5 Tips on Learning a Language

You’ve heard the story before- a missionary goes to a foreign land, only knowing the bare minimum of the language, and without showing any signs of fluency, miraculously teaches the whole lesson.

Learning your mission language comes as a gift from the Spirit. Many people believe that the gift of tongues means speaking fluently out of nowhere, like in the example above. However, that is just one side to it. Another truly miraculous part of the gift of tongues is your ability to speak to the people’s hearts. You could have the worst Spanish in the world, but because of the gift of tongues, your investigator will still know exactly what you’re saying, and it will touch them. If you are stumbling through every bit of Mandarin you know, and somehow, your investigator decides to sincerely read the Book of Mormon, then you have the gift of tongues.

So what can you do now to prepare for this gift? Here are some helpful and practical tips:

1. Language Study Plan– You’re going to hear this one a lot once you start the mission. If you look in Preach My Gospel chapter 7 (129), you’ll find the majority of it is about the language study plan. Try creating one on your own with the resources you have. For example: Find a time (half hour to 1 hour) every day to set aside for language study. Then divide up that time into effective activities for yourself: 10 minutes reading the Book of Mormon in the mission language, 15 minutes memorizing basic phrases found on the Internet, 15 minutes learning new verbs from the dictionary you may have bought, etc. Other ideas for activities include practicing what you learned on a family member, creating your own sentences in English and then translating them, writing a paragraph about your day, or quizzing yourself.

2. Say what you know– The best way to learn a language is by speaking it. If you learn any vocabulary, get in the habit of replacing your English version with the mission language word. For example, if I learned the word for “door” in Spanish, I would stop saying “door” and start saying “la puerta.” It may sound a little funny mixing your English sentences with scattered foreign words, but it will help you memorize.

3. Spend time with a native– This could be very limited depending on where you live, but if you happen to know someone who speaks your mission language as a native, talk to them! Try to set aside a time each week where you can visit, whether by phone or in person. Have normal conversations with your friend. Let him or her teach you.

4. Keep track– A good way to set goals is by setting numbers for yourself. In other words, rather than just saying, “I’m going to learn new vocab words tomorrow,” try, “I’m going to learn 3 new words and use them in a sentence.” Keep tallies on each new word learned and used. That will help you see your own progress.

5. Read– If you have access to them, books can be a great way to learn the native tongue, especially children’s books. They are simple and easy to understand. They’ll help you learn the basics. Try reading aloud to yourself so you can hear and practice your pronunciation.

Learning the language is challenging, but well worth it. Give yourself a head-start now by practicing, studying, and setting goals.

For more ideas, see:
Language Adventures
Tips on Study Time
A Little Humor Will Get Your Through