PROVO, Utah — How long does it take to learn a foreign language?
For young men and women at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Missionary Training Center, it could be as quick as a few weeks.
“We have long days of studying and learning the language, and teaching this gospel, but I love every moment of it,” Elder Spencer Croft, a Mormon missionary, said.
Elder Croft is one of a handful of missionaries who are preparing to serve in the Philippines.
The 18- and 19-year-olds are in the middle of a six-week Tagalog boot camp, striving to learn the language all day every day before they fly to Manila.
“We don’t learn it to fulfill an academic pursuit, but they feel that they are divinely called by Jesus Christ to share his gospel,” Joshua Higgins, a Tagalog language instructor at the MTC, said.
The missionaries may not be fluent by the time they leave, but in just a few weeks, many will establish a solid base to build upon. What’s the secret?
“They are constantly speaking Tagalog at all times, and on top of that, they have grammar practice with me,” Higgins said. “But they’re encouraged to be speaking Tagalog as much as possible, as much as they would in the Philippines.”
In other words, the MTC uses context-based training techniques, helping students hone their language skills through meaningful interactions.
“In the beginning, it was kind of overwhelming, but now I feel like I at least have a good basis for what I need to know,” Sister Marissa Badham said.
No PowerPoint lectures. No multiple-choice questions.
Instead, the missionaries learn by simulating real-life scenarios, such as sharing messages about their religious beliefs.
“Most of these missionaries aren’t necessarily equipped with the studying skills that the average person would have, but when they come in, they just work so diligent in learning this language,” Higgins said.
Once they complete their Tagalog crash course, the young men and women will join 3,500 other American and Filipino missionaries in the Philippines, where there are 21 missions and close to 746,000 church members.
“I’m very excited to get over to the Philippines,” Elder Croft said. “I hear great things probably every single day about the Filipino people, and I’m excited to learn even more about the language.”