A New International Accent in General Conference

Over here in Asia, some of us are thrilled that a General Authority could deliver his talk in Cantonese (see the news story at the Salt Lake Tribune). Elder Chi Hong (Sam) Wong made history as he gave the first General Conference sermon in a language other than English. We had the pleasure of meeting him a while ago in Shanghai–very kind and interesting man. Later Elder Eduardo Gavarret gave his talk in Spanish. Awesome!

I look forward to hearing some talks in Mandarin in the future.

English will continue to dominate the leadership of the Church, but it may become a minority language among Mormon leaders in the future.

Which reminds me, this would be a good time for more of you to start studying Mandarin. Great for your own personal enrichment, great for business, and great for communicating with so much of the world. Just a suggestion, one that President Kimball himself made a few decades ago.

Author: Jeff Lindsay

19 thoughts on “A New International Accent in General Conference

  1. "Great for your own personal enrichment"

    I can get more enrichment studying the gospel in my native tongue.

    "great for business"

    I own my own business and have never once encountered someone speaking Cantonese or Mandarin. In fact I have never needed to communicate with said foreign speaker in my entire life for any reason.

    "and great for communicating with so much of the world."

    Not the world I live in.

    The Tower of Babel fell because the people were not able to communicate and speak one language. Are we repeating that mistake by accommodating every language on the earth rather than becoming one heart and one mind?

    I understand that there are many people who would love to hear the prophets in their native tongue. I applaud this effort by the brethren during conference, but that's not what I'm talking about at all.

    I speak fluent Spanish and worked as a translator in the medical field for a few years. I learned an important lesson there. I was hindering the growth of people by supporting laziness, instead of helping them learn the nation's language that would get them a career and obtain the skills necessary to become a productive citizen.

    Since then, when asked to translate for someone who speaks very little English, I help them by speaking English so they can practice. If I were living in China I wouldn't expect anyone to give me everything in English, so why should we be any different?

    Respect each nation's language and culture.

  2. The Tower of Babel fell because the people were not able to communicate and speak one language. Are we repeating that mistake by accommodating every language on the earth rather than becoming one heart and one mind?

    Illuminated, I don't think that's quite how the story goes.

    Anyway, Jeff, I agree with you about the many wonderful benefits of learning a new language.

  3. "Illuminated" sounds very much like he's playing the part of the ignorant American. What a pity to spread his particular brand of Jingoism all over this historic moment.

    What are you saying exactly, Illuminated? Is English the language of the gospel? As the old joke goes, it's the language Jesus spoke, so if it was good enough for him, it should be good enough for Spanish- and Mandarin-speakers? How dare they speak anything other than English, particularly in a church setting? And you're qualified to say this because you speak Spanish and refuse to use it?

  4. I find it disheartening to find such negative reactions as Illuninated's to recognizing that this is a world Church, not a "'Murica" one. I really enjoyed the multi-lingual flavor, kind of a reminder to us Utah Mormons how the rest of the Church experiences church things.

    I had been hoping for something like this to happen for at least six years now. Some of the benefits I found were that I could understand foreign speakers, and my kids weren't loudly complaining that they couldn't understand the speaker through his thick accent. It made for a better experience. Maybe next time around, there can even be a combined Spanish branch choir singing hymns that are unique to the Spanish LDS hymnbook, and in their customary style. That oughtta drive some folks crazy.

  5. As I stated, I wasn't talking about the choice to have speakers give talks in conference in their native tongue. I think that's great.

    What I have a problem with is the completely ridiculous assumption that learning a foreign language to accommodate visitors from another country, will somehow help improve business, bring more blessings, etc, et al.

    The fact is that living in a nation which does not operate under a single unified language and culture (as the two often come together) actually hurts more than it helps. As the example I gave above, people refusing to learn, or being helped not to learn, the native language is holding their progress back.

    But for some reason it seems to give people "warm fuzzys", like driving a Prius to save the planet, to support language/culture diversification when it does nothing to help said culture grow.

  6. "Illuminated" In case you have forgotten, Jeff LIVES IN CHINA and therefore Mandarin definitely helps him communicate with the world. Great thoughts, Jeff
    -Former BJ1 Brancher

  7. ""Illuminated" In case you have forgotten, Jeff LIVES IN CHINA and therefore Mandarin definitely helps him communicate with the world. Great thoughts, Jeff"

    Oh okay, his message was only directed to people living in China. Gotcha.

  8. Please explain how Switzerland is being "held back" and what it's missing because it has four official languages, Illuminated.

  9. I thought it was interesting and neat to witness such a historical event. I did find the foreign language going on in the background at a lower volume a little distracting and made it difficult to concentrate on the English message. I would like to see them try allowing the foreign language at normal volume and have the subtitles in English to read. Worth a try, maybe.

  10. I don't think the Switzerland example is entirely fair. Those European countries are the size of states in the eastern US and because of their small size and close proximity it is normal for them to learn several of the European languages.

  11. Does anyone know why the speakers were never allowed to speak in their native tongues until now? Kind of ridiculous.
    There is so much more but……
    Anyway, thanks


  12. My guess… and this is just a guess… is that there are a couple reasons. First is that until fairly recently, the majority of church members lived in the USA and spoke English. Therefore, it would make sense to have conference talks given in the language spoken by the majority of the members. Logistically that would require fewer translators, etc. Now that the church is becoming more global, it makes more sense to have people speak their own languages.

    A related reason is one of translation logistics. If we have someone speaking in cantonese to a global population, we either need someone in the church who speaks, say, both cantonese and spanish, or we need to translate the talk from cantonese to a base language spoken by most or all of the translators. The latter is the more likely scenario in my opinion. Elder Wong's talk was probably translated to English first, and from there into Spanish, Italian, Japanese, etc. I imagine we only recently became confident enough in our translation ability to allow that intermediate step without worrying to much about things getting lost in translation.

    Just a few thoughts. Hope it helps.

  13. On BYUTV the english translator overlapped those speaking their language hearing both languages at the same time. Made it annoying. Better off just hearing the language, and catch the spirit. Works well when our ward combines with the spanish speaking branch, when we combine sacraments every few months. I can't imagine hearing both an english speaker and a spanish speaker at the same time on the pulpit. For conference we can always go back and read the talk in english on the church website.

  14. One of China's big challenges is the lack of foreign language expertise among many of its people's. The government is pushing English education. Those who can speak English well, or some other major foreign languages, have much better career opportunities. This almost goes without saying in Europe, where it is routine for people to know and use multiple languages. It enhances business, life, and learning. This is still no understood by a lot of us in America, but that is gradually changing.

  15. Jeff I can certainly understand why it would be beneficial in Europe to learn other languages as the EU is essentially one big country anyway as far as how they conduct business with each other.

    I wouldn't know about China as much, but since they are going full speed ahead with a capitalist system it makes sense for them to copy a lot from America since we kind of made that work before anyone else. In copying that system, you probably need to know some English.

    But I still have to fundamentally disagree with your final two sentences. Not just in that they aren't currently true here, but that it's something we should avoid.

    Take a room full of artists from 10 different countries all trying to build a sculpture together. Does the job get done faster, more efficiently, and with less mistakes if everyone speaks the same common language, or if everyone speaks a different language. I'm sure it helps if a few know another's language and can act as translators, but the ideal situation is if everyone can communicate with 0 language barriers. Do you disagree with that?

    Do you think that "business", in this case the building of the sculpture, gets completed faster/better if people all speak different languages? Do you think their lives will be better if the sculpture is completed on time rather than at a slower pace because of communication problems?

    Our goal should be for the entire nation to be unified by speaking one single language. And as unrealistic as it may seem now, but our ultimate goal, one that won't be realized perhaps until the next life, will be for all of God's children to speak the same language.

    Why would we strive for anything less? Why would we strive for a world without 100% unity? I know it's unrealistic to believe that can happen now, but that shouldn't stop us from trying.

    When I first got to the MTC in Lima Peru, the training center president joked to us that if we baptized everyone in our mission we could all go home early. That, of course, is ridiculous and silly. But not a goal we should be afraid of as members. Our goal should be to bring all of God's children home to him.

    So why not a goal of uniting everyone, at least in your same nation, under a single language? Obviously there is a need to communicate to those in other nations until that goal is reached, but what I'm talking about is the systematic & widespread encouragement from the US government to help foreigners to never learn the language of their new home.

    Just as I stated in the scenario above, a people unified in their language will always lead more productive business, life and learning than a people who cannot or will not conform. And to the contrary of what you said, Jeff, I sincerely feel that there are too many people, American or otherwise, that don't understand this.

    The USA has led the world economy for over half century, and most of that time we had a very small percentage of people who didn't speak English. Only now, as our economy is growing at a stunningly poor rate, has that number begun to change. Now 1/5 Americans do not speak English. I personally believe there is a strong correlation there, but at the very least you can say that the USA didn't need language diversification to take us where we have gotten economically.

  16. I just find it incredible offensive to insult Americans for not learning how to speak other languages like country x,y or z. This, to supposedly better our "business, lives, and learning", when we've led the world economically for all this time even with our supposed "handicap".

    The LDS Church was started here, we've made more scientific advancements in medicine, computing, and aeronautics than any other country – and it's not even close. Yet, if we'd learn to speak Chinese or some other language, then and only then, would we start improving business. Wow. Talk about throwing stones from a glass house.

    This from a country, China, that has basically copied or stolen much of their technology from the US in the first place to get where they are now. If anything, I hope the Chinese people learn to work for their country the right and honest way, to not cheat or steal to get ahead in business, life or learning.

  17. I'm curious how you expect the sculptors in your scenario to speak a common language if there aren't at least 9 of them who are willing to learn a new one.

  18. Illuminated, that's helpful. Yes, I agree that a nation benefits greatly with a common language (Switzerland with their 4 national languages seems to manage the diversity well, though), and do wish that people coming to the US would strive to learn English and make sure their kids learn it. One of China's great strengths, a real key to its power and preservation of its culture and vision, is that its numerous peoples with their hundreds of local dialects generally learn to speak, read, and write a common language. It is amazing what Putonghua, or Mandarin Chinese and the standard written language used even by those who don't speak Mandarin, have done to unify and strengthen the nation.

  19. "I just find it incredible offensive to insult Americans for not learning how to speak other languages like country x,y or z. This, to supposedly better our "business, lives, and learning", when we've led the world economically for all this time even with our supposed "handicap""

    This is supposing that international business men and women have adopted your xenophobic approach of not learning other languages. The reality, however, is the opposite. Bilingual business people have always been sought after in the business world. Collectively, we aren't handicapped because of this. Individually, you may be limited.

    Have fun telling all of the non-english speakers in the world to join the "only true and living language."

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