How did the first explorers/colonisers learn the local languages from scratch?


I have always been fascinate by the stories of explorers in the “new world” and how they would communicate with indigenous peoples upon first meeting them.

In many of the stories such as Cortez, Gonzalez and Columbus they usually find someone who speaks the language and also speaks Spanish or another language which they use to talk with the Aztecs or Inca.

I understand these conquistadors and explorers were not the first to visit these lands and interact with its peoples but they seem to have no trouble finding someone who can translate for them.

So my question is how did the people who truely made first contact with these people ever learn the language to the point of being able to translate?

Surely gestures and pointing to objects and then saying the word for it would work to an extent, but how on earth do you learn the complex words of a completely foreign language to the point of being able to conduct diplomacy?

Source: reddit post


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