The languages I tried to learn and the languages I’ll never learn
Part 2. Childhood
There were no textbooks for self-instruction, nor any dictionaries of foreign languages in our home. I was a reader of two libraries, the school one and the children’s local one. They did not have teach-yourself books, and I was not sure I could handle textbooks for adult learners. There were few things to learn a little about languages in fiction books, where foreign quotations were translated in notes. I wrote out phrases from the books together with the translations in a copy-book and tried to learn something about grammar and words of a foreign language from them. Notre Dame de Paris (in the Russian translation) by Hugo was a whole treasure of Latin and Spanish quotations. The name of the chapter Besos para golpes is retained in my mind ever since.
My life changed when I turned fifteen. I could become a reader of the Foreign Languages Library. First of all, I started to learn Latin with the help of a textbook for beginners and ducked into this language head first. About at the same time I began to study Spanish. Various events in life prevented me from taking up other tongues.
One of my many drawbacks is reluctance to go through a whole textbook to the end. After mastering the basics of the language, I try to read an original text with a dictionary. As a result, my knowledge of languages is scanty and abounds in gaps.
PS In addition to the above I should mention the influence of the book A few words about words by Leo Uspensky. Earlier I had been under impression of Perelman’s popular scientific books Fun with Maths, Fun with Mechanics, Fun with Physics etc. However, Uspensky beat Perelman with one hand.