Jump to content
  • Sign Up

Language Learning and Mandarin Mormon Missionaries

戴 睿

Recommended Posts

I've just remembered NPR also did a brief coverage of the Missionary Training Center.


The missionaries they interviewed and filmed where all mandarin speakers.


Here is the link to that particular story:



  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Wow...good post. My 17 year old son just attended the BYU Startalk Chinese program in Provo and I can now see how and why BYU can do a good Chinese program. Very top drawer. Wish I had gone there as a high school student myself. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sorry for the confusion!

I studied Chinese in high school before my mission. Unfortunately, I wasn't a very diligent student (I skipped almost all of my classes), and at the time didn't think chinese would hold any significance in my future. (Funnily enough, I still earned an A in those classes... But that's a story for another time when we all have a few hours to talk about the utter incompetence of America's public school system and language classes).

I'll put it this way, by the time I graduated high school, I could neither read not write a single character, and while I knew mandarin was a tonal language, I did not know how many tones there were, let alone what they sounded like.

I entered the training center equipped with "你好” and that was it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Meng Lelan,

I've heard wonderful things about the star talk program. A few of the instructors are friends of mine. I hear those students make some awesome progress.

BYU itself is pretty renowned for its Chinese Flagship Program and the training it offers to mandarin + x double majors. The accelerated track is no joke, especially the time you spend studying at 南京大学. I plan on participating in that in a couple years.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Haha a small fun fact to your point MPhillips:

I graduated from High School with 9 very close best friends.

We were sent on missions to: UK, France, Italy, Spain, Brasil, Japan, The Ukraine, Korea, Romania, and Hong Kong.

We each now speak: Mandarin, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Russian, Korean, Romanian, and Cantonese。

Quite the cultural melting pot. It makes for exciting stories when we all return home and get back together.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm impressed! Where I live (one of the top-ten US metropolitan areas) I've only ever met one other non-Chinese person who knew Chinese well enough (to be precise only one who knew even a single word of Chinese). I observed him reading a 金庸 novel so I went up to talk to him but he barely gave me the time of day, although he did tell me he worked in China and couldn't wait to go back. Most of the people here don't know the names of other US states (with the possible exceptions of New York & California) much less those of foreign countries. Just goes to show how un-homogeneous the US actually is.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thank you for sharing, it's fascinating.  I'll hold my hand up, and say that when I've been approached by a missionary, I make my apologies and run away, as I don't won't to waste anybodies time, but I've always been interested in your study methods and motivations.


Can I just ask, did the missionary sent to France from your group speak any French? All the other countries mentioned spoke English, so I can't help feeling the guy who drew France had life a little bit more difficult.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Can I just ask, did the missionary sent to France from your group speak any French? All the other countries mentioned spoke English, so I can't help feeling the guy who drew France had life a little bit more difficult.

There were actually 2 missionaries in my district who went to France. Both already spoke fluent french. One of them was from Quebec, and french was his mother tongue. His English was actually quite poor in the beginning. It was pretty incredible to see him trying to learn Chinese when his English wasn't strong in the first place. By the end of the 9 weeks, we found conversing in Chinese to actually be slightly easier then doing so in English.

There was also another missionary in our district that was getting sent to canada mandarin speaking, but already spoke fluent french as well. I hear he has used both languages on his mission quite regularly.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My Chinese ability has grown entirely due to my faith in lord Zeus (some of you know him as Jupiter).

My language journey started when I was approached in the gymnasium by a smiling, gay man with an ever so queer accent.

I knew him to be a foreigner from the east. There were not many of his people in Athens as they were not usually permitted to come to Athens lest they form 'Chinatowns' in our midst. Also our custom of paiderastia also discouraged them from coming here. So it was unusual to see this eastern fellow.

We soon got to talking and I discovered that he, like me, was a former military man. However I discovered that he disapproved of our custom of sending out mated bands to serve in the army. He said that his country in the east is conservative and that common practices in Athens do not exist in his homeland. How queer, thought I.

It was on this basis that I decided to travel to his country and spread the word of lord Zeus. Spreading the faith of Zeus brings wealth, health and long life on this earth, and braced by greed for these things I found myself strongly motivated to learn this 'Chinese' language.

After arriving in his country I was surprised at their writings. I asked a literate man if if they had trained their chickens to be scribes for their writing resembled nothing so much as chicken scratchings. The literate man told me that it was not chickens but human beings writing this. So marvellous and wondrous, I thought. Then I felt that this writing may give me trouble later on.

What happened next shocked even me...

To be continued.

  • Like 3
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Fascinating post, thanks 戴 睿.


As a side-thought, your description of the language teaching was fascinating: the Chinese-only sink-or-swim (okay slight exaggeration) obviously isn't unique, but the motivations and the states of mind of the students must be different from most language students: everyone excited about preparing to enter a big important part of their life, something they've been looking to for ages, and something which many of their friends and family think is valuable and important and completely support, and of course the sense that it will contribute to their religion. Those must be some very motivated students! :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Realmayo, you're correct in pointing out our motivation is quite unique. Maybe I can expand on that a little bit.

I think there are certain common motivators shared by most missionaries:

-a knowledge that if you don't speak the language well, you won't be able to effectively fulfill your purpose. How can you help people if you don't even know how to communicate with them? And if you aren't helping, why are you out there at all?

-a desire to prove your diligence and commitment to fellow missionaries and the mission president. Generally missionaries with good language are respected as being hard working, far more so then being regarded as "naturally talented."

-a belief that God had a hand in assigning you to speak this specific language, and that as a result he has prepared a way for you to succeed at doing so, subject to your own effort and discipline

-a desire to show your family and friends that you genuinely are being changed and moulded by your mission, as evidenced by your new language capacity

-a sense of anticipation. You've been waiting your whole life for this, and now it's finally here!!

-competition with the missionaries who are also learning the language

Those are the core common ones. Less missionaries experience more upper-tier motivation via:

-goals and plans for AFTER the mission. (Maybe you hope to use this language after your mission in order to have a successful career. Maybe some day you'll marry somebody who speaks this language natively)

-a desire to compete with yourself, and 发挥出自己全部的潜力. (I feel like that one is more 明确 in mandarin)

-a recognition that the mission provides you with a unique window of time and resources dedicated towards learning a language that quite possibly will never be matched again for the rest of your life. (This creates a sense of urgency)

Missionaries operating under those motivations tend to be slightly more skilled then the first tier.

However, ultimately the most talented and furthest progressing missionaries are motivated by:

-a love for the language.

A few missionaries will develop a love for the language, culture, and people to such an extent that it becomes all-consuming. You want your whole life to be chinese. You want the future job, you want the future wife, sure. But more then that you want to be inseparably immersed in the language. Everything about it fascinates you - the history, the tradition implicit in the characters and expression of the language. Unlike other missionaries who found that with time mandarin grew to be yet another familiar, boring companion, the language never lost it's edge in your eyes. It's still exotic and mystical and has become irrevocably a part of your identity as a person. You've developed a relationship with the language that transcends any sort of "requirement" to study. It thrills you each time you make even a small step forward. Were you home, and given back the free time to watch movies, play video games, date, etc... You'd still be at a desk learning to write new characters or cramming new phrases. You feel self-conscious, even uncomfortable when you are forced to speak in English. Your feelings about mandarin are borderline obsession - a full blown love affair.

Some missionaries (myself included) reach a level where they are motivated by that kind of love for the language, and when it hits you, mandarin becomes so much more then a "2 year" thing. It becomes very nearly everything.

  • Like 2
Link to comment
Share on other sites

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.

Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...