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Ray Clifford, associate dean of the College of Humanities spoke about the study of language, including the language of the Spirit, at Tuesday’s BYU Devotional. 

Languages are complex, especially translating from one language to another. But the study of language learning supports each of the four aims of a BYU education.

Language study is spiritually strengthening

Clifford said that comparing the scriptures in several different languages can enhance the meaning.

He quotes Joseph Smith, who said, “I have an old edition of the New Testament in the Latin, Hebrew, German and Greek languages. I have been reading the German and find it to be the most [nearly] correct translation and to correspond nearest to the revelations which God has given me.”

Language study is intellectually enlarging

According to Clifford’s research, returned missionaries who learned a foreign language and who continue their education of that language at BYU learn the language more proficiently. 

“All language majors at BYU take proficiency tests as part of their senior capstone course, and the data show that further language study at BYU adds value, is intellectually enlarging and improves students’ language proficiency,” said Clifford.

Language study is character building

In Clifford’s experience, activities that build character are inherently good, require concerted effort and demand perseverance over an extended period of time. He asserts that learning another language achieves each of these criteria.

It takes effort to learn a language. Clifford referenced Doctrine and Covenants 88:118, which reads, “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.”

Clifford concluded the seemingly unnecessary word “even” was used to emphasize a greater meaning.

“Was the word ‘even’ added to emphasize that also in education, faith without works is dead?” asked Clifford. “In any case, the phrase ‘even by study’ became a slogan and guiding principle during my educational pursuits.”

Clifford reminded the audience that faith and study are essential to learning a language. Study includes “deliberate practice.”

“Deliberate practice is only possible if there are established ‘criteria for superior performance’ and teachers ‘who can provide practice activities designed to help a student improve his or her performance.’”

Language study leads to lifelong learning and service

Knowing several languages will allow a person to serve in more ways than those who only speak one language.

“Regardless of where you serve, your language skills will make that service personally rewarding,” said Clifford. “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.”

The Language of the Spirit

Clifford reminded those in attendance that learning the language of the Spirit is of paramount importance. He shared several experiences in his life where he and his family were blessed and prepared because they understood the Spirit. Clifford spoke about when he and his wife were hoping to adopt a child. His wife had a dream, influenced by the Spirit, that their child had been born. They immediately bought baby supplies, and the adoption services called upon their return from the store — the Clifford’s first child was coming to them. 

Clifford also shared how the Spirit guided him to apply for a position at BYU, and how the Spirit guided him to bless his wife with health after she had been diagnosed with cancer. She has since healed. 

“Of all the world’s languages, it is the ‘language of the Spirit’ that best satisfies the aims of a BYU education,” said Clifford.

Next Devotional: Eva Witesman

Eva Witesman, associate professor in the Marriott School’s Romney Institute of Public Management, will deliver the Devotional address on Tuesday, June 27 at 11:05 a.m. in the de Jong Concert Hall. 

Witesman’s remarks will be broadcast live on BYUtv, (and archived for on-demand streaming), KBYU-TV 11, Classical 89 FM, BYU Radio and will be archived on