Why Was It So Hard to Learn Italian?

By Wendy McLeod Smith

Wendy McLeod Smith, "Why Was It So Hard to Learn Italian?" Ensign, Apr. 2001, 67

"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.

Gospel topics: missionary work, priesthood, blessings

© 2004 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.  All rights reserved.

Latter-day Saint Voices

Alone in a Foreign Country

By Maria Mabilia

Maria Mabilia, "Alone in a Foreign Country," Ensign, Sept. 2002, 68

A few years ago my husband and I were returning home to Italy from the Frankfurt Germany Temple. With us in the car were another couple and a young man about to leave on a full-time mission. We had spent a wonderful week attending the temple, but as we journeyed home, my heart was agitated and I could not figure out why.

While we were still in Germany, I noted that Angelo, my husband, took a wrong turn. But trying not to worry the other passengers, I didn't say anything. Suddenly a huge truck coming from the opposite direction ran into us. The force of the blow sent our car spinning out of control. Angelo was powerless; all we could do was pray.

Our car finally stopped when it smashed against a tree. All the windows broke out, and glass was everywhere. Even my eyeglasses were broken into pieces. I soon learned that six other cars were involved and some of the victims were in serious condition.

The paramedics arrived right away and took my husband, the couple traveling with us, and some of the other victims to the hospital. The young, soon-to-be missionary and I were left at the accident scene. I felt confused and lost since I was in a foreign country without my husband and without any information about what was happening. And so I continued to turn my heart to Heavenly Father in prayer. His answer came almost immediately.

A man approached me. He was German, but he spoke to me in English. Even though I don't speak either English or German, I was able to understand when he offered to take us to the hospital. Since he was on a bicycle, he said he would return home to get his car.

We were alone again. But in a few minutes another man approached. He spoke Italian! I was so happy that I hugged him and started to cry. He also wanted to help us, but he too had to get his car.

Both men soon returned. They loaded our suitcases in their cars and took us to the hospital. The second man left, but the first stayed with me the entire day, helping me find my husband, buy new glasses, and locate a hotel room for the night. Above all, he gave me encouragement and moral support.

When he came back the next day, I couldn't help but think of the parable of the good Samaritan. This man, although he didn't know my husband or me, helped us through a very difficult time.

That day I located and contacted some local Church members. Almost immediately the mission president and the bishop arrived. They were strangers to us, but in their faces I saw the pure love of Jesus Christ. While my husband and our traveling companions recovered, the Church members helped us. Each time they came to visit, they brought their love.

The most important blessing we received during this time of adversity was the reminder of the great love God has for His children. Now I know from experience that if we trust in Him, He will never leave us alone but will be at our side through everyday people.

Gospel topics: prayer, service

© 2004 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.  All rights reserved.