After urging us to recognize both the power and the gifts of God, Moroni lists a number of gifts we can receive through the Spirit of the Lord. Included in that list are the following:
- “All kinds of tongues”
- “The interpretation of languages and of divers kinds of tongues”
These gifts were also included in an epistle of Paul, in a revelation Joseph Smith received in 1831, and in the seventh Article of Faith:
- “To another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:10).
- “And again, it is given to some to speak with tongues; And to another is given the interpretation of tongues” (Doctrine & Covenants 46:24-25).
- “We believe in the gift of tongues,… interpretation of tongues, and so forth” (Articles of Faith 1:7).
During Joseph Smith’s time, some church members experienced these gifts during religious meetings by speaking in a language unknown to everyone present, and having another individual interpret what was spoken. However, the far more common manifestation of these gifts occurs when an individual preaches the gospel in the native language of his or her listeners. (See “Gift of Tongues,” Church History Topics, churchofjesuschrist.org and Acts 2:4-8.)
Missionaries who are called to serve in countries other than their home country are assured that these gifts can help them communicate with the people they serve:
Gifts of the Spirit are real. The gift of tongues and the gift of the interpretation of tongues can help you as much or more than any other single thing to speak and understand the language of the people in your mission.Preach My Gospel, Chapter 7: “How Can I Better Learn My Mission Language”
However, they are also reminded that the gift of tongues does not operate in a vacuum. Study and work are required on the part of the recipient:
Learning to teach effectively in your mission language requires diligent effort and the gifts of the Spirit. Do not be surprised if the task seems hard at first. Learning a language takes time. Be patient with yourself. Listen carefully, speak the language often, learn new vocabulary, and practice grammar and pronunciation every day. Seek the help of your companion, members, those you teach, and other missionaries.Preach My Gospel, Chapter 7: “How Can I Better Learn My Mission Language”
I personally experienced these gifts as a 19-year-old missionary in Santiago, Chile. Learning Spanish was hard, and I was often frustrated during the first few months, but even during those early months, I had amazing experiences in which I was able to communicate beyond my own capabilities. And I’m sure that I mastered the language more rapidly than I would have without the influence of the Spirit of the Lord.
Nowadays, I speak mostly English. At work, at church, and at home, I am surrounded by native English speakers. But as I’ve thought about the gift of tongues today, I’ve wondered whether this gift, or something like it, can still be operative in my life. Here’s an example:
At my job, I have worked closely with many specialists, including software developers, project managers, accountants, foreign exchange traders, and economists. Each of these disciplines has its own vocabulary. I’ve seen highly capable people with different educational backgrounds and work experience struggling to understand one another. And I’ve been impressed with some people who are able to bridge those gaps and help people work more productively together. Can the Spirit of the Lord help me to communicate with people who use specialized terminology? I think it can.
What about politics? In the United States, you will hear some people use the term “undocumented immigrants” where others say “illegal aliens.” Some speak of “gun safety” where others prefer “gun control.” Emotionally charged terms, like “pro-choice” and “pro-life” are intended to spark reactions and to emphasize differences. But it is also possible to find and use terminology that emphasizes common ground and brings people together.
Trammell Crow, the founder of Earth Day Texas, discovered that he was able to have reasonable conversations with fellow conservatives about environmental issues by avoiding the term “climate change.” When he replaced that term with “air quality,” he was able to communicate his concerns in a way that resonated with his listeners. (See Mark Abadi, “Democrats and and Republicans speak different languages — and it helps explain why we’re so divided,” Business Insider, 11 August 2017).
I’m not talking about glossing over differences or pretending that we agree when we don’t, but I am saying that we sometimes fail to communicate because we are inadvertently speaking different languages. Until we can learn to use terminology that makes sense to our audience, we will fail to understand one another.
President Dallin H. Oaks recently counseled us:
When we are trying to understand and relate to people of a different culture, we should try getting to know them. In countless circumstances, strangers’ suspicion or even hostility give way to friendship or even love when personal contacts produce understanding and mutual respect.(“Love Your Enemies,” General Conference, October 2020)
Can the Holy Ghost help us in these kinds of situations? I believe He can. God can help us choose words that make sense to people from different backgrounds. He can help us learn to understand other people, even when they use different words than we would have chosen. Maybe this isn’t, strictly speaking, the gift of tongues, but I believe it is a close cousin, and perhaps it falls within the meaning of Moroni’s term: “all kinds of tongues.”
Today, I will seek for God’s help to communicate more effectively. I will make the effort to speak clearly, to listen carefully, to observe the response of my audiences, and to make adjustments as needed. In all of these efforts, I will seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost.