Even if you aren’t a Mormon, you may find the Book of Mormon a valuable tool for learning to read in a new language. I’m currently using it to learn Portuguese, and I’ve discovered even people who aren’t Mormon are using the book as a valuable tool.
The book, like the Bible, is divided into chapters and verses. This makes it very easy to keep track of where you are. There is only one translation for each language, so the wording will be very similar. It’s not, of course, a word for word translation, because it can’t be. Languages don’t always have equivalent words or structure.
Mormons begin their language study by praying for the gift of tongues as they study. They believe God will always help them when they are learning about Him, and so, when they read about Jesus Christ or God, He is guiding their study, allowing them to learn faster than they would otherwise.
Work chapter by chapter through each book. Begin by listening to the chapter being read by a native speaker. This will help you become familiar with the sound of the language. You can use this to help you understand how to pronounce the words you’re learning. At first, you will just hear a stream of words. After a short time, you’ll be able to tell where words begin and end, and eventually, you’ll pick up a word here and there.
You can listen to the Book of Mormon free online in many languages. Just download the files into your computer-no registration is required. English, Spanish, and Portuguese are available on LDS.org. For other languages, go to the Language pages on LDS.org and search for the language you want. Audio isn’t available for every language yet, and you may have to explore to figure out how to find the link on the pages, which are written in the language chosen.
After listening, open both books. You can find copies on the Internet, or obtain an English one from a Mormon or a missionary. I usually open the English version of the Book of Mormon on the Internet and the Portuguese version in print, but either way works. You can also just open two windows on your computer and only use the online versions.
Read the summary or verse out loud as best you can in your new language. Then study it out and see if you can figure out what the verse means. You may not know every word, but you may be able to figure out the basic meaning of the verse. At first, if you have no experience, you’ll have to look up every word, but over time, certain words will become familiar. There tends to be a great deal of repetition within chapters in this book. There are many free translation programs on the Internet, although they aren’t perfect. You can also buy bilingual dictionaries. Use these to look up a word you can’t figure out from context, or that you want to know the exact meaning of.
When you see the same word occurring over and over, look up the exact meaning if you can’t figure it out. Then post it on your computer or desk until you’ve memorized it. This allows you to memorize a few words at a time in a more formal way. However, you’ll also begin picking up words without effort.
You can read the book straight through or reread sections until you know the vocabulary. If you read straight through, you should allow about a year. I’m told that about a third of the way through the book, you’ll realize you’re actually understanding it in the new language, and translating is slowing you down. I’m already finding some words are understood without the need to think of them in English.
As often as possible, figure out the meaning from context, rather than just looking them up, or at least figure it out before you look it up. Once you’ve gotten a general idea of the meaning of the verse, turn to the English version and check your understanding. This is the time to look up specific words. Reread the verse if you need to, now that you have the meaning in mind.
Measure your progress generously. I keep track of how many verses I can read without having to check the translation. At first, I just noted how many verses I could read in the allotted time. It was only a few verses a day at first, but now I’m reading about thirty to fifty verses a day.
You will learn to read the language this way, but to learn to speak it, you’ll need to go further. Find friends who are native speakers and begin practicing with them. Buy a textbook to help you learn grammar and usage rules. But always start your study by reading the Book of Mormon. In about a year, you’ll be surprised how much of your new language you can read.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.