College of Humanities Associate Dean Ray Clifford addressed students on June 13 and described the ways in which learning other languages fulfills the core values of a BYU education.
Clifford opened his remarks by citing that nearly 65 percent of BYU students already speak a second language. However, despite so many speaking multiple languages, Clifford pointed out many forget the more intricate aspects of language itself.
“We are generally unaware of how complex language is,” Clifford said. “In some ways, language is like the air we breathe — we don’t pay attention to it, unless there is something wrong with it.”
Learning a new language presents challenges, but Clifford noted that overcoming these difficulties supports all four of the aims of a BYU education.
Aim One: Language study is spiritually strengthening
Learning a language is an academic pursuit, but Clifford argued it also has spiritual applications.
“Reading the scriptures in more than one language gives you a more nuanced and fuller understanding of their intent than you can get from reading them in only one language,” Clifford said.
Clifford also pointed out that Joseph Smith found discrepancies between different translations of the Bible and that discussing these different interpretations begins a conversation about the best ways and words to express spiritual truths.
Aim Two: Language study is intellectually enlarging
Clifford then took a moment to note the large number of returned missionaries attending the devotional. He said it is easy to understand that serving a foreign language speaking mission can help an individual intellectually, but returned missionaries should not grow complacent.
“We must remember that despite having developed a significant level of conversational fluency, the speech of returned missionaries showed consistent patterns of grammatical and vocabulary deficiencies,” Clifford said.
He encouraged further language study at BYU and said it is intellectually enlarging and a way to continually increase one’s language proficiency.
Aim Three: Language study is character building
Clifford said language study is character building at its very core as it meets three specific criteria: Language learning is inherently good, requires a concerted effort, and demands perseverance over an extended period of time.
Learning a language takes deliberate time and effort, but Clifford pointed out that this effort is what helps individuals progress and grow.
He also recognized BYU’s language programs excel at providing opportunities to build character and looks forward to the day when all BYU students will have the opportunity for advanced study of a second language that will be structured to student’s specific disciplines.
Aim Four: Language study leads to lifelong learning and service.
In closing his remarks, Clifford acknowledged that there has always been a shortage of individuals with expertise in languages. This, in turn, provides an excellent opportunity for BYU students to serve those around them.
“Regardless of where you serve, your language skills will make that service personally rewarding,” Clifford said. “You will get to know and to love other peoples — and will do so with a depth of feeling and understanding that would not otherwise be possible.”
Clifford closed his remarks with a reminder of the benefits of language learning and a further prompting to remember the spiritual good that should not be forgotten.
“Yes, learning other languages is important,” Clifford said. “But becoming proficient in the ‘Language of the Spirit’ should be our top priority.