This weekend NPR’s “All Things Considered” produced a piece about the Mormon Missionary Training Center and the experience they have in learning languages. The center in Provo is world-renowned for their methods in teaching about 36,000 young missionaries every year. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has 15 of these training centers around the world with Provo’s campus being the largest.
The MTC Experience
Missionaries that go into the MTC are thrown into a world of intense structure and studying. They arise at 6:30 every morning and are in bed by 10:30. Every minute of their day is planned around learning missionary lessons and how to teach. Those that learn languages learn their assigned language in that context. They practice their language using a variety of scenarios and learn necessary vocabulary as they go. This differs from traditional language learning through rote memorization and allows missionaries to fluently teach lessons in a matter of weeks.
When a missionary finally leaves the MTC (for those there 9+ weeks it can feel like they will never leave) learning the language is still not over. Often times, a missionary will wonder what they learned at the MTC once they start talking to locals. Not being able to understand or be understood after spending two months in intense study can be discouraging for a young missionary. But the genius of the MTC is that it supplies its students with a foundation of learning a language, not knowing a language. After leaving the military-like structure of the MTC, a missionary discovers just how much freedom he/she has. That missionary now can plan his/her own study schedule and set his/her own goals and is responsible to learn the language independently. (With the help of a companion and patient locals, of course)[quote_right]We Mormons learn languages for the immediate goal of proselytizing the world. And that’s a wonderful thing, but to me it’s equally important that we’re teaching our young people they are citizens of a vast and complicated planet with hundreds of other cultures, other histories. – Jana Riess at Religion News Service[/quote_right]
As a young missionary in Slovakia I thought I would never be able to speak Slovak, but the MTC provided me with tools and skills to eventually learn it on my own. (In an effort to provide full disclosure I will admit that Slovak skills were a struggle my entire mission and I’m sure the members there can provide some pretty
sad hilarious stories in my attempts to pass off as a Slovak speaker)
One of the greatest blessings of learning a language the MTC-way is that it helps one appreciate the language and culture of another people and reinforces the idea brought up by Jana Riess that we are all “citizens of a vast and complicated planet with hundreds of other cultures, other histories.”
NPR recognized something that would be hard to replicate in any other language learning program, and it is something that every missionary recognizes from the get-go of their experience— something that everyone of them relies on from the get-go. The spirit. Every missionary, whether they are learning a new language or not, ultimately relies on the Spirit to teach them and internalize the principles taught within the center.
In the comments below, feel free to share your MTC experience. Did it prepare you for the mission field?