LDS volunteers teach English in daily doses

Pilot program offers basic language skills to Hispanics

Published: Monday, Oct. 4 2004 12:00 a.m. MDT

Ralph Knudsen teaches English language skills to a group of Hispanic students at an LDS church in Taylorsville.

Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News

Among the thousands of Latinos who have come to Utah in the past decade, Miguel Soza has a big smile, a ready laugh and a gleam in his eye. Shaking hands with an older couple of LDS missionaries he has come to love, he explains his joy to an observer.

"Before I come here, I speak no English," he said, crossing his hands emphatically across his chest, then releasing them to his sides. Many of his Hispanic friends gathered in the hallway of an LDS chapel smile wide in agreement as he becomes animated again. "Now I speak English!"

Which means he and many of his new friends understood more readily the messages shared on local radio and television this past weekend by top leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during the faith's 174th Semiannual General Conference.

A native of Chile, Silva is one of hundreds of local Latinos who has learned to speak basic English through a new pilot program being offered by the church. Dubbed "Daily Dose," the curriculum is focused around 20-minute "huddles" held three times a week at designated local chapels. English-speaking LDS members are asked to lead the huddles, teaching basic English words and phrases related to everyday tasks such as talking about one's house or apartment, talking to the boss, calling 911 and using public transit.

Once students master words and phrases used in daily living, they expand their vocabulary with words and concepts unique to Latter-day Saints, such as "Family Home Evening." After one three-month beginner course, many students return for an intermediate class. At $10 per course, no one can find a better bargain to learn basic English, explains Elder Roy King. Former president of the Monterrey Mexico Mission and the Mexico City Temple, he and his wife, Darlene, were the first missionary couple asked to oversee the program.

"Elder (M. Russell) Ballard felt strongly with the Hispanic Initiative program that we should help start this," Elder King said. As an apostle — one of the LDS Church's top leaders — Elder Ballard spoke at the first local Hispanic fireside, held annually since 2002 for all Spanish-speaking Latter-day Saints. Members were encouraged to become bilingual while retaining their cultural heritage.

After thousands turned out for the meetings, the church organized a meeting last spring of several hundred Spanish-speaking missionaries and many local Latinos in the Tabernacle.

They heard Elder Ballard outline a program designed "specifically to work with and serve the Hispanic community," according to Marco Diaz, a local Hispanic activist and Latter-day Saint who attended the meeting and shared his impressions with the Deseret Morning News last spring.

Diaz said Elder Ballard laid out "the praise and vision of how these (Latinos) are our brethren and we must love them." Diaz remembers someone saying it "is no accident that they are here, but (it's) by the hand of the Lord that they are."

And in unprecedented numbers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which released statistics last week showing Hispanics alone accounted for 26.9 percent of the state's population growth from 2000 to 2003, up from 22.9 percent during the 1990s.

Though the "Daily Dose" program has not been publicized since the church still considers it a "pilot program," hundreds of Latinos along the Wasatch Front have already taken the classes and learned to speak basic English since the program was initiated in March, according to Elder King.

To get the classes going, the Kings "invited any nonmembers that we saw, and the (proselyting) missionaries would invite people as they knocked on doors."

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