“Welcome in Any Language,” Liahona, June 2009, 13
Are you in a branch or ward whose members don’t all speak the same language? As the Church continues to grow worldwide, this experience is becoming more common. For two years my husband and I attended such a branch in New York. My background in teaching English to speakers of other languages was helpful, but even if you don’t have this experience, there’s much you can do to bridge the communication gap with others who don’t speak your native language.
Smile and greet others. Make an effort to learn how to say hello to others in their native language. But even if you can’t speak a word of their language, you can still make them feel welcome. Every Sunday, Marta welcomed me with a warm hug and a greeting in Spanish. Although I didn’t understand what she was saying, I felt her love through her hug and the tone of her voice.
Answer with correct grammar. People learn a language, in part, by hearing it. It is better for someone to learn “I don’t have my manual” than “No have manual.” Even if another’s speech is choppy, answer with correct language. This shows respect for others and helps them to learn the language correctly.
Speak slowly, not loudly. Words often blend together when we hear them, particularly if someone is learning a new language. When you speak, slow down to make sure you are easy to understand. There’s no need to speak louder unless the other person has difficulty hearing. If you’re a teacher, you include non-native speakers when they have a chance to understand a question and form a simple response. Encourage others to help, thus creating a sense of friendship and ease within the classroom.
Use visual aids. Non-native speakers may not understand all the words in a lesson about the First Vision, for instance. But they will understand a picture of Joseph Smith kneeling in front of God and Jesus Christ. They will also be able to increase their vocabulary by associating the words you use with the account of the Restoration they already know.
Write scripture and lesson references on the chalkboard. This will make it easier for non-native speakers to locate the references. Fortunately, our lesson manuals and scriptures are available in a variety of languages. While someone reads them out loud, the other class members can follow along with materials in their own languages. Not only does this allow everyone to participate in class, but it also encourages class members to bring their scriptures and manuals.
Be a better visiting teacher or home teacher. Offer to assist those who are new to your country. For starters, you might help them shop, use the post office, or register for school.
Some of my most cherished friendships in New York were with those to whom I could barely speak five words in their language. I knew they needed my help, and that was enough to start a friendship.