Bridging Language Gaps

“Bridging Language Gaps,” Ensign, Jan. 2006, 71

Bridging Language Gaps

Bienvenidos. Wilkommen. Welcome. No matter what language we speak, it is essential to our Church’s worldwide unity that we welcome our brothers and sisters from other countries. At my bishop’s request, I tried to help the sisters in my ward who were learning English as a second language. Some of the insights I gained from this experience might help others better include everyone when there are language and cultural differences in a ward or branch.

  • Increase awareness of other cultures. Our Relief Society planned a special lesson entitled “No More Strangers and Foreigners.” The international sisters were invited to share their testimonies and personal experiences in that meeting, as well as in the ward newsletter and at sacrament meeting. A ward activity also encouraged members to share their heritage through food, song, dance, or display.

  • Visit the new international members. Learn of their conversion, their testimony, and their hopes for the future. Help orient them to the ward and community. Through these home visits you can informally assess their language ability and offer to find translators, if needed, for occasional clarification. Sometimes the new member may want help in locating community courses for language instruction.

  • Invite them to your home. We organized a weekly, informal gathering in a member’s home to practice conversational English, introduce our country’s culture, and establish friendships. The activities varied, based on the sisters who attended. Some of the topics included learning gospel vocabulary, going to the doctor, grocery shopping, cooking, and explaining weights and measures.

  • Provide lesson materials in their native language and second language. When possible, our ward offered Church materials to adults and youth in both their native language and English.

  • Involve them. Though one Portuguese-speaking sister was apprehensive about her ability to communicate in English on the telephone, she accepted a calling to be a visiting teaching supervisor. We helped her prepare a simple dialogue and also suggested ways for her visiting teaching leader to use clear questions and comments, thus helping the new sister to report back easily and accurately.

There are many ways to serve our brothers and sisters. Above all, serving with love and an attitude of acceptance will lift both the giver and the receiver.

Florence E. G. Hawkinson, Provo Fifth Ward, Provo Utah East Stake