Language Learning Lessons From the Mormons

NPR has an interesting story up on language learning at the Mormon’s Missionary Training Center in Utah.  The Missionary Training Center equips young Mormons with the language skills to preach their version of the gospel to people overseas.

It does so incredibly quickly, with most students going from zero to at least conversational in just nine short weeks.

MTC student Kirsten Weiss told NPR:

“The five weeks that I’ve been at the MTC, I’ve seen people go from having zero experience with Mandarin — or even learning any language — to going where I was maybe about my third year of studying at a university. It’s very impressive.”

How do they do it? Here are four of the MTC’s language learning secrets:

1. “Speak Your Language. “

“Speak your language” is the “unofficial motto” at the Missionary Training Center.  Rather than simply doing vocabulary and grammar drills, students focus on using their chosen language in a variety of real world situations.

2.  Practice makes perfect.

MTC students spend 10 hours every day studying.   That’s a lot of practice!

According to commenter James Picht, who went through the program:

10 hours/week (including out of class study, for a serious student) at a university versus 10 hours/day at the MTC or another intensive program – it’s exposure to the language that really determines progress, and the MTC provides about the same exposure in 9 weeks that a serious student would get in 3 semesters at a university. Then add in the advantage that at the MTC, you haven’t had a chance to forget any of what you learned between semesters and that you’re going straight from there to the country where you’ll speak the language, and it’s unsurprising that motivated missionaries will be doing very well in relatively short order.

3.  Don’t expect immediate perfection.

According to some of the commenters on the article, students usually don’t leave MTC fully fluent in another language. In fact, sometimes they are barely conversational.  However, they have a foundation they can build on, and most become  fluent after six months in a foreign country.

4. Stay motivated.

Staying motivated is key. For the farm boy in those old Rosetta Stone ads, it was his love for an Italian supermodel. For students at the MTC, the motivation is spiritual, with one telling NPR

“”Everything we do is trying to learn by and with the Spirit, so that’s really the only way you can … stand it here.”

Decide what your motivation is to learn the language, and remind yourself of it whenever you get discouraged.

Have you ever tried to learn a foreign language quickly? Share your experience in the comments!

Photo Credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by katherinejarmstrong

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