Why Was It So Hard to Learn Italian?
April 2001

“Why Was It So Hard to Learn Italian?” Ensign, Apr. 2001, 67–68

Why Was It So Hard to Learn Italian?

“And I bless you with the gift of tongues,” my stake president said as he set me apart for my mission in Rome. The words still echoed through my memory. Then why could I not learn Italian?

My struggles began in what was then called the Language Training Mission. While other missionaries were progressing in learning Italian, I lagged behind. French had been easy for me to learn in high school. Even without the gift of tongues, it shouldn’t be so hard for me to learn Italian. I could think of no good reason for my difficulty.

When we arrived in Italy, my struggles continued. I decided I must make myself more worthy to receive the promised gift of tongues, so I tried to be letter-perfect in keeping every commandment and every mission rule. This pursuit of perfection turned me into a kind of robot, and robots do not make good missionaries! It was driving my poor companion crazy. There was nothing left for me to do but to accept my inability to speak Italian well and to be myself, not a robot.

To my amazement and relief, I discovered that being myself was the most effective way to do missionary work. In spite of my broken Italian, heart communicated to heart, spirit communicated to spirit, and our beloved Savior could be served.

Gradually my speaking and understanding of Italian improved, but it remained a challenge—with one exception: the subject of food storage. As far as I could tell, a food storage program had not been introduced; or at least the members in Rome were not familiar with it. This was a topic especially close to my heart, since I had studied about it at Brigham Young University. Therefore, I worked with several members of the branch in Rome to produce a booklet and present a fireside on food storage. I was asked to be one of the speakers. When the fireside was over, one of the members exclaimed with surprise, “You spoke with perfect Italian!”

It wasn’t until years later that I discovered information that explained why learning Italian had been so difficult for me. Shortly before my mission I had been in an accident and suffered a near-fatal brain injury. The information noted that, among other side effects, this kind of brain injury could make learning another language nearly impossible.

Impossible—unless, of course, one is blessed with the gift of tongues. I am grateful to a loving Heavenly Father who, as we seek His help, blesses us in ways beyond our realization.

  • Wendy McLeod Smith is a member of the Elmwood Lane Ward, Westminster Colorado Stake.