Utah is emerging as a leader in school-language initiatives, building “one of the largest and most ambitious programs in the nation.” Given that the state passed an English-only law in 2000 and routinely ranks at the bottom nationally on education spending, Utah may seem an unlikely champion for the cause. But the state’s drive has its beginnings in a tradition of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes inadvertently called the Mormon Church and headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah. “From the beginnings of Utah, it’s been part of our culture, the missionary effort of going out and living in foreign lands,” said Gov. Gary R. Herbert. [1]

A chalkboard with chalk and an eraser. And a text quote from Brigham Young about education.For generations, members of The Church of Jesus Christ have embarked on proselytizing missions, and many have learned a foreign language so that “every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language” (Doctrine & Covenants 90:11—the Doctrine and Covenants is a book of modern revelations).

Educators and parents say the program is about academic development and preparing students for the global job market—not preparing Latter-day Saint students for future missionary service. “Yet they said Utah’s immigrant communities and the overseas peregrinations of its large Mormon population make it fertile ground to teach foreign languages.” [1]

Although parents were wary at first, many have caught the vision and are rushing to enter lotteries to place their children in the dual-language immersion programs, which begin in first grade. Students are taught half the day in English and half in a foreign language. So far the language options are French, Spanish, Portuguese and Mandarin, with German and Arabic as possible additions. [1]

Latter-day Saints Encouraged to Learn a Language

While educators and parents say the application of the language programs is strictly educational, there are benefits for young members of The Church of Jesus Christ as well. Elder Jacob de Jager, then a member of The Church of Jesus Christ’s Quorum of the Seventy (Seventies are called to proclaim the gospel and build up the Church) said:

I know from experience the great value of speaking foreign languages. We live in a rapidly shrinking world; we now travel distances in a day that in the past would have taken us weeks or even months. Mobility is the key word in international travel. And young people now go on trips farther and farther away from home and get acquainted with foreign cultures and foreign languages. But we in the Church look at the learning of languages differently from the way the world does. For us it is almost a sacred obligation given by the Lord. Because we have to take the gospel to every nation, we as Church members, more than ever before, must take the obligation upon us to learn foreign languages. The youth especially have to prepare themselves for this. … As time goes on, the need for a command of various languages will increase because the gospel will be taken to new countries where we haven’t been engaged in preaching the gospel so far. [2]

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About Lisa M.
I am a wife and mother of 4 beautiful children in a small town in the mountains of Idaho. We ski as a family in the winter and camp, fish, and go to the beach in the summer. I’m a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I am grateful for the Savior and the blessings of the gospel in my life.

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