Why Mormons are so good at languages

Stereotypes about Mormon missionaries tend to overshadow their great success in foreign language learning. Why is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints so skilled at teaching languages? We hear from missionaries, teachers and scholars, in Utah and Finland.

Photo by Kavita Pillay. Music by Blue Dot Sessions, Booker and the Yeomans and Podington Bear. Read a transcript of this episode here.

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  • Excellent, honest, and well-rounded analysis! This truly gets into the meaning and feeling of being a Mormon missionary preparing to live, love, and teach in a foreign language.

    I loved to SYL! And it was in French, with an odd bit of Chinese thrown in from the “Foreign Language” compartment of my brain. (I had taken French throughout school in Ontario, Canada, which got replaced by two years of college Chinese. It seems that the compartment had the capacity for only one language at a time, back then.) At the MTC, the verb conjugations I learned during three years of middle school language classes were covered in one week.

    Within a few months in France, I got to the level of being able — at times — to do running translations from French to English, when it was needed and I was worked upon by the Holy Ghost.

    My mission was a marvelous, but challenging, experience. Once I returned home, I did running translations for a while from English to French for people who were learning our religion in Sunday School class. We had an unusual combination of investigators from French-speaking northern Ontario, Quebec, and Carribean islands.

    Twenty-four years after my return from France, I am still fluent in general conversation despite moving to Salt Lake City and having far less exposure to the language. I’m slowly trying to add back the Chinese I forgot as I relearned French in the MTC.

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