Tuesday, April 26, 2005


Learning Spanish

Richard Henry Dana Jr., Two Years Before the Mast, chap. XIII (Trading at Monterey):
I had never studied Spanish while at college, and could not speak a word, when at Juan Fernandez; but, during the latter part of the passage out, I borrowed a grammar and dictionary from the cabin, and by a continual use of these, and a careful attention to every word that I heard spoken, I soon got a vocabulary together and began talking for myself. As I soon knew more Spanish than any of the crew (who, indeed, knew none at all), and had been at college and knew Latin, I got the name of a great linguist, and was always sent for by the captain and officers for provisions, or to take letters and messages to different parts of the town. I was often sent to get something which I could not tell the name of to save my life; but I liked the business, and accordingly never pleaded ignorance. Sometimes I managed to jump below and take a look at my dictionary before going ashore; or else I overhauled some English resident on my way, and learned the word from him; and then, by signs, and by giving a Latin or French word a twist at the end, contrived to get along. This was a good exercise for me, and no doubt taught me more than I should have learned by months of study and reading; it also gave me opportunities of seeing the customs, characters, and domestic arrangements of the people; beside being a great relief from the monotony of a day spent on board ship.

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