I remember opening up my mission call and hardly believing my eyes when I saw that I was going to be learning the Hiligaynon language. I didn't have the foggiest idea of what that was, let alone how to pronounce it correctly!
Now I'm completely fluent and able to use this unique skill in a variety of ways. It's unbelievable to me how that happened...I couldn't have done it without the mercies of Heavenly Father of course, but he blesses those who labor with him, put in the necessary work, and practice!
Here's a list of 6 ways that you too can master a mission language.
#1 Pray daily for the Gift of Tongues
Before my mission I didn't really have a testimony of the Gift of Tongues. Not that I didn't think it was real, I just hadn't had any personal experiences with it to know for myself. While on my mission and since being home, I have seen this gift manifested over and over. As my companions and I would pray each morning to have the Gift of Tongues throughout our day, we noticed a huge difference in our ability to remember vocabulary, express our hearts, and understand those we talked with. Truly the Lord blesses those who ask for help...even with learning your mission language.
#2 Language Study!
So many missionaries rely so much on #1 that they forget about the rest of the steps. Even if you're praying daily for help, you need to put in the work to study your mission language each day. Read the scriptures (especially the Book of Mormon) out loud in your mission language, sing the hymns in your mission language, or any other way you can think of to practice your skills within your specific language study time.
#3 Don't worry about mistakes
Believe me, you're going to make mistakes. A LOT of mistakes. Mistakes are how you learn, grow, and progress. At the beginning of my mission, I had a hard time feeling comfortable speaking to people because I didn't want them to think I was dumb for speaking incorrectly. I finally realized that the people will love you for trying to learn their language! They want to help you, so take every chance you can to use it, even if that means making mistakes.
#4 Pray in your mission language
One of the best pieces of advice that I was given in the MTC was to pray in your mission language, because that is a great way to practice speaking from your heart and expressing your feelings. As you practice speaking to Heavenly Father through prayer, the words and thoughts will more easily flow in every day conversation with those around you.
#5 Speak only in your mission language
This may be the most difficult tip of all, but it is probably also the most helpful. If your native language is English, don't speak English with your English-speaking companions--not even in your house!
#6 "Walk around the tree"
Let's say you were walking in a forest, and come to a massive tree blocking your path. Rather than spending hours and hours chopping it down, just walk around it! It's the same thing with learning a language. As you struggle to come up with the correct way of speaking, find ways to "walk around the tree", or in other words, the word or phrase you don't know. Of course still take the time to learn the vocabulary that you don't know, but using this method will ultimately make you mission language master.
If you have other tips that you'd like to add to this list, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org