Home MTC is good

At some point in the near future, the Missionary Training Center will likely reopen fully, and in some ways that’s unfortunate, because home MTC is good.

We had our doubts. Would it be hugely disruptive to the rest of our family to live with a missionary-in-training? Would it require shutting down all our entertainment or constant supervision for the missionary? I also had doubts – based on data and several years of professional experience – about the effectiveness of online language learning. And could online MTC really prepare someone to serve a mission?

There are in fact a few experiences that can’t be duplicated in an online format. While a gradual transmission from normal to mission life is better for some, other missionaries need a starker break with their home life. And a lot more can go wrong with travel into the mission field when you have 12 missionaries departing from 12 local airports than with one district flying out of SLC, where the airlines are more accustomed to missionary travel and any hiccups can be resolved with a local phone call. But if you have to miss out on a few parts of the missionary experience, the MTC is definitely the part to miss.

Constant companionship turned out not to be required, so schedule disruption was minimal for us. If my daughter needed to be in class during family meals, it wasn’t a problem; she’s an adult who can feed herself during class breaks. If space in the home is an issue or you’re used to having a TV as the focus of family entertainment, there could be issues, but for us, home MTC was good. And it turns out that sufficiently motivated students actually can gain substantial proficiency in a foreign language in an MTC-sized chunk of time, even in an online format.

But home MTC is not merely an acceptable substitute for the real thing. Home MTC is good because late-stage teenagers can be, let’s say, somewhat self-centered and impatient, and they undergo tremendous changes as missionaries, and home MTC lets families see some of these changes in person instead of being surprised, 18 or 24 months later, by what has gotten into their children. It was good to get regular updates about MTC classes, teaching experiences and language learning over dinner, and family members can participate as ad-hoc companions for exercise. Over the years I’ve watched my daughter participate in athletic, musical and academic activities, but I’ve never seen her as happily comfortable in her element as she was in home MTC, and I’m glad I could be there to see it.

Someday soon, home MTC will come to an end, and perhaps that will be a return to something better, but maybe the missionary department will try to hang on to a few of the pandemic-imposed innovations, because home MTC was good.

13 comments for “Home MTC is good

  1. My son just started home MTC this week. Looking forward to seeing how the next six weeks go!

  2. The family’s cooperation and adjustment is probably of more importance than might be evident at first glance. I’ve tried to imagine what my experience would have been, had home MTC been a thing back then … My mother would almost certainly have expected me to help with the family dinner every night, and I would have had to entertain a toddler nephew … and every conversation WOULD HAVE BEEN SHOUTED AT THE TOP OF EVERYONE’S LUNGS BECAUSE MY MOSTLY DEAF GRANDMOTHER WOULD HAVE HAD THE TV ON FULL BLAST 20 HOURS A DAY … and there might have been other difficulties that I’m not comfortable talking about. I wonder, too, about the difference in maturity and experience of a sister missionary who has been away at school or working full time for a couple of years, who had to come home again during the pandemic, and that of a teen boy almost straight out of high school.

    I’m glad to hear it’s working out in your son’s case, and I hope it works just as well at RobF’s house.

  3. Good luck, Rob F. Hopefully it works out as well for you as it did for us.

    But as Ardis mentions, some missionaries will have a home situation that makes home MTC difficult, or they won’t be well suited for it personally. It was something of a surprise that it worked out so well for our daughter, simply because we didn’t no what to expect. It’s impossible to know if home MTC is better or worse for the majority of missionaries, but we were at least happy to be there as she started leaving grumpy teenagerhood behind.

  4. When I was in the MTC they were experimenting with digital language lessons. I was in a traditional classroom (old-school language learning MTC style). The class next door had nearly 100% digital learning (think Mango, Rosetta Stone, etc.) in small cohorts supported many multiple teachers who checked-in w students frequently and helped if anyone got stuck. Another class had a mix (traditional/digital). The digital class scored the highest at the end of our stay, all students possessed larger vocabularies, scored higher in written assessments, and used more advanced grammatical sentences. The 50% class was also ahead, and we were dead last. I’m not sure whether our results were replicated in future years, but there you go. I’m pretty sure one can learn a great deal with online tutorials supported in small groups by several dedicated teachers and frequent check-ins.

    But, for me, home MTC would have been h-e-double-toothpicks. I’m not alone. Maybe missionaries who don’t have a conducive environment (be it an anti situation, or a dysfunctional family, or even parents who haven’t cut the apron strings) could temporarily room with other members? Or the area missionaries?

  5. Last summer, a family friend struggled with home MTC and learning Spanish because his young non-American instructors could not really assess virtually how he was doing and it was assumed he was at the same level as his missionary classmates.

    My wife started offering weekly zoom Spanish for any missionary who was interested and presumably had permission. Clearly she was filling a gap and I tried to ponderize how we could monetize this…

  6. It is great to hear about the good experiences, which Pres. Uchtdorf also enumerated in a recent podcast. A missionary we know who is being called to a stateside mission this week is starting at home, then spending two weeks in Provo MTC, which is a nice combination. But many of the young missionaries I know have non-member parents, so little understanding or support–I hope they take such situations into consideration. In my old mission, they are having newly called missionaries come to the mission home and stay there for their three weeks of online MTC. It is the best way to ensure that they are fed and have internet access.

  7. Naismith, good to see you’re alive and commenting occasionally. ?

    Digital language learning does seem to me more productive from my own experience yet using a language learning app during the pandemic lockdowns. Much easier to go over and revise individual modules. Though it’s also good to have someone proficient in the language to turn to with queries. And a competitive element helps. Perhaps for foreign language missions they could start with a home based digital language course before having the missionaries at the MTC for mission training?

  8. My daughter did have several one-on-one online pre-MTC meetings to start learning phrases in her language, and it seems to have helped quite a bit. I don’t know if these pre-MTC classes started only with the pandemic, but they seem like a good idea and I hope they continue. Her actual MTC language classes didn’t involve apps but were instead more typical language courses, just with online interaction.

    Naismith, thanks for mentioning the various approaches to the MTC. That kind of flexibility and creativity strikes me as a very good thing.

  9. Jonathan, you’re on to something that can bless and benefit the whole congregation.

    How would it be if the Church offered language distance-learning patterned after this MTC household program? What if we offered it to the whole congregation, not just Missionaries?

    LDS virtual wards might interact internationally like Sister-Cities. LDS households might commune transnationally beyond barriers of language and culture, like virtual penpals, or extended family. Return Missionaries might lead hubs or forums or reunions, whatever forms might take. The Welfare Program might see value in transnational household-to-household communication during crisis in terms of supply chain. Imagination abound.

    Why not? At-one-ment.

    Thanks for sharing.

  10. This post would be much better if two words were to the title: “is good for me.”

  11. My son will be serving (Lord willing) in Africa, foreign speaking. He reports next month. We just got final word that his MTC experience will be entirely online. I am frankly dreading those 6 weeks, and am having a really tough time imagining the experience will be anything like the 2 months I spent at the MTC– learning how to live and get along with another person, in-person learning with a district you come to know and depend on, life skills.

    Instead, he’s on something of a glorified house arrest, alone, looking at a screen all day. Girlfriend’s just two streets over. His car is still out front, friends all still down the block. I’m a dad, a husband, a breadwinner– and now a mission president.

    One day he’s in my basement, the next he’s in Africa.

    I’m glad home MTC was good for you. I harbor no illusions that it will be good for us. I just hope we make it through.

  12. C Bell, I’m sorry I missed your comment. It spent an unscheduled week in the spam filter.

    If it’s any consolation, your concerns are exactly the same ones I had before my daughter’s mission. I can’t guarantee how it will be for your son, but for my daughter, home MTC was good (and she’s adjusted pretty well to mission life in the four months since she moved into the field).

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