Mormon missionaries have mad language skills. Not every member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who serves a proselytizing mission will learn a foreign language. But those who do are likely to become fluent in the languages they learn. There are more than 74,000 Mormon missionaries serving in 418 missions across the globe speaking more than 50 languages. Why do they do this? The answer is found in the scriptures. The Lord declared,
Every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language, through those who are ordained unto this power (Doctrine & Covenants 90:11).
Thus, the missionaries who are teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ learn the language of the people whom they will serve.
Missionaries begin their 18-month or 24-month service by reporting to one of 15 Missionary Training Centers around the world. The MTC provides rigorous instruction in both gospel teaching and language, if needed. Native speakers spend 3 weeks at the MTC while those learning a new language spend up to 9 weeks.
The main MTC is in Provo, Utah, on the campus of Brigham Young University. Missionaries who train in this facility will serve in missions throughout the world, and can be trained in one of 56 languages—31 of which require the maximum period of 9 weeks in the MTC. The Church of Jesus Christ also operates 14 additional MTCs in Argentina, Chile, Columbia, Ghana, England, New Zealand, Guatemala, Peru, Mexico, the Philippines, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, South Africa and Spain—which teach a total of 7 languages. According to the Mormon Newsroom:
Each instructor who teaches a language is either a native speaker or is fluent thanks to his or her own missionary service. In addition to language instruction, teachers provide cultural training to help missionaries make a smoother transition into their assigned foreign country.
How Do Missionaries Learn?
The question that many people have is how do Mormon missionaries learn another language in such a short period of time? After all, 9 weeks just isn’t that long. NPR thought so too. National Public Radio aired a piece on how Latter-day Saint missionaries learn languages at the Provo MTC. It focused on a group of missionaries learning Mandarin Chinese. Mormon Newsroom explained:
These young men and women will head out to their assigned areas of service after only nine weeks of study—a small time frame, NPR notes, compared with the U.S. military’s 64-week course in Mandarin taught at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California.
How does the Church teach effectively in such a short time? They accomplish it through intense classroom instruction from teachers who are former missionaries, daily practice in realistic teaching situations, and learning by and following the Holy Spirit. As one missionary tells NPR, “Everything we do is trying to learn by and with the Spirit.”
“Many other students said the same thing in one way or another,” NPR adds, “and whether you share their faith or not, the results speak for themselves.”
Learning by and with the Spirit is the key—in addition to hard work. It isn’t always easy. After visiting the Provo MTC, President Thomas S. Monson said,
Vaguely familiar to me were the conversations in Spanish, French, German, and Swedish. Totally foreign to me and perhaps to most of the missionaries were the sounds of Japanese, Chinese, and Finnish. One marvels at the devotion and total concentration of these young men and women as they grapple with the unfamiliar and learn the difficult.
I am told that on occasion when a missionary in training feels that the Spanish he is called upon to master appears overwhelming or just too hard to learn, he is placed during the luncheon break next to missionaries studying the complex languages of the Orient. He listens. Suddenly Spanish becomes not too overpowering, and he eagerly returns to his study.
But there is one language that every missionary at the MTC must learn and know. President Monson said,
There is one language, however, that is understood by each missionary: the language of the Spirit. It is not learned from textbooks written by men of letters, nor is it acquired through reading and memorization. The language of the Spirit comes to him who seeks with all his heart to know God and to keep His divine commandments. Proficiency in this language permits one to breach barriers, overcome obstacles, and touch the human heart.
To hear returned Mormon missionaries speak the language in which they testified of Jesus Christ on their missions, check out this video: