Scheveningen, Holland, is a little fishing village where many of my ancestors lived. All of them were in the fishing industry as either boat makers or net makers or fishermen. My father was the first one to break away from fishing and go to work in the big city. He served six years with the mounted cavalry in the Dutch army and then worked for forty years with the international patents and trademarks office in The Hague.
He was always learning, and he instilled the same desire to learn in his four sons and one daughter. He repeatedly told us children, “I have seen enough from my ancestors. They never learned anything other than fishing. I wanted to break the chain. I want you to learn as much as you can about other things.”
He was a strict, but loving and understanding father. My mother was outgoing, generous, and hospitable and was loved by everyone in our neighborhood. Everyone was welcome in our home at any hour of the day.
I was born in The Hague, the fourth son and the youngest child in my family. My father always wanted me to read, write, and speak perfect Dutch. When I had been disobedient or had done something that was not to his liking, I had to copy in my best handwriting the whole front page of the local newspaper. He said, “Here is paper, and here is a pencil. Copy every line and every headline on the front page of the newspaper, and then I will see how you are doing.” If I made ten mistakes in the spelling of words, I had to do it all over again. If I made five mistakes, I had to do half the page. If I had made no mistakes, he would reward me with a Dutch chocolate bar. That’s the type of man he was. If you performed well, he said, “You’ve earned a reward.”
How grateful I still am for this useful way of correcting wrong behavior in my youth. Now I know how to spell words not only in the Dutch language, but also in the English language because I have sought the same perfection in other languages as I have in my native tongue. My father instilled in me the belief that when one communicates, one must be word perfect.
I have a good knowledge of grammar, which helps me to learn and to express myself in other languages. I am blessed with the gift of tongues, and it has become more evident since my calling as a general authority in 1976. I have learned to speak not only Dutch and English, but also French, German, Spanish, and Indonesian. Whenever I have an opportunity to bear my testimony in another language, I can do it with the help of the Lord.
While on a church assignment, I lived in Tokyo, Japan, for a year. I could give a short talk and bear my testimony in Japanese. And I gained a feel for the Cantonese dialect when I lived in Hong Kong for six years.
Learning a language is mostly a matter of how much time one is willing to devote to it. Everyone can learn a foreign language, but not everyone is willing to spend the thousands of hours necessary to do it well.
Learning another language will give you a rapport with people that cannot be obtained in any other way. They will know that you are interested in them, in their country, and in their culture and that you have made a big effort to learn their language. When you can speak their language, you are more accepted and can better communicate with them.
In 1978 President Spencer W. Kimball said, “How many of us can preach the gospel in Mandarin Chinese, in Hindi, in Arabic, for example? When we are ready, the Lord will use us for His purposes.” (Ensign, November 1978, page 101.)
President Ezra Taft Benson has said that we must flood the earth with the Book of Mormon. Sending an English Book of Mormon to someone who lives in Pakistan, where the native language is Urdu, will do no good. We must “become acquainted with … languages, tongues, and people” (D&C 90:15) so that we can flood the earth with the Book of Mormon in all the major languages of the world. We also have to preach the gospel in fulfillment of the Lord’s prophecy: “For it shall come to pass in that day, that every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language” (D&C 90:11).
I bear you my testimony that when you start learning a foreign language—such as one that your ancestors spoke—the Lord will help you with the gift of tongues, and you will be blessed not only in your future Church activities but also in your chosen profession.