Learn Polish Using These Helpful Tips
Polish has a reputation for being a very difficult language but I don’t think that is strictly true. Whether Polish is or isn’t easy for you to learn depends on many factors. If it’s your fifth language and you’re a native speaker of a relatively difficult language (like Hungarian), you’re unlikely to struggle. If, however, you want to learn Polish and it’s your first foreign language and your native language is relatively easy (like English), you may find the linguistic journey more challenging. Don’t despair, though! There’s a number of tips which may make learning Polish easier for you.
Why Do You Want to Learn Polish?
This may sound like a silly question but it isn’t. You need to know your “why?” and it should be a good one. Why do you want to speak Polish? Why Polish and not a different language? What level of fluency do you need? These are important questions to answer, ideally before you start learning.
There are many things a person wants to do in their life but there’s simply not enough time for everything. If you want to learn a language, you need to commit to the learning process. Language learning is fun and brings a great sense of accomplishment but sometimes it’s also tedious and annoying. You need to always remember your “why” so that you don’t give up.
Regardless of whether you’re trying to learn Polish or any other foreign language you need to remember that being systematic is crucial. Try studying as often as you can. Ten minutes every day is doable for anyone.
Repetition Is the Key
I’m sure you’ve had the experience of not sleeping a whole night before an exam or a test and still managing to pass it. This method can work with knowledge you need to retain only for a short period. However, language learning is all about remembering longterm what you’ve learned. Imagine you’ve learned how to say “How are you?” (Jak się masz?) in Polish and forgot it after a week. You wouldn’t be able to start a conversation or understand what’s being said.
The Case of Polish Cases
Apart from general advice for language learning it’s good to know the problem areas in a language so that you know what you should pay special attention to. Polish is most (in)famous for its cases (przypadki).
There are seven cases in Polish and they change the way a noun looks like, depending on its use in a sentence. For instance, the word “house” (dom) behaves in singular in the following way:
|Mianownik||dom||To jest dom. – This is a house.|
|Dopełniacz||domu||Nie ma już tamtego domu. – That house doesn’t exist anymore.|
|Celownik||domowi||Czemu przyglądasz się temu domowi? – Why are you looking at this house?|
|Biernik||dom||Tamten dom już kupiono. – That house has been already bought.|
|Narzędnik||domem||Dokucza mu tęsknota za domem. – He’s suffering from homesickness.|
|Miejscownik||domu||Mówiłem Ci o moim nowym domu. – I’ve told you about my new house.|
|Wołacz||domu||Domu rodzinny! – Family home!|
It may be intimidating to see so many forms of one word and even Polish native speakers struggle with some of them. Still, it’s possible to learn to use the forms correctly by practicing. What’s more, in most cases even if you make a mistake, you will be understood.
In Polish, just like in many other languages, there are gendered nouns. This is a concept, which is difficult to grasp for someone whose native language doesn’t have it. The way in which some words are gendered makes sense (e.g. girl – dziewczynka is feminine and boy – chłopiec is masculine), while others not so much (e.g. water – woda is feminine and table – stół is masculine). There’s also a third gender, neuter (e.g. cattle – bydło).
It can be confusing so remember to always check the gender of a newly encountered word. The more words you know, the easier it gets to guess the gender. There are also a few rules to follow to make learning easier:
Most feminine nouns end in -a
- Examples: mathematics – matematyka, woman – kobieta, toilet – toaleta
- There are exceptions so stay vigilant e.g. male colleague – kolega, man – mężczyzna
Neutered nouns end in -o
- Examples: child – dziecko, bucket – wiadro, account – konto
Nouns with other endings are most probably masculine:
- Examples: table – stół, computer – komputer, cheese – ser
Conjugation of Verbs
Polish verbs need to be conjugated. This means that their forms change depending on number and person. Below you can see an example of a conjugated Polish verb “to eat” – jeść:
|Ja jem – I eat||My jemy – We eat|
|Ty jesz – You eat||Wy jecie – You eat|
|On, ona, ono je – He, she, it eats||Oni, one jedzą – They eat|
The good news is that conjugation patterns exist. The bad news is that there are 11 of them. You can find a good comprehensive compilation of these patterns on Wikipedia.
Tricky Polish Spelling
Polish spelling can be tricky for foreigners. The Polish alphabet has 32 letters, while the English one has 26 of them.
The additional letters in Polish such as ć, ś and ł are often problematic for language learners. What’s more there are clusters of consonants (dz, cz, sz etc.), which also don’t make spelling easier.
Last but not least, there are two “kinds” of certain letters (ch and h, u and ó etc). This means that “ch” in chleb and “h” in “herbata” are pronounced in the same way but written differently. They are commonly referred to as two different “h’s”*. If it makes you feel any better, Polish children often struggle with these differences in spelling. In terms of practice, what works for children will also work for you: reading, reading and one more time, reading.
Polish, like any other foreign language, has its challenges. However, if you’re set on your goal, you’re definitely going to achieve it. There are many Polish resources online (and other articles on our blog) that will help keep you interested in the language. I know at least three foreigners whose Polish is so perfect that I didn’t know they weren’t originally from Poland until they told me so. I hope this will serve as an encouragement for you. Good luck!
Learning Polish on LingQ
Don’t forget, you can import Polish resources into LingQ and use that to help you study. Also, LingQ comes packed with hours and hours of Polish content fo beginners and advanced learners. It’s easy to use, efficient, and a great way to keep finding new content. If you haven’t already, sign-up for LingQ and start learning Polish today.
Also, LingQ is available on mobile. Take your lessons wherever you go and listen to your target language, read your transcripts, and create review flashcards. LingQ’s language learning apps are available for both Android and iOS.
Magdalena Osiejewicz-Cooper is a native speaker of Polish. She speaks fluent Italian and French. She is currently self-studying Spanish.