“I’m Speaking What?!” What to Do When the Mission Language is Daunting

When I opened my mission call to the Ukraine Donetsk Mission, the first thing I noticed was not the mission itself, but the language I would be speaking: Russian. “Whoa,” I thought, “that’s going be hard to learn!”

I was right. Russian was a hard language to learn. I remember struggling to understand the alphabet in the MTC. It was like being two years old and learning how to speak again. It was frustrating. What made it even more difficult was that I have a speech impediment which hampers my ability to pronounce words with consonant blends in them . . . and Russian has a lot of words and sounds with consonant blends that I had never practiced—let alone heard of. I felt like my mouth was not made to speak Russian.

Through the struggle of learning Russian, I learned that the gift of tongues is truly a gift from God, but it isn’t magic. It takes faith, which means it takes action. It means being dedicated to a language learning plan, and it means praying every day for the Spirit to give you understanding and courage to speak.[1] As I acted, I experienced the grace of the Lord as He blessed me with the ability to speak and understand the beautiful Russian language in ways that I would never have thought possible as a first-week missionary in the MTC.

Learning a language can be one of the biggest challenges of serving a mission. But it can also be a way for God to show you—and the people you serve—that this is truly His work. If you are afraid about learning a foreign language on your mission, here are three lessons that helped me replace fear with faith:

You are not the only one who has struggled with learning a language.

Moses had a speech impediment.[2] Enoch was slow of speech.[3] Moroni was afraid that the Gentiles would “mock” at his words.[4] Countless other missionaries have had difficulties learning the language they are called to preach in—whether it be Spanish, French, English, or Mandarin. You are not alone in your struggle, and there are people who will be willing to help you, most importantly your Heavenly Father. Moses was told by the Lord: “I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.”[5] That promise extends to you.

God can turn weaknesses into strengths.

Striving and struggling to learn a language can provide opportunities for you to humble yourself and turn to the Savior. The Lord can make “weak things become strong” to you.[6] This doesn’t necessarily mean that you will become the best language speaker on the mission. But it does mean that the Lord can take the difficulties, humiliations, and mistakes of learning a language and consecrate them for your good as you turn to Him. Your experiences of learning a language will increase your trust in the Lord and you will be able to understand and reach out to others who also struggle learning a language.

The ultimate teacher in any language is the Spirit.

Even if you can’t speak Hungarian or Hmong perfectly, the Spirit can still touch the hearts of the people listening to your message. They will remember how they feel more than the fact that you used the imperative correctly. President Thomas S. Monson taught that “there is one language . . . that is common to each missionary—the language of the Spirit. [. . .] Proficiency in this language permits one to breach barriers, overcome obstacles, and touch the human heart.”[7] Strive to live worthy of having the Spirit with you. Those whose hearts are prepared will listen, and they will feel the power of the message.

The opportunity to learn a language on your mission is a responsibility and a gift. More than that, it is a fulfillment of prophecy. The Lord said that in the latter days that “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, by the administration of the Comforter, shed forth upon them for the revelation of Jesus Christ.”[8]

This is the Lord’s work that we are performing around the world. Open your mouth and speak miracles.

How have you been blessed by the Lord in speaking an unfamiliar language on your mission? Please share your experiences with the gift of tongues below.

[1] See Chapter 7 of Preach My Gospel, specifically “The Gift of Tongues” section on page 133: “You will not obtain this gift [the gift of tongues] without effort on your part; you need to actively seek it. Part of seeking the gift of tongues is to labor and struggle and to do all you can to learn the language.”

[2] See Exodus 4:10. “And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto they servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.”

[3] See Moses 6:31.

[4] See Ether 12:23.

[5] See Exodus 4:12.

[6] See Ether 12:27.

[7] President Thomas S. Monson, “The Spirit Giveth Life,” Ensign, June 1997, 2.

[8] Doctrine and Covenants 90:11.