Popular Post 戴 睿 Posted August 1, 2014 at 06:04 PM Popular Post Report Share Posted August 1, 2014 at 06:04 PM It has been requested that I write a topic based on the language learning pursuits of mandarin speaking mormon missionaries. In this particular post, I hope to explore the daily life, efforts, and methods missionaries employ to improve their language ability, with some background into how they get started in the first place. 1) An Introduction into "LDS" Missionary Work At the age of 18 for males or 19 for females, members in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Commonly known as the LDS or Mormon Church) may choose to serve a 2 year or 18 month service mission. The LDS Church has over 400 mission areas active around the world, with around 83,000 full-time missionaries currently in service. The materials of the Church are published in 189 languages. The majority of those languages are also spoken and represented by Church missionaries. 2) The Application Process The missionary journey begins with an application, which is accessed online. As part of the application, the prospective missionary is asked a few questions about language ability: As you can see from the snapshot of my old application filled out some time ago, you are asked to list what experience you have with different languages, as well as how interested you are in learning a new language, and how successful you feel you would be at doing so. 3) Receiving Your Mission Call The first big day is when you receive your mission call in the post. It comes relatively by surprise, without warning. The envelope is large and blank. It's a common joke amongst youth in the church that you can guess from the postage size listed on the stamp whether or not you'll be serving a foreign or domestic mission. As you can probably tell, there is quite a bit of anticipation at this stage. 2 years of your life hangs on the words enclosed within the envelope you currently hold in your shaking hands. It's a common tradition to open the envelope in front of family and friends, reading aloud its contents, and enjoy the surprise at finding out where you'll live and what language you'll speak for the next two years of your life. Here is a video of when I opened my own mission call: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1JDVXI9JAI 4) Entering the Training Center Flash forward a few months, and you find yourself entering the Missionary Training Center (MTC). You're rushed to your bedroom, where you quickly stash your suitcases. Within 15 minutes of stepping onto the MTC Campus, you are entering the door of the classroom where you will be learning Mandarin Chinese for the next 9 weeks. You are greeted by one of your teachers (you have two, plus multiple "class resources" who periodically visit and work with struggling missionaries 1 on 1). Your teacher shares a critical similarity with you - just a few years earlier, they served a Mandarin Speaking Mission. Now they're advanced in the language, and expert at what it takes to learn it efficiently and effectively. As you enter the room, they greet you in Mandarin. They continue to speak to you in Chinese, and you look blankly around the room hoping for a hint as to what is going on. You notice a chalk board, computer, and 8-12 student desks aligned in a semi-circle. One of those desks has your english name on it. Under that name is a Chinese surname, printed in pinyin, You set your stuff down at the desk - the teacher has not ceased to talk away at you in Chinese. He or She directs your attention to the chalkboard. On the board are written many sentences in English, with pinyin translations underneath. You've never learned to read pinyin, but it doesn't matter because you can tell by the teachers gesturing that he is pronouncing it out for you. He gestures for you to repeat after him. He makes you say the same sentence 10 times. He speeds his voice up, slows it down, exaggerates his tones. You're then encouraged to repeat the sentence to the other missionaries who will make up your class (called a "district). You have stilted conversations with one another, leaning on the teachers guidance, as you say hello, offer your name, ask after theirs, and introduce what city you are from dozens of times, with 5 different missionaries. You aren't immediately trained to read pinyin. You are simply shown it, and given the teachers audio example to match it. In what feels like seconds, an hour has passed by. You suddenly realize you just spent 60 minutes speaking Chinese. There's a special sort of tension and excitement in the air. You all sound like idiots, but its fun, exotic, and most importantly - you've already started to progress. You break for a meal, and then return to the classroom as the routine repeats, this time using example sentences from learning materials you were given upon arrival. You take notes furiously, and try to soak up what you can. You're told you will be teaching a full blown lesson in two days time. You get ready to dig in... The teachers refuse to speak english with you in class for the first week to two weeks. Everything is Chinese, and when english is necessary, it is written down on the board accompanied by a translation, not spoken aloud. They're excellent guides. You progress quickly, and time starts to fly by. Grammar principles are introduced methodically, as you gradually work on completing a book filled with 80 grammar principles considered to be the "core" of the mandarin language. Each of those principles are accompanied by at least 5 example sentences, each of which have a direct relevance to real life situations you might encounter as a missionary. You find yourself using those same example sentences in practice teaching situations twice daily. Almost everything you're directed to learn has direct relevance. You are encouraged to avoid wasting time learning things you won't actually have a use for in the beginning. A couple weeks pass, and the teachers/resources begin speaking more english. They begin explaining in detail various study methods and habits that can assist you in learning the language. There is a huge emphasis placed on effective planning. Each missionary is directed to make a "Language Study Plan," which are frequently reviewed by the teachers and discussed with the missionaries to determine how efficient they are. You are encouraged to "SYL" - Speak Your Language. That means Chinese all the time, even when surrounded by missionaries in the MTC learning a different language. The missionaries that internalize this principle quickly pull ahead in their language ability. By week 5, some missionaries will speak with great confidence about subjects they are familiar with. Their tones and pronunciation, while still slightly halting, are surprisingly standard and without distracting flaw. Not all missionaries reach this level of capacity, but the best ones often take extra time to support those who are struggling. The "districts" often bond quite closely together. They support one another, and set goals to determine how they can become more effective at learning the language as a cohesive unit. These goals usually include set times to only speak chinese, or to review recently studied principles, or to quiz one another out of our personal flashcard decks. The goals these districts set are monitored by one another. Not by the teachers. You push your friends to be their best, and they push you back. 9 weeks flash by. Some of the more exceptional missionaries have reached an intermediate level of Chinese (again, only when discussing topics widely broached by others). Your time is up, and you say goodbye to the 9 other young men who have become your best friends. The next morning, they'll be flying off to different countries around the world. My district was compromised of individuals who would go on to serve in France, Canada, New York, Singapore, Australia, and the UK (All chinese speaking). Other common destinations were California, Virginia, Washington D.C., New Zealand, Scotland, UK (North and South), Taiwan and Hong Kong (this list is not entirely comprehensive). 5) Arriving in the Field You arrive in the field after a long plane ride. You're picked up from the airport and taken to meet the Mission President, the man who is responsible for the organization and administration of the mission. He interviews you, and determines a suitable companion with whom you will spend the next 3 months. This is a pivotal moment. Your new companion will be your "trainer." He will show you the ropes of missionary work. More importantly, he'll be responsible for showing you how to learn the language without the crutch of a training center and the constant attention of teachers. My trainer was a native from Zhejiang China. His english was quite good (he'd spent over a year in England at that point). We met, unpacked my things, and sat down for a moment to meet one another. He immediately spoke with me in Mandarin, asking questions about my background, goals for the mission, desire to come out and serve - he was assessing my language capacity. It wasn't as great as I thought it was - I quickly realized I was unaccustomed to the various accents of a native Chinese speaker. But he was patient, willing to repeat himself, and good at explaining how I could rephrase what I was saying to be more naturally chinese. Not all trainers are this good. They are just young missionaries, only a year older then you if that. But they're experience has seasoned them reasonably well. They know what it takes to get good at the language, and they remember their own struggles in starting out just months before you. An hour later, you're on the street. You immediately stop a Chinese person. Your trainer introduces himself, then looks at you, waiting. Nervous, you say what you can - perhaps fumbling slightly. It's nerve racking, but highly rewarding when you realize much of what you learned can be used now in a real life situation, to communicate with a real person. And so mission life begins. Most of your days are filled with finding and teaching, all in chinese. You speak with your trainer, and consecutive future companions - all in chinese. You spend an hour a day specifically studying the language, and steal every spare minute you can to squeeze extra study time in. When you don't know a word, you write it down. You ask your companion about it. If he isn't native and he doesn't know it, you learn it together. You learn to rely on your companion. The least effective way to learn the language is to do so completely on your own. With a native companion, or even another foreign learner accompanying you day in and day out, your collective capacity is immense. You test one another, push one another, support one another. Comfort one another when you suffer language frustrations, and rejoice when you succeed and make noticeable progress. 6) Basic Principles of Learning the Language Many of the basic principles learned in the MTC are applied throughout the rest of your mission. You plan regularly, and revise that plan constantly to ensure your being effective. I myself have reached out to the forums in the past to discuss how I could use my time effectively. That post can be found here: http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/42481-a-unique-environment-of-study-how-to-be-most-effective/?p=319663 You are also provided with a missionary manual called "Preach My Gospel." It contains information on every aspect of missionary life, including a chapter called "How Can I Better Learn My Mission Language." Here is a link to that specific chapter: https://www.lds.org/manual/preach-my-gospel-a-guide-to-missionary-service/how-can-i-better-learn-my-mission-language?lang=eng Some highlights from that chapter: Principles of Language LearningThis section describes principles to help you study and learn the language more effectively. • Take responsibility. Regularly create or adjust your language learning goals and study plan. Strive to use the language at every opportunity. • Make your study meaningful. Ask yourself: Why am I studying this? How will it help me communicate better? Relate what you study to real-life situations and daily activities. Study parts of the language that will help you say what you want to say. For example, if there is a scripture story you would like to include in your teaching, learn the vocabulary and grammar necessary to relate it. • Seek to communicate. Seek to find an appropriate balance between studying grammar and the structure of the language and learning through your daily activities. There is no substitute for talking with native speakers of the language. • Learn new concepts thoroughly. You will be able to recall and effectively use language principles if you review regularly what you have studied and if you practice again in new situations. Culture and Language LearningCulture and language are closely related. Understanding the culture will help explain why language is used the way it is. Strive to understand the culture of the people so that you can communicate the unique aspects of the message of the Restoration in a way that will be clear to them. One of the greatest things you can do to gain people’s trust and love is to embrace their culture in appropriate ways. Many great missionaries have done so (see 1 Corinthians 9:20–23). Seek to have the people feel comfortable with you and your language. I also highly recommend looking at the section on "Language Study Plans," which I have found to be incredibly useful. 7) Some Comments on the General Life of a Mandarin Missionary I have really loved the experience of serving as a Missionary. Serving in the UK, almost everybody I teach are Chinese Overseas Students. We are of a similar age, and as a result can relate to each other surprisingly well despite such large cultural differences and backgrounds. Teaching that particular demographic, I am exposed to very "non-textbook," colloquial chinese. Because I serve in an English speaking country, the chinese individuals I'm exposed to come from all different parts of China. The South, Central, North, Taiwan, Singapore, BBC's, ABC's... I've been exposed to countless accents and ways of speaking, and slowly learned to distinguish and even replicate them. It's incredible to see the progress I've made. Just over one year ago, I could only say 你好。 Now, I have reached a level of colloquial fluency that is relatively surprising. I speak at between a B2 and C1 level. I also am quite comfortable reading and digesting native content. The thing I'm most grateful for: The new friends. I've made incredible friends on my mission. I've met chinese people from such individual walks of life, and I've been given a chance to embrace their culture and language, and hopefully share with them some of my own culture and background in return. Equipped with tools like WeChat, I spend the majority of my day in contact and chatting with Chinese people, slowly assimilating myself into their cultural practices. I truly feel I've developed a love for the people that I consider to be life changing. The majority of my friends are now Chinese. The language I now speak, think, and dream in is now Chinese. 95% of my meals are now Chinese food, often cooked with friends that I've met and taught on my mission. Here is a blog we've made that details some of the experiences the chinese people that converted to the church had, from their own perspective: http://preachingtodragons.com/ Just a few pictures from my experience (I would upload more, but there's hundreds just like this and its hard to narrow down which ones to share... waaayy too much hotpot ) That is about all I have to post for now... I plan on doing a follow post after people have had a chance to read this, digest it, and ask some relevant questions. I hope this has been at least mildly intriguing for you! -戴睿 19 Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
Join the conversation
You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.