Pre-mission instruction for missionaries has roots going back to the School of the Prophets organized by the Prophet Joseph Smith in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1832 (see Doctrine and Covenants 88:78-81). But formal, systematic language instruction for missionaries bound for foreign-language missions had its rather inauspicious beginning in December 1961, just over 50 years ago. Here is a chronology of key events, drawn primarily from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry "Missionary Training Centers" by Richard O. Cowan, professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU, who wrote a limited-edition book in 1984, Every Man Shall Hear the Gospel in His Own Language: A History of the Provo Missionary Training Center and Its Predecessors.
1925 — A Church Missionary Home and Preparatory Training School was established in Salt Lake City in 1925. This, however, did not provide language instruction. Missionaries acquired language skills as best they could when they arrived at their fields of labor.
1961 — Missionaries assigned to Mexico and Argentina were experiencing lengthy delays in obtaining visas. To make use of the time, the Missionary Language Institute was set up on Dec. 4 for them to receive language training. Their quarters were in a hotel in Provo, Utah, and classes were held in various buildings at BYU.
1963 — The institute became known as the Language Training Mission with the director given the status of a mission president. Portuguese and German were added to the curriculum.
1968 — Instruction was offered in all 16 languages then being used by missionaries; separate Language Training Missions were set up at Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho, for Dutch and Scandinavian languages and at the Church College of Hawaii for Polynesian and Oriental languages.
1976 — The first phase of a multi-million-dollar language training complex was built near the BYU campus. By 1978, its scope would be broadened, and elders, sisters and couples called from the United States and Canada, regardless of the mission to which they were assigned or the language they would speak, would report to the facility, the name of which was changed to Missionary Training Center.
1978 — Missionary training centers were opened in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Hamilton, New Zealand, to provide orientation to missionaries called from those areas. Today, 15 missionary training centers are in operation around the world.
1980 — General Authorities became more directly involved in missionary training at the MTC. Internal organization was restructured and missionaries were organized into branches with presidents called from among Church members in the Provo area.
2011 — Major renovation is completed on five of the buildings at the Provo Missionary Training Center.
Information about the Provo Missionary Training Center can be found online at www.mtc.byu.edu. The website offers a virtual tour of the center, highlighting features such as the cafeteria, classrooms, devotionals, gymnasium, large group meeting rooms, information desk and mail room. Missionaries at the MTC benefit from attendance at the nearby Provo Utah Temple and from devotional addresses given by General Authorities.