Beverly Hills Lingual Institute
Beverly Hills Lingual Institute
Beverly Hills Lingual Institute
Beverly Hills Lingual Institute

It's All Polish To Me

Dzień dobry (dj'yen dob-rih)! "Good day."

Poland has had one of the most fascinating and turbulent histories in Europe. It was, for several centuries, dominated by neighbors which often sought to eradicate its culture and identity. It is not for nothing that the first line of the Polish national anthem literally translates to, "Poland is not lost yet."

In more recent times, Poland has regained its place on the world stage. As Norman Davies, author of God's Playground: A History of Poland and Heart of Europe: The Past in Poland's Present points out, "Warsaw is closer to London than London than London is to Rome or Lisbon. The Polish frontier is less than an hour's drive from Berlin.

"Poland is nearly half as large again as the United Kingdom, and is similar in size to Spain or Germany.

"The country's population, at nearly forty million, is in the same league as that of California or New York, and is larger than the populations of Canada and Australia combined."

If one adds the roughly fifteen million Poles who for various reasons live abroad, the number of Poles approaches the populations of France, Italy, or Britain.

Indeed, with some fifty-five million native speakers including the Polonia diaspora, Polish is the second most widely spoken Slavic language after Russian.

Polish is mostly phonetic (you read it as you write it); and, unlike Russian, Ukranian, Belarusian, Serbian, Macedonian, and Bulgarian, it uses a Latin alphabet. You'll be able to read and write sooner than you think.

Polish pronunciation may seem daunting, but it is in fact regular. Once you memorize a couple of patterns, you'll soon notice that you can pronounce every word you come across.

The Polish alphabet contains 32 letters, and does not incorporate the English "q," "v," or "x." Polish has 9 specific letters: ą (a nasal a, like chanson in French), ć (like ts in pots), ę (a nasal e, like in engineer), ł (like w in water), ń (like ñ in señor), ó (like oo in book), ś (like ch in ich - German), ź (soft z), and ż (similar to s in pleasure).

Additionally, ch, cz, rz, sz, dz, dź, and are pronounced as single letters.

"Ch" sounds like h in heat, while "cz" sounds like ch in chocolate.

"Rz" sounds like the Polish ż.

"Sz" sounds like sh in bush.

"Dz" sounds like ds in reads, whereas "dż" sounds like g in German and "dź," or "dzi," (like "ć" or "ci") comes before a vowel.

Polish pronunciation - unlike English pronunciation - is rather consistent and eventually becomes intuitive.

All the Slavic languages have almost the same flexional characteristics, with the exception of Bulgarian and Macedonian, which like English lost their declensions - the inflection of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and articles - over time.

In Polish, both nouns and adjectives have different endings to show gender. Adjectives are far more predictable. Three adjectives - dobry (good), drogi (dear, expensive), and tani (cheap) - show the three different versions.

Masculine dobry drogi tani
Feminine dobra droga tania
Neutral dobre drogie tanie

Normally, adjectives precede the noun when they refer to its size, color, shape, or other quality. However, they follow the noun when they identify its function or specific nature.

Polish speakers must learn to express meaning by word structure, within the grammatical rules of flexional changes. English (and Macedonian or Bulgarian) speakers achieve logical clarity of meaning by order or position of words. Thus, English is (by comparison) an "isolating" or "position" language.

Polish verbs belong to different groups or conjugations. The endings are the same for most verbs whose infinitive form ends in -ać (czytać, for instance - "to read").

ja czytam
I read, am reading
ty czytasz
You read, are reading
on czyta
He reads, is reading
ona czyta
She reads, is reading
my czytamy
We read, are reading
wy czytacie
You read, are reading
oni czytaja
They (male or mixed) read, are reading
one czytaja
They (female) read, are reading

As you'll note, the personal pronouns in Polish are ja, ty, my, wy. In most cases, you don't actually say those pronouns when speaking Polish.

One must admit that Germanic and Romance languages generally have simpler grammar than do Slavic languages - with the possible exception of Bulgarian and Macedonian.

A Polish speaker learning English encounters simpler grammatical forms and basic concepts in the English language than does their English counterpart in Polish. Indeed, assuming the same intensity of teaching, Polish speakers probably learn English about twenty to thirty percent faster than vice versa.

That said, Polish borrows a number of words from English in many different areas, such as computer science, politics, technology, sport, economics, and business. You won't have much trouble working out the meaning of these words:


If you know any other Slavic language, you'll find more than a few cognates in Polish. Indeed, it is often said that any two Slavic languages are sufficiently similar to allow their speakers to communicate quite effectively if each speaks their own language slowly and explains to the other the words that are not common to both.

If Polish is your first Slavic language, it makes a great gateway to the others.

Do widzenia!

Thu 24 Aug 17

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