Response to naive question about language learning

Given the movement of people throughout the history of the world, we should be able to find a group some where, some time, who failed to learn the new language surrounding them. The exceptions do indeed prove the rule: the masses of slaves in the Atlantic Slave Trade who were deprived of close contact with speakers of the so-called acrolect, i.e. the language of the slaveholders and supporting population. Even then, pidgins and then creoles developed quickly based on limited access to the acrolect. So where and when can we find people who actually do learn a language in a classroom using textbooks filled with grammar rules? Nowhere that I’ve seen.
Here’s part of what I was responding to:
“A few days ago, someone asked me a question about a common situation that’s rarely discussed: How can someone learn to communicate in a language they don’t know, without access to courses and books and instructors? And what if the problem isn’t just lack of foresight and preparation, because no courses or books or instructors exist for the language or dialect in question?
This question’s background is an international development project, where many of the people to be reached are illiterate speakers of undocumented and unwritten languages, and are also often not fluent in the local lingua franca.
Some people may be skeptical of various aspects of the premise. But let’s grant it and try to address the question.
Refugees, migrants, explorers, traders, missionaries and conquerors have been dealing with versions of this problem for millennia. But I don’t know of any systematic discussion of solutions before the mid-20th century,….

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