Editor's note: The Deseret News asked readers for their experiences learning a language while serving a mission, whether they learned in-country or in a more formal training setting. There was an overwhelming number of responses. Here is one of those experiences. It has been edited for length and clarity.
When he was 44 years old, my husband was called to preside over the Italy Padova Mission. We served from July of 1992 to July 1995. He had served in Italy as a young missionary in 1966-69, and he taught Italian in the Language Training Mission for three years from 1969-1972, so he was still fairly conversant in Italian.
On the other hand, as for me, my foreign language experience consisted of only a half-year of high school French. “Spaghetti” and “lasagna” were my conversational Italian. Our preparations for our mission were a whirlwind, leaving little time to study a new language.
As our departure date neared, I was invited with two of our children who were accompanying us to Italy to attend the Missionary Training Center for a one-week crash course in Italian. Our minds were filled with excitement as we attended our first class. Our children loved it! Fifty minutes into our first lesson my 15-year-old was getting high-fives from our returned Italian missionary instructors, and my mind was a mass of confusion. “A” pronounced “ah” and “E” pronounced “A” and “I” pronounced “E”, “ci” pronounced “ch”, and where are those missing letters in the Italian alphabet anyway?!
Three days after our classes ended our plane landed on the tarmac of the Venice Airport. We were met by the new president’s assistants and life as we knew it was changed forever. We were replacing a native Italian mission president and had only three hours to visit with him and his wife to learn all there was to know. Or not. I soon discovered that I could understand much of what was being said. A miracle. The gift of tongues was real.
Unfortunately, the very minute after I discovered I thought I knew what was being said, I also discovered that when it came to speaking, the gift was nowhere to be found. My tongue was tied.
Many anxious months were spent with the busy duties of a mission president’s wife. There was a household to run, settling my children in school — finding my way to their school in a neighboring town, and actually driving them there was even stressful.
Then, of course, there were missionaries and members to love, missionary zone conferences and the dreaded district and stake conferences to speak at! Even after many many prayers and pleadings to the Lord, I found that my daily interactions and especially my speaking assignments were always very challenging. Preparations for speaking assignments would begin weeks in advance. I would write my talk, the mission secretary would translate it into Italian and my husband would read it into a tape recorder. I would then listen to the tape hours on end as I went about my daily activities. After I gave my talks many of the sweet Italian Saints would come up to me and kindly compliment me on my efforts. Unfortunately, many didn’t realize I knew what they were saying, but couldn’t respond.
As our three years went by, I did come to love the beautiful Italian language and those dear Saints who spoke it. I did eventually even gather a rather good Italian vocabulary, but stringing those words together and actually speaking was a continual challenge. I many times lamented the fact that the gift of tongues was only partly fulfilled for me.Comment on this story
Fortunately, probably halfway through our mission I had an epiphany. I had a profound moment of personal revelation that changed everything. I realized that as much as I liked to talk, the most important need I had in my calling was listening, not speaking. I could listen with love and compassion — I reminded myself of that daily. Our missionary time in Italy was a unique and wonderful blessing in the lives of our family.
Personally, one of the greatest lessons I learned was to trust in the Lord. I came to realize that our Heavenly Father answers our prayers not always according to what we want, but according to what we need, and in his own way.