I Understood Nearly Every Word
June 1987

“I Understood Nearly Every Word,” Ensign, June 1987, 54–55

“I Understood Nearly Every Word”

During a Sunday School class several years ago, we discussed some of the challenges confronting our growing, multicultural Church. We faced a few of these in our own large urban area. Some class members wondered how we could extend fellowship to the people of many nations who are joining the Church. As a result of our discussion, a few of us made a commitment to study a second language.

Two years went by before family responsibilities permitted me to enroll in a university Spanish class held two mornings a week. An earlier experience had influenced my choice to learn Spanish. While serving on a stake board, I had felt that my inability to speak Spanish had handicapped me because there were two Spanish-speaking units in the stake. I was rarely able to have a personal conversation with a Spanish-speaking sister; I had also noticed that since no one on our stake board spoke Spanish, some misunderstandings inevitably arose.

Because I had studied languages before, I knew this was a major undertaking. It would take many months—perhaps even years—of work to achieve real fluency. But it seemed important to make a start.

The school year was filled with hard work—six hours a week in class and many outside hours memorizing, practicing, and reviewing. Giving up most of my personal leisure time was a big adjustment. Many times I felt burdened by my commitment to learn Spanish.

But as the months went by, I was rewarded by small signs of progress. I could speak haltingly to Spanish-speaking members who called my husband, the stake clerk. I remember the broad grin of our Spanish-speaking ward custodian the first time I requested Relief Society room arrangements in Spanish.

But by far the most rewarding experience occurred at a Relief Society leadership meeting. Attending our group were two Spanish sisters. One was quiet and withdrawn, speaking very little English. At the conclusion of the meeting, the stake leader asked the shy Spanish sister to close the meeting with prayer in her native tongue.

For the first time, I understood nearly every word of spoken Spanish. I listened with amazement as this humble sister, taken by surprise, poured out her heart to the Lord in a most beautiful way. I was moved by her powerful testimony. The prayer left me in tears. I clasped her hand and tried to tell her how touched I had been by her prayer. How grateful I was that I hadn’t missed it!

I’ve since stopped my formal Spanish training and have begun learning sign language for the deaf. But I keep up my Spanish skills by conversing with Spanish-speaking friends and reading literature written in Spanish. True fluency still eludes me, but the start I’ve made has been one of the most rewarding projects of my life.

  • Maureen Derrick Keeler, a homemaker, teaches Gospel Doctrine in her Los Angeles, California, ward.