some that stay state-side, are asked to learn a new language.  This is the next in a series of posts on learning the language of your mission. This language learning series will be good for both future and current missionaries striving to better master their mission language.

Receiving the Gospel In Their Own Tongue

The Lord declared to Joseph Smith that “every man shall hear the fullness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language, through those who are ordained unto this power” (D&C 90:11). Regardless of the language you are called to teach in, whether it be your native tongue or not, you have been “ordained unto this power.” If you have been called to learn a foreign language, part of your calling is to learn to speak your mission language well so that you can help others come unto Christ.

In order for investigators to feel the truth of your message and seek to gain a testimony of their own, people must be able to understand your message clearly. It is true that sometimes missionaries who do not speak their mission language well are blessed to be able to communicate with people through the Spirit, but such instances are rare. Generally speaking, missionaries who speak the language better are more successful at helping others come unto Christ.

My Experience Learning Spanish

When I received my call to go to Argentina and learn Spanish, I was a little afraid. I hardly knew a word of Spanish, but I had faith in the Lord that he would help me.  I knew that thousands of missionaries who had come before me had learned to speak a foreign language, and learned it well. And I knew if the Lord helped them learn a new language, he could certainly help me. And thanks to a lot of hard work, early mornings of extra studying, good companions, and the help of the Lord I was able to learn Spanish. (See this post I wrote for more detail on my experience learning the Spanish language)

Prepare Yourself Spiritually

Studying and understanding the doctrines of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ will strengthen your testimony and, in turn, increase your capacity to teach and testify convincingly. The strength of your personal testimony will bring converting power to your words. You must, therefore, then learn to express in your mission language what is in your heart and mind. To succeed in this, you must be spiritually prepared and willing to work hard and be obedient to mission rules and the commandments so you can have the Spirit with you.

Below are some tips from the Preach My Gospel manual on ways you can strengthen your faith that the Lord will help you teach and testify in your mission language:

  • Recognize that you have been called of God by a prophet.
  • Live worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost.
  • Be obedient to the commandments and to missionary standards.
  • Pray sincerely for divine assistance.
  • Study, practice, and use the mission language each day.

Work Hard and Be Persistent

Learning to teach effectively in a new language requires great effort. Do not be surprised if the task seems hard, or if progress comes slower than you expect. It will take time, but if you are persistent, work hard, and seek the Lord’s help, your language skills will grow.

You may be tempted to memorize the discussions or give the lessons word for word from memory, but to truly be effective as a missionary, you must take it to the next level. You must be able to interact well with others, understand the nuances of meaning, deal with uncertainty, and make adjustments as you teach.

As you improve your ability to speak the mission language, the people you meet will listen more to what you say than to how you say it. You will then be less worried about how to communicate the thoughts and feelings in your mind and heart, and you will be better prepared to respond to the needs of your investigators and to follow the promptings of the Spirit.

Continually strive to master the language throughout your mission and even beyond your mission. The Lord has invested much in you, and He may have uses for your language abilities later in your life. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland explained,

“We would also hope that every missionary learning a new proselyting language would master it in every way possible. Every missionary in this Church can improve his or her mission language skills. And as you do so, your proselyting and testifying skills will improve, you will be better received and more spiritually impressive to your investigators. Keep pushing on language mastery the entire length of your mission. . . . Don’t be satisfied with what we call a missionary vocabulary only. Stretch yourself in the language, and you will gain greater access to the hearts of the people. They will love you for trying to speak and honor their language” (Missionary Satellite Broadcast, August 1998).

You’re Not Alone in Learning the Language

I’ll conclude with another thought from the Preach My Gospel manual:

You are not alone in learning your mission language. Whenever the Lord gives a commandment, He provides a way to accomplish it (see 1 Nephi 3:7). Seek His help. Be dedicated in your study. In time you will acquire the language skills necessary to fulfill your purpose as a missionary.

1 reply
  1. Donna Davis
    Donna Davis says:

    Dear Brother:
    My husband and I are senior missionaries serving in Central America. One of our missionaries told us that one of the prophets had promised that if a missionary reads the Book of Mormon all the way through at least twice during their mission in their mission language, that they will be conversant in the language. He couldn’t give me a source for this promise. Do you know where it is? I want to use it in an English class we are teaching here as a way of motivating our students to learn English while we are serving them. Thank you for your help. Sister Davis


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