PROVO, Utah — As soon as Elder Ulisses Soares and his wife, Sister Rosana Soares, arrived in the Portugal Porto Mission as mission leaders 23 years ago, they learned that European Portuguese was distinctly different from their native Brazilian Portuguese.
“Knowing that language and culture are closely related, we soon realized that the differences in language and culture between these two countries were a tremendous opportunity for us and for the missionaries to learn how to effectively teach the message of the Restoration in ways that would be clear and engaging to people,” said Elder Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“The words of the Lord, echoed in our ears: ‘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 and Covenants 90:11).
With his own language experience as the backdrop for his message, Elder Soares spoke on June 24 during the 2023 Seminar for New Mission Leaders about “Preach My Gospel” Chapter 7: “Learn Your Mission Language.”
5 principles to teach boldly and clearly
Elder Soares outlined five principles that can help missionaries and mission leaders teach and testify of Jesus Christ and His gospel boldly and clearly and improve language proficiency.
- “Strengthen missionaries’ belief that they have been called of God by a prophet to represent the Savior on earth.” God can and will bestow upon them spiritual power as they consistently work to strengthen their testimony of Jesus Christ and His gospel.
- “Ask for God’s help through sincere prayer for ways to learn, teach and testify in our mission language.” As missionaries understand and use the Lord’s pattern of asking, seeking and knocking through faith in Jesus Christ, they can receive His help to acquire the gift of tongues.
- “Work diligently by studying, practicing and using your language each day.” Learning to teach effectively in one’s mission language requires consistent effort. Reassure missionaries that mistakes are part of the learning process.
- “Understand the importance of being worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost by keeping the commandments and living the missionary standards.” When missionaries are obedient, they are entitled to have the influence of the Holy Ghost to testify of truth, even though a language barrier may exist.
- “Help missionaries to purify their motives by loving God and by loving His children and desiring to bless them.” As they act in faith to develop charity for those they teach, they will feel encouraged to improve their ability to communicate with them.
How mission leaders can help motivate missionaries
Research has shown that missionaries often reach a plateau in their language learning where they feel comfortable communicating with people and stop progressing in the language, Elder Soares noted.
He shared a few simple things mission leaders can do to help motivate missionaries to improve their ability to communicate in their mission language and reach a higher proficiency:
- Invite missionaries to prioritize language study time so they can continue to study and progress throughout their mission.
- Encourage missionaries to take the “Online Language Assessment” every four months to help them see how they are progressing and how they can improve.
- Access the Missionary Portal dashboard to see language progress of individual missionaries and the mission.
- Encourage missionaries for whom English is not their first language to learn English through English Connect, regardless of where they are serving.
- Encourage missionaries to learn with their companions during language study to improve language proficiency.
- Look for opportunities to talk with missionaries in the language they are learning.
- Encourage them to continue to use their language abilities and knowledge after they return home.
“My dear mission leaders, there is something special about connecting with someone in their own native language,” Elder Soares said. “It helps missionaries to be better received by and be more spiritually inspiring to the people they teach, helping both who preach and who receive, to ‘understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together’” (Doctrine and Covenants 50:22).
Elder Soares pointed mission leaders to additional information in Chapter 7 and closed with his testimony: “I testify to you that as you emphasize these principles in your missions, the Holy Ghost can manifest the truth of the missionaries’ testimony in the hearts of those who receive the word of God, even though a language barrier may exist between them and those they teach.
“I also testify that proficiency in the language permits the Spirit to breach barriers, overcome obstacles and touch the human heart.”