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English As a Second Language

An anonymous sister writes:

Our Relief Society teacher was raised in the church, in Idaho, attended BYU, and sometimes seems to have read everything ever written about the lesson material and even to know many of the authors. I am a recent convert, just moved to the United States from Tijuana, Mexico, speak very little English, and feel like I can grasp only a rare glimpse of what she is saying. I know I am not the only sister in the room who feels she is in the accelerated graduate program when I need to be in kindergarten. My new mother-in-law approached the Education Counselor with this concern, but we “new kids” are still on the outside looking in. Can we address this issue in Circle of Sisters?

Jeannie says:

How well I can relate to your situation! Do you realize that you are dealing with three new languages? First, English; second, Church terminology; and third, learning gospel principles themselves? No wonder you feel overwhelmed!

Nineteen years ago, I was in a similar situation. Moving to Germany with two viable words in my vocabulary, being totally immersed in the culture with no relatives and only one American friend, and attending a German-speaking branch were so overwhelming! Week after week, my ear strained to pick up a few phrases or a familiar word. I asked myself how I would ever understand the lofty ideas set forth in the lesson. As sweet as the German brothers and sisters were, translators were very few and the teacher did not simplify her vocabulary or presentation for my benefit. It was frustrating and I often felt very much alone.

It became very clear to me that if I was going to learn this language, be integrated into community and branch activities, and not feel like such a total loser (one can only smile and nod so long), I must assume responsibility. The journey to fluency was one of the most spiritual experiences of my life and it began on my knees in a flood of tears.

May I suggest a few things that helped me greatly:

  1. Do not be afraid to make a fool of yourself. It’s going to happen anyway (as it does to all of us who learn a new language), and you might as well laugh about it. If a comment you make produces a few giggles, enjoy the joke and be a good sport. It’s disarming and people will try hard to help you understand. Remember, odds are, none of them know a second language, so you are way ahead even attempting to express yourself.
  2. Read, read read! I started with (sorry intellectuals) children’s comic books and familiar fairy tales or stories. After taking apart a few grammar books, I tackled a comparative study of the Book of Mormon, English and German versions side-by-side. The Lord opened the eyes of my understanding and miraculously, understanding filled my soul and vocabulary filled my memory banks.
  3. Take a small notebook to Church. Write down words or phrases you don’t understand. Spelling doesn’t matter. Ask the teacher or a friend to explain these concepts to you. Go back and read the lesson and I know that you will be thrilled to find and understand new words and phrases.
  4. Accept callings and even ask to be “put to work.” None of us wants to move out of her comfort zone, especially when it comes to a new language. When we are forced to speak and practice, we become fluent. One of the most spiritual things one can experience is being blessed with the “gift of tongues.” As you move forward to serve your brothers and sisters, I promise that this gift will be yours. You will be blessed with confidence and an ability to express yourself and understand in ways you never imagined. It will touch and improve every facet of your new life in this country.

Alison says:

Being a minority Utah native while living in Florida the past ten years, I have often been teased, not about being personally acquainted with all those quoted, but about knowing many of the cast members of church-produced videos! That’s what hanging around BYU’s Harris Fine Arts Center will get you!

Don’t be intimidated by who your teacher knows or who you don’t know. That’s mostly a matter of geography and is only meaningful in that it’s fun to hear. As for what to do in Relief Society, I believe there are two fundamental questions that need to be addressed:

How does the Relief Society deal with various levels of gospel knowledge among its members?

Having a single class that includes both those who are brand-spanking new to the gospel and those who are fifth-generation stalwart members, is definitely a challenge. The teacher has to try to meet the needs of both extremes and of those in between. I have a similar (though smaller) situation in the Laurel class I currently teach. Some girls are life-long members with European pioneer ancestry and others have been members for only a matter of weeks and speak only Spanish, Portuguese, or French-Creole!

Neither group can be catered to at the exclusion of the other. But while preparing our lessons we need to prayerfully look at the content in our lessons to make sure that there is something valuable for each group represented.

For the newer members we need to make sure they understand the basic principle being discussed and that they are gaining a working knowledge of how it applies to their lives. I have found that the Gospel Principles manual is an ideal source to help explain basic gospel principles in language that is understandable to those who don’t yet have all the “prerequisites” for an advanced gospel discussion.

Make sure that definitions and relationships that long-time members take for granted are stated explicitly. For example, whenever LDS jargon is used, it must be defined and time given for any needed clarification. Words like “patriarchal blessing,” “endowment,” and even “priesthood” and “temple” have been words that some of my Laurels were not familiar with. When a prominent church figure is quoted or mentioned by name, take time to explain who he or she is and what position they hold. (This is often necessary in Young Women as the manuals are quite old and many of those being quoted are long dead!) [Hint to anyone in the curriculum department: occasionally checking copyright dates on teaching materials is a fine idea.] Often the position itself needs to be explained. (Few new converts will know what a “General Young Women President” is.)

For the more “seasoned” members, make sure that you include the insights and applications that will build on their current knowledge. And include scriptures or quotes that will extend what they already know and give new light to the topic. Often the challenge with this group isn’t explaining the principle, it is motivating those who already know the principle to do something about it!

How do members deal with various levels of gospel knowledge among its Relief Society teachers?

On the other hand, we have those who are in the position of listening to what the teacher has decided to present. This is also an important role, one that can greatly affect the outcome of the meeting.

An educated friend who was a lifelong member once complained to me about the “very young” ward (as far as gospel understanding goes) that she lived in. She claimed that she and her husband were bored by the teachers and never learned anything in any of the classes. What a waste of time going to church was! She never left feeling “spiritually fed.”

My first thought was about an audiotape I listened to a few years ago when I was serving as our ward’s Gospel Doctrine teacher. The tape featured Hugh Nibley teaching Gospel Doctrine while translating on the fly from his Greek Bible. Talk about feelings of inadequacy!

But I noticed that Dr. Nibley who very likely is the preeminent gospel scholar on earth still attends church regularly. If we are bored, how can he stand to be around the rest of us dolts at all?

It reminded me of the time many years ago when President Benson said that he still learned something every time he attended the temple. That statement pierced my heart! I, proud and very immature in my early 20’s, was quite certain that I understood everything in the ceremony. And here stood a man I greatly respected, who had likely attended thousands of sessions more than I, who was still learning. It was only then that I realized that the entire temple experience was completely over my head. What a humbling experience!

I have tried to apply those lessons to my life. I have tried to understand that sometimes it is my time to “feed” others and sometimes it is my time to be “fed” by others. I have learned that no matter how long I am a member of the church and no matter how much I read and study, I will always have a great deal to learn. And now I know that some of my greatest lessons will be taught by those who have far less formal gospel education than I do.

If you are new to the church, realize that you won’t understand everything. Remain positive. Prepare for class during the week by reading the lesson and associated scriptures. Ask for clarification when needed. Glean from the lesson whatever you can to build a working knowledge of the gospel. Show patience, support, and love toward these volunteer teachers who may not always do things the way you would prefer or may not be able to address your particular situation.

If you have been a member forever and you already know everything there is to know about the gospel, realize that in reality you don’t. Remain humble. Prepare for class during the week by reading the lesson and associated scriptures. Add clarification when needed. Glean from the lesson whatever you can to build your already working knowledge of the gospel. Show patience, support, and love toward these volunteer teachers who may not always do things they way you would prefer or may not be able to address your particular situation.

We’re all pretty much in the same boat.

Kathy says:

First, to our Tijuana Sister and others on the same courageous adventure, new to the country, the language, the gospel and even to marriage:

You are on a wild and scary adventure! I sure hope your mom-in-law has found you a visiting teacher who speaks native Spanish. I hope your visiting teacher is also an �migr� and understands how lonely and alien you will feel at first. I would say, before we tackle any of the difficult challenges that lie ahead, you need to cut yourself a lot of slack emotionally. I don’t think I have ever known a new bride who didn’t shed a few tears figuring out how to cope with all the radical changes. It’s a huge transition, and has nothing to do with how much you love your new American hubby or how much he loves you.

Please don’t feel you have fallen off the edge of the earth. There’s still gravity, and we promise it gets easier. I would really like to see you volunteer to teach the sisters in your ward a little bit of Spanish. Everybody should know enough to get by. You could choose a key phrase from the lesson manual, perhaps the stated theme of the lesson, translate it and teach it to the sisters at the beginning of the lesson. If there is a bilingual sister in the Ward or Stake, please be sure to make it a goal to prepare at least one comment each week for her to interpret for you. Challenge yourself to learn one simple phrase in English, as your opening, then speak Spanish and let her interpret. Relief Society is for everyone in the room, not just college graduates or Utah transplants. The things you are feeling and thinking are too valuable to miss just because of a language barrier.

There are two ways to look at the idea of contributing:

First, what if you are the only person in the room who has that insight? If you don’t share it, everyone will miss out. Second, often you are not the only person in the room who is thinking about something the teacher said that seemed open to a different interpretation.

You can validate their feelings and help everybody share a more balanced understanding of that point of the lesson. We know from the Savior’s manner of leading us, as described often in the New Testament, that there are always different levels of understanding and applying a principle. He was careful to use a story and an idea that were very, very common and obvious, and then to introduce a new way, the Christlike way, to apply that ideal.

Then we often will see, upon further searching and pondering, praying and practicing, there were many levels of understanding that story; and increasingly challenging ways of applying the principle, “line upon line, precept upon precept.” We can all learn at our own pace, patient with others and patient with ourselves, but always trying to pay attention to the principle.

A pretty little Christmas song asks why the angels appeared to the lowly shepherds. The answer according to the lyric is, “Because they were awake.” They were not expecting to see angels, but they were alert just the same, so they wouldn’t lose their family’s sheep.

I know that if you cling to your testimony and keep in mind how much your Savior loves you, trust your new sisters in Relief Society to love you too, and try to pay attention even if there are no angels most Sundays, your desire to be alert like the little shepherd boys will always be rewarded.

We have had a number of Latina teachers in our Relief Society, and their special way of looking at many of the basic principles of love and discipleship have blessed us. We have been especially fortunate in our Ward, in a college town, to have families from all of the continents of the globe, many with very little English, but enormous love for the gospel and all the courage of our emigrant and pioneer forebears. We love them so much!

Sometimes we know we can’t communicate with words, but we trust them to understand our hearts when we just rush into their arms and hug them and kiss them. They are so dear, so brave and so patient with us! I hope you will write back to the circle soon, by yourself, using whatever level of English you have learned, and let us know it’s getting a little better. Throw in a couple of Spanish phrases too, OK? All your Latina sisters in our reading audience will be so excited to hear from you again!

In fact, all the new converts, new brides, and people who represent any sort of minority will be pulling for you. (I think that’s just about all of us!) We love you and we are glad you are here with us in our Circle of Sisters.

Alison says:

Sister, I have gathered a few resources that may be useful to you. Best wishes in your pursuit!

Learn to Speak English

Rosetta Stone

Transparent Language

{ 21 comments… add one }
  • Reader Comment September 2, 2007, 12:16 pm

    Karen Merkley writes:

    There is great story about a general authority who overheard two young men talking after he addressed a conference. One said, “That was the most boring meeting I’ve ever been to.” The other said, “Really? My life has been changed forever through this meeting.”

  • Reader Comment September 2, 2007, 12:17 pm

    Linda writes:

    Many years ago I was serving as a stake missionary and called along with my husband to go to a mission branch to help them get set up officially, etc. This was a Vietnamese speaking group of members and potential members. The first day we arrived and greeted the acting president, we asked what he wanted us to do. He said, “Brother Horn, you have been a ward mission leader so you do that; Sister Horn, you have been a Relief Society president so you do that.” I replied that we didn’t know the Vietnamese language and he said, “Fine, no problem, they don’t know English. Rely on the Spirit.”

    I began by getting to know the sisters on a personal basis. Finally, after a couple of weeks, I gave the first Relief Society lesson. The lesson was very primary because of the language difficulty so I asked a question where the answer was Jesus Christ. No one responded. Trying to be helpful I wanted to give them a hint and said, “OK, what is the name of our church?” One replied Catholic and another Baptist, the others sat silent. I knew we had lots of work to do.

    Relying on the Spirit was indeed great counsel. Many hours were spent in prayer and attempting to learn even simple words. One big help was a young girl, 11 years of age, whom we brought to our home and she taught me a lot. She would point to something and say the word in Vietnamese and I would say the English word. Each of us would repeat what the other had said and together we learned each other’s language. It was fun for both of us and she had the chance to be in an American home frequently.

    Later we began adopting older girls from the Ward and that grew into more than we had ever hoped for. In the years that followed, we have had six daughters; four from Vietnam, one from Guatemala, and one from Honduras. Unfortunately we never became proficient in the native languages of these girls, as we knew how extremely important it was for them to learn English well if they were to stay in the United States. So, the rule was to speak English in our home. With a lot of love, English/Vietnamese and English/Spanish dictionaries, we were able to communicate. Sometimes our grown sons would come over. They had learned Spanish in high school so that was helpful. The girls were all educated and now are grown with families of their own.

    One thing I learned quickly is that people who speak a different language feel honored when you attempt to speak their language. They may snicker or laugh out loud but it is with love. They are willing to help you do better and they are as interested in understanding you as you are them. Loving the people is the most important thing and keeping a sense of humor so you can laugh at yourself makes it all possible.

  • klgreen1 September 2, 2007, 12:17 pm

    Wow!! Linda, we could have printed your letter in the “empty nest” forum, too. You have been about as anxiously engaged in good causes as anyone I have known. What an example! If you and your husband could make your ESL experience work, none of us needs to think we have any sort of barrier that can’t be surmounted by love and obedience, and that special, miraculous determination that makes missionaries effective. And you didn’t stop when you were released! Your story is definitely a “print, file, and save” anecdote. Thank you so much for sharing it with us!

  • Jeannie Vincent September 2, 2007, 12:18 pm

    Linda, way to step up to the plate!!! It can be fairly intimidating to be placed in a situation where using charade gestures are your only viable means of communication. You are so right about letting love and the Spirit be the teachers.

    What a remarkable person you must be to have opened your home to all those children and treated them as your own. I’m sure that they and their families are still singing your praises.

  • Reader Comment September 2, 2007, 12:19 pm

    Karen from South Carolina, writes:

    I am an ESL professional who has taught at BYU as well as in other ESL programs. During my college years, I studied in Copenhagen, Denmark and attended church in Danish. I didn’t understand much, but I looked up all scriptural references in my English scriptures and tried to focus on the main idea of the lesson or talk. I also volunteered to help in Primary and with music. This helped me feel more a part of the ward and helped others feel like they could talk to me. In addition to my personal experiences, I am familiar with those of my husband’s family who are all native Spanish speakers. Therefore, I can understand your situation well. The suggestions Jeannie gave are wonderful. I’d like to elaborate on one of her suggestions. She said to not be afraid to make a fool of yourself. We actually learn vocabulary more completely through comic or embarrassing situations. If we use a new term incorrectly and people laugh at our misuse, we certainly remember the correct meaning from then on! This does mean you need do expose yourself to what you may at first think is humiliating; however, those with whom you are speaking are actually impressed with your courage at attempting to speak a new language, they do not think less of you. I encourage you to continue to study and be part of your ward. Take the responsibility on yourself, read your scriptures in both Spanish and English, sing in English (singing is a great way to improve pronunciation!), volunteer, and pray. Best wishes to you and all sisters who are trying to learn a new language and a new gospel.

  • klgreen1 September 2, 2007, 12:20 pm

    Karen thanks for your story and your optimistic approach. I think it transcends language barriers and applies to every sort of challenge. The less fear we feel, the more adventurous we are likely to be; and the more we trust others to help us, the more likely we are to attract allies. I appreciate your outlook and thank you personally for writing to the Circle of Sisters.

  • Jeannie Vincent September 2, 2007, 12:21 pm

    I had to giggle when you mentioned embarrassing situations. Both my husband and I had more than our share, and most of them cannot be related in this setting!!!! It’s true, you turn red and never make the mistake again.

    How wonderful of you to have highlighted singing as a means to fluency!!! It is one of the most valuable tools available. When we set foreign words to music, our tonal memory kicks in and the words stick much better than ‘dry’ memorization. I totally missed that one and I’m a musician. Thank you for plugging the holes in my brain sieve!

  • Reader Comment September 2, 2007, 12:22 pm

    Mary from Logan, Utah, writes:

    In our Relief Society, there are many sisters with different levels of knowledge and understanding and language. One thing I have found helpful is for the teacher to approach different sisters with different assignments. Such assignments would be a quote, a story, or a scripture. Depending on the assignment and sister, the teacher would either let her do what she wanted, or would have a bit of one-on-one time with that particular sister to make sure she understood her assignment enough to be comfortable talking about it when it was her turn in class. This has helped some sisters so much. Some are more willing to participate in class and actually ask when they don’t understand something, and other sisters are more willing to help them understand. Remember the sweetest principles of the gospel are the most basic.

  • klgreen1 September 2, 2007, 12:23 pm

    Mary, what a perceptive reminder! I love your insight that the sweetness of the gospel is often its simplicity. Thank you for offering your suggestion. I intend to use it often myself!

  • Reader Comment September 2, 2007, 12:24 pm

    Ellen from Naperville, Illinois, writes:

    I teach English as a second language, so I would not in any way minimize the challenges a language-learner faces in understanding a Relief Society lesson, but the concerns you raise are not really ESL issues. The Relief Society lessons were not designed to be graduate-school level for anyone.

    The appropriate lesson material is the words of President Joseph F. Smith, or of the living prophets, or your own ward leaders. Every lesson should be friendly to new members, less active sisters, and all of us who come to be reminded of the simple truths of the gospel and to share our insights into how to live those truths in our homes. Pre-reading the approved lesson material should prepare you for a spiritual feast as you listen to the words of the prophets and of your sisters.

    Perhaps those who want to discuss supplemental materials they have read should invite friends to gospel discussions in their homes rather than during the lesson time. The language of the spirit touches the hearts of all who listen. What you are asking for is not only the language of English; you are seeking the language of the Spirit.

  • klgreen1 September 2, 2007, 12:24 pm

    Ellen, I have personal cause to believe that you are conversant in the language of the Spirit, having been very much instructed and moved by your message. Thanks for your observation, and for championing the cause of everyone who doesn’t relate to erudite supplemental material. It’s astute council for all of us to “stick to the manual.” I appreciate your willingness to sort of stick your neck out and trust us, as you sisters, to understand your perspective. I’m sure many sisters out there heartily endorse your concerns.

  • Jeannie Vincent September 2, 2007, 12:25 pm

    Ellen, I wish every teacher in Relief Society could read your comment about lesson material and teaching with the Spirit. Although most sisters do adhere to the prescribed sources, we do have a few mavericks who embroider the lessons with their own “wisdom.” It sometimes detracts ?no question.

    I still maintain that along with being taught by the Spirit, it is imperative to take responsibility for learning a language. Having been on both sides of the issue (I taught ESL off and on for two years), it was easy to determine which people were doing their “homework.” It taught me to do mine, as well. The Spirit will enlarge and magnify the capacity to learn anything; language included. Thanks for underlining that principle.

  • Reader Comment September 2, 2007, 12:26 pm

    Deborah from Carmichael, California, writes:

    I am a returned (22 years ago) missionary from France. I too had my share of language bloopers that were humbling and humiliating at the same time. When I first left the MTC, I could speak but not understand the language; therefore I couldn’t contribute much to my companion’s teachings because I never knew where we were in the discussion. Once, I recognized that our investigator was arguing about some gospel principle. I don’t know how I knew but I did. I said “It is not with this principle that you have a problem. You do not have a testimony of Joseph Smith as a prophet. You cannot accept some of what he has revealed and reject the rest; he is either a prophet or he is not!” She agreed with me and began studying more.

    A humiliating experience occurred when I asked a young lady to “show Heavenly Father your liver!” I had meant to say faith, but used the wrong form of “the” which changed the whole meaning. To help incoming missionaries learn the importance of correct pronunciation, we did a demonstration of the Joseph Smith story with “word balloons” forming over the investigator’s head as he listened to the discussion. Instead of “who was right and who was wrong” the investigator heard “who had grapes and who had pies” obviously a pretty bad faux pas.

    Four years ago I went back to France to visit and found that after just sitting in Relief Society a short while, my language came rushing back to me. I am looking forward to taking my mom to Paris in a few weeks and letting her experience a missionary moment with the language.

  • klgreen1 September 2, 2007, 12:27 pm

    Deborah, I enjoyed your letter so much! Especially the part about making the cute visual, only to learn that we had grapes and pies where we intended to ask about right and wrong. I thought the French phrase for being right was, literally, “to have reason,” which looks like having a raison. But I thought it was a raison rather than a grape. No wonder we have so many giggle-fits trying to get back and forth between languages! I was very impressed to read that the language flooded back in, after a an 18-year absence; and I bet your mom is excited to be dashing off to Paris with her daughter. Bon Voyage. Have a wonderful time!

    P.S. Let us know, when you return, if your investigator accepted your spiritual prompting to strengthen her testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Hope you will find her again, upon your return, and that you will have joyful reunions with many of the people you loved, taught and served on your mission.

  • Reader Comment September 2, 2007, 12:28 pm

    Cathryn from Arkansas, writes:

    As I read the comments I too, feel that the issue isn’t language, but how we teach with the spirit and how we love one another even if we are different.

    I spent over 20 years living in Southern California before I moved to Arkansas and in three stakes I lived in there ware Spanish-speaking units. There was sometimes a certain amount of tension between the cultures. When I held a stake calling in one area, I was told, “You can’t call anyone in the Spanish ward, you have to write them so they can obtain a translation.” That was a thoughtful policy, intended to ensure that our Hispanic counterparts would not be placed in awkward settings that might require clarification later and possibly cause embarrassment.

    Unfortunately, the assumption was wrong. Many did speak adequate English but were more comfortable in Spanish. There was also a cultural clash in one area where two English wards who shared a building with a Spanish Ward didn’t understand the amount of time that the Spanish ward spent utilizing the building (they did more socializing than most wards).

    When we moved to the Chino Stake, an entirely different situation existed. The Spanish branch was co-dependent with our ward. What that meant was that our units shared the youth programs. Our ward had sacrament meeting first, then both units had block meetings with Primary, Young Women, and Young Men from both wards meeting together under common ward leadership. We shared the youth! Because we learned to love these young people we also loved their parents. Even though there were barriers of language and culture, both sides seemed to exert themselves to overcome and overlook problems and misunderstandings. Eventually, the branch became a ward and had their own Primary and youth programs but the warm feelings between our wards and many of the friendships endure.

    The cultural misunderstandings were harder than language difficulties. For example, the Spanish branch members who were predominantly Mexican, culturally are more demonstrative when greeting each other. I learned that even when I was trying to be friendly, sometimes my Scottish/English reserve was interpreted as unfriendly. The sisters from the branch encountered a lot of prejudice in their lives and were sometimes a little afraid that they would find it even at church. I learned how to greet someone with a hug, and to stop and chat longer than I would have normally even if I was hurrying to get somewhere so they knew I was glad to see them. I sometimes miss that now that I’m not around those sisters anymore. They also learned that we were pretty good folk even if we seemed a bit cold at first.

    Differing attitudes toward time was another cultural barrier. The branch always had their sacrament meeting last on Sunday so they could go beyond the 1 1/2 hours if they felt the Spirit and the need. They also loved to linger and visit with each other after meetings were over and didn’t want to rush home the instant the block ended. They saw our insistence that meetings start promptly and end quickly as evidence that we were more concerned about things that, to them, were possibly not as important.

    I worry that in her Idaho ward this sister is the “other” and may be overlooked or just regarded as too different to fellowship. When we learn to love someone, the problems or differences cease to be all that important and we are all edified.

  • klgreen1 September 2, 2007, 12:29 pm

    Cathryn, we are so grateful to you for helping us understand some of the ways we can replace strangeness with love and understanding. I recently completed a business course that emphasized the differences you mentioned, and attempted to prepare global managers for exactly this sort of awareness. Imagine growing up and living in a culture that embraces and kisses as a routine expression of social goodwill, then moving to a culture such as ours! Many of us see chit-chat as lolly-gagging, and would never dream of hugging and kissing a business acquaintance or even a member of the ward. We were taught that many deals are lost because the American negotiators do not understand that one must first inquire politely about the family members of the businessman, move very gradually to the matter at hand, and never show any concern about the hour. We need to learn to show equal respect at church, for our sisters and their families who are accustomed to different ways. “Learning to love” is a wonderful way to think of this barrier. Thanks for helping us find exactly the right phrase! Maybe some of our multi-lingual sisters will translate it for us.

  • Reader Comment September 2, 2007, 12:30 pm

    Michelle writes:

    Your answers to the fine young lady from Tijuana are good. My thoughts on this stem from my experience as a former ESL teacher and from having been on a foreign mission.

    Sometimes the best answer is just to ask the Relief Society president to help make sure you, as a speaker of English as a second language (or another one that isn’t your mother tongue) find patient friends and perhaps assign you a tutor. Even a group of rotating volunteer tutors might be effective. I think many sisters would blossom from such a relationship and wisdom and intelligence would increase.

    I went to the Peru Arequipa Mission. All of my companions were native Peruvians except the first one. I got to stay with her about a month. My second companion, my teacher in so many ways, was my favorite. Somehow, with the gift of love and the Spirit of the Lord to guide, we understood each other. I know many returned missionaries can testify that during their first few months they feel a bit overwhelmed. I was definitely discouraged, but this sweet companion took me along, loved me and cared for me, and spoke to me in Spanish with the help of the Spirit. My testimony was bolstered. I could understand her better than any one else I met while in Peru. It would truly be a blessing to find such a person to interpret for you. It probably sounds strange, but I feel that this dear companion “interpreted” for me even though she couldn’t speak English.

    Second, don’t be discouraged by those who want to help by correcting you. One of my companions corrected me so much that I was often in tears and became defensive. I learned form her, too. The main thing I learned, along with the grammar, is to love those who may seem to delight in how much more they know than you do. Please don’t be discouraged by those who will not seem helpful or whose tone might sound condescending. Usually they are not as thoughtless as they seem, and have no unkind intentions.

    I admire your determination and you will be rewarded, I know. I agree with the sister who said that serving others will teach you what you need to know. I also suggest that you ask your husband to speak to you in English.

    I can’t resist saying that my own husband is not a native speaker of English and he also is a convert. (He joined the church after he came here to attend graduate school.) I have watched him grow and become a confident and loving man. A week ago Sunday, he substitute taught Sunday School in English. He did this for the father of a family he home teaches. The Lord truly blessed him. He felt successful.

  • Jeannie Vincent September 2, 2007, 12:30 pm

    I loved what you had to say. It’s really evident that you’ve been down the long, lonesome road to fluency, as well. Allowing others to offer correction is such an excellent suggestion. Peeling back the ego and “becoming as a little child” is not easy, but it sure works where learning a language is concerned.

    Hooray for your husband’s first lesson in English. Glad it was such a successful experience. Big milestone is his progress!!! Tell him to buy himself an ice cream cone! (You better go too, to make sure he gets the “right” one!)

  • klgreen1 September 2, 2007, 12:31 pm

    Michelle, you have given us a very valuable precaution. I resolve to be sure never to jump in with corrections, in any context except love, and only when asked. It might be tempting to show off our mastery of some insignificant thing, when the better course would have been to just understand and listen, and allow the speaker to express herself. There are few people who can thrive in an atmosphere of constant criticism. This is an excellent aspect of learning and teaching by the spirit that will help us to form affectionate bonds and learn the important, loving truths of the gospel. I’m so glad you brought this to our circle!

  • Reader Comment September 2, 2007, 12:32 pm

    Paula from Windsor, Colorado, writes:

    I am enjoying this column so much! It gives me a new perspective and asks me to think out of my own sphere. We have recently had a few new members of our ward who do not speak English as their first language. All of them speak English well but because of their accents some people avoid them. I noticed this before the article but I also found it very timely. I served a foreign mission so I know what these people are going through. I always spoke with them before but I have made an extra effort to talk with them.

  • facethemusic September 3, 2007, 8:36 pm

    We’ve had quite a few people in our ward whose native tongue wasn’t English, but we’ve also had so many return missionaries who served foreign missions that we’ve always had someone who could translate where necessary! Especially spanish-speaking. Honestly, I would think that it’s probably a very rare thing that wards wouldn’t have 2 or 3 people who are fluent in Spanish. I’ll bet our ward has 10 or so!
    We have two members who are from the Phillipines and speak Tagalog, and a family from the Ivory Coast for whom French is their native tongue, but they also speak Italian, as it’s the common “second language” in their homeland. We also have a sister from Germany, one from Russia, and our Bishop is from Peru.
    We have American born members who served foreign missions in France, Japan, Korea, several countries in South America — it’s actually pretty cool. We could have visitors from several countries and would have someone to translate for them if neeed!
    What I find particularly interesting about this question however, is how impeccable the person’s English is, and yet she said she could barely speak English.

    [I] feel like I can grasp only a rare glimpse of what she is saying. I know I am not the only sister in the room who feels she is in the accelerated graduate program when I need to be in kindergarten. My new mother-in-law approached the Education Counselor with this concern, but we new kids ? are still on the outside looking in.

    That’s awfully good English. Very descript, well spoken, using rather advanced phrasing and expression—there are native born Americans who can’t speak or write as well. Someone who can use such expressions as “grasp only a rare glimpse”, use humor like ‘I feel like I’m in the accelerated graduate program”, etc clearly understands English rather well in order to properly use such phrases.
    I’m sure most people have encountered someone who doesn’t speak English very well. Such a person would have communicated the same concern in a totally different way.

    “I can understand only little English. I think I not only one who not understand. The mother of my husband tell this to leader, but I still not understand teacher very good.”

    –And yet look how well this sister expressed herself! I think she must be incredibly hard on herself and needs to give herself a break and a good pat on the back for mastering the language as well as she has!

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