Positive Press

May 18, 2005

On my way to work this morning I heard a positive news story about Utah and the Church on NPR in their series on globalization. The story spotlighted the large numbers of foreign-language speakers concentrated in Utah and plans of Utah’s governor John Huntsman, Jr. to utilize these skills to bring jobs to Utah while integrating Utah more fully in the global economy. With the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing in the background, NPR played interviews with returned missionaries living in Provo and who are using their foreign language skills in their jobs, e.g. at NuSkin etc. One of those interviewed was very impressive–by description a white girl with blonde hair who grew up in Salt Lake City but who was speaking fluent Mandarin in the background before she answered a few questions for the interview. The story reported that approximately 72% of BYU students speak a second language fluently. I can personally add that there are a significant number of BYU students who speak three or four (or more) languages fluently.

A fun part of the story for me was how NPR spotlighted classes that BYU offers through its Global Management Center in the Marriott School of Management to provide returned missionaries fluent in a second or more languages with a vocabulary and skill set in business and technical related areas of their foreign languages. I particularly appreciated this because it is a project I really believe in and, in the interest of full disclosure, I was an instructor of the Business German class together with Professor Hans-Wilhelm Kelling for four years, including the entire time I was in law school.

NPR highlighted some of Governor Huntsman’s plans to make use of Utah’s foreign-language and cultural skill base. (He also happens to be the nation’s only governor to speak fluent Chinese.) He wants Utah to look less towards Europe and more towards Asia, and is currently attempting to feel the waters to float an idea with the Utah public schools to begin offering Chinese, Hindi, and Arabic to kids at a young age. He is also reportedly in contact with the Pentagon about locating an elite Defense Department language training center in Utah.

Throughout the story, NPR consistently portrayed the Church as a global institution and emphasized that the missionary program is the reason for such a high concentration of foreign-language speaking American youth in Utah. It stated as fact, without making it sound absurd, that the Church believes it is the only true and living Church of God on earth, and that is the reason for its missionary program. It noted how many languages General Conference is broadcast in live every six months and how many languages the Book of Mormon has been translated into. It was nice to start the day with a non-negative portrayal of the Church in the media.