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published: 12 Jun 2024 in Education

Polish for foreigners - Whether, why and how to learn Polish language?

Kamila Brzezińska
Kamila Brzezińska

Editor

It’s the language of Chopin, Copernicus, Geralt of Rivia… Polish, the official language of Poland, is known for its melodious sound, interesting history, and (ridiculously) complex grammar. In this piece, we will look into the Polish language for foreigners, and try to answer the questions: should you know Polish, and if so, how to learn it easily?
Polish for foreigners - Whether, why and how to learn Polish language?

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Polish dates back to the XII century, at least

Like other Slavic languages, Polish traces its roots to the early Middle Ages, sharing a close relation to the Czech and Slovak languages. As the Slavic tribes migrated and settled in different regions of Europe, distinct languages emerged over time. By the 10th century, Old Polish (10the-16th century) began to take shape as Poland consolidated into a kingdom.

The first words in Polish were written back in 1136.They also weren’t all that complex, really. It was a list of names that Pope Innocent II issued to the archbishop of Gniezno in the Papal Bull.


The first Polish sentence, or how the Polish language was difficult from the very beginning

Year 1270 marks the date when the oldest sentence in Polish was recorded in a text. “Day, ut ia pobrusa, a ti poziwai”, proclaimed the 13th-century sentence, which, even though technically written in Polish, would be as mystifying to a XXI Pole as it is to any foreigner not speaking the language. That is because this sentence, originating from The Book of Henryków (pol. Księga Henrykowska) is not entirely phonetically correct, marking it as a first Polish language blunder, one imagines. The corrected version – the one taught in Polish schools – goes: “„Daj, ać ja pobruczę, a ty poczywaj”.

Not that this correction helps with comprehension. Most modern Polish speakers still need to look up the meaning, which goes roughly: “Let me, I shall grind, and you take a rest.” It’s a sentence a husband says to his wife, presumably tired and ready to retire after a whole day of a-grinding.


How many people speak Polish?

Nowadays, the Polish language is spoken by over 37 million people all over the globe, according to Worlddata.info site. The vast majority of Polish speakers (35 570 000) are located in Poland, with the next significant groups found in the United States (1 000 000), Canada (273 000 people), and Germany (252 000).


Polish for foreigners: Do you need to know the Polish language to live in Poland?

If you have Poland on your mind, and wonder whether you need to know the language, the short answer is: you don’t have to, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt.

While it is possible to live in Poland without knowing Polish, especially in major cities where English is widely spoken, learning the language offers numerous advantages.

Knowledge of Polish can greatly enhance your quality of life, making everyday activities like shopping, navigating public transportation, and interacting with locals, significantly easier and more enjoyable.

Therefore, learning Polish could be a strategic decision, particularly for those planning a longer stay or considering permanent residency. It can foster deeper relationships with Polish people, provide a richer understanding of the cultural context, and help you develop your career in Poland by opening doors to better job opportunities.


Is Polish difficult or easy to learn?

If you yearn to know if Polish is difficult to learn, the answer is – yes. Yes, it is.

In the list created by the Polish language ranks as the third most difficult for English speakers to learn. Several factors contribute to this perception, such as:

  • Complex grammar: Polish grammar is intricate, with seven cases for nouns, pronouns, and adjectives. Each case alters the word's ending based on its function in a sentence, requiring learners to memorize numerous declensions. Babel sums up this complexity by calling the Polish language “German on steroids.”
  • Vocabulary: While Polish shares some vocabulary with other European languages, its Slavic roots mean that many words are unfamiliar to those accustomed to Germanic or Romance languages.

  • Pronunciation: The Polish alphabet is an interesting one. While the traditional Latin alphabet consists of 26 letters, the Polish one removes 3 letters (x,q,v), while adding 9 new unique letters and diacritical marks (ą, ć, ę, ł, ń, ó, ś, ź, ż). Those new signs and sounds can be difficult for non-native speakers to master. Additionally, the Polish language has a penchant for consonant clusters, making proper Polish pronunciation a daunting task. Hence, some simple English words become major tongue-twisters in Polish, such as:

ENGLISH

POLISH

vain (e.g. “in vain”)

czczy

rain

deszcz

(it) rains

dżdży


How to learn the Polish language? 5 practical tips

However, these challenges are not insurmountable. So if asked: “Can we learn Polish easily?”, with enough practice, as well as the right approach and resources, the answer is: “Yes. Yes, we can.”

The key to learning a language, as with obtaining any news skills, is our motivation. Therefore, before embarking on a linguistic journey with the Polish language, it is important to ask yourself: “Why do you want to do it?” A firm grasp of our goals and opportunities resulting from the new skill will help us to stick to our goals. This inner grit will empower us not to quit once the fresh enthusiasm drops like rain, and rainfall is precisely what we have to pass to get to the evening language class.

But motivation alone will not get things done. Learning Polish requires dedication, patience, and the right approach. Here are some effective strategies for learning Polish:


Tip 1: Enroll in a language school or Polish language courses

Formal courses offer structured learning, professional guidance, and opportunities to practice speaking. They also offer an opportunity to study in groups, teaching the Polish language in a way that can only be done by interpersonal contact and shared experiences.


Tip 2: Use online resources

Websites, apps, and online courses can supplement your learning with interactive exercises, videos, and audio materials.


Tip 3: Immerse yourself

Surround yourself with the language by listening to Polish music, watching Polish films, and reading Polish books and news. Some language schools and courses also provide practice with native speakers, thus enhancing the curriculum with real-life practice and interesting cultural insights.


Tip 4: Be consistent

“Practice makes perfect”, as a well-known prover proclaims. Regular practice is key. Set aside time each day for studying and practicing Polish.


Tip 5: But remember – be patient with yourself

But, it’s also worth remembering that aiming for the abovementioned perfection can cause us unnecessary duress.

Mistakes are part of life – “To err is human”, as Alexander Pope’s famous quote says. When acquiring a new language, we should try to be as patient with ourselves as we tend to be with others. After all, no one expects that a novice at English would start quoting Shakespeare right off the bat.


Sources:

Brittanica.com ­– Polish language

Twojahistoria.pl – Daj, ać ja pobruczę, a ty poczywaj. Pierwsze zdanie po polsku w historii

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