Whether it’s “Yo soy misionero”, “Ik ben een zendeling,” “Me ye nsempakafuo,” “Ko au Faifekau,” “Misszionárius vagyok”, or “I’m a missionary,” learning the language can be one of the most exciting parts about serving in your mission. It can also be one of the most stressful. Sure, saying hello isn’t a big deal, but what about testifying or teaching the entire Restoration?!
Fortunately, if you were called to speak a foreign language, you will most likely be learning the basics at the MTC. Still feeling a little nervous? Maybe reading these experiences from some returned missionaries will help you relax a little.
1. Study any chance you get. “When I was called to serve Spanish speaking, I could hardly believe it. I took Spanish in high school, but I wasn’t very good at it. For me, I thought, ‘Well, I’ve been called for a reason. It’s going to work out somehow.’ I remember hearing in the MTC that we were on the Lord’s time and not to waste a minute. So, I decided that any spare minute or second I had, whether that was before class started, or during a break, I would study Spanish. I remember the day my teacher pulled me aside and told me that I was ahead of the class in grammar because I was focused and diligent. It made me feel so good because I knew I was making Heavenly Father proud, and He in turn was helping me learn.” —Brooke; NY-NY South
2. Learn to listen. “I was called English speaking, and that’s what I expected to speak. In some of the mission papers it said that the local dialects were Twi and Fante. That gave me an idea that I might have to learn some of another language, but I thought I would be dominantly speaking English. When I got there, our president told us, ‘I know you were called English speaking, but you guys are going to have to learn the language.’ He paired me with a non-Twi speaker and put us in a village where no one knew English. The mission provided materials for us to study. We would study the language, and then practice what we’d learned during the day. There was one old man we would always go to, and sometimes we’d just talk to him for a while, practicing Twi. I was able to practice how they say it, and how they’re used to hearing it. I was able to pick up on things that would help me speak it better.” —AJ; Cape Coast, Ghana
3. Rely on the Spirit. “When I got my call, I was excited because I was going to learn a new language and I was going to get out of the country. You hear these stories about missionaries speaking out of nowhere. I thought it was going to be like that; it would just come with minimal work on my part. The MTC was a wake-up call. I expected it to come easier, but it only came easier when I worked as hard as I could. It went super fast. By the first week, you’re already praying and bearing your testimony in Fijian. You can learn a lot in the MTC, but only so much language-wise. So when we finally got out to Fiji, that’s when it really started kicking in. There was this stereotype of missionaries that served in the city, that their Fijian was horrible. I heard about that in the MTC, and when I realized I was staying in the city and not going anywhere, that was a motivation for me to study hard and speak well. I didn’t want to be scripted. It gave me drive to really learn. And those stories I had heard before did happen to me—I just spoke in the lesson and it was like, wow! Once you put your work in, the Spirit guides you with the language.” —Sarah; Suva, Fiji
Being called to serve in another language is an adventure in itself. The Lord promised in Doctrine and Covenants 90:11 that “every man shall hear the fullness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language.” Gives you goosebumps, right? You’re part of the fulfillment of that promise. The Lord is not sending you out to fail. He is perfectly aware of your strengths and weaknesses, even in the language. So, do all that you can to learn your language and prepare to see miracles. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll land in the field and suddenly speak fluently, but it does mean the language will come. Be excited. You’re on the right track.