Polish Language Problems (Part zzz)

Learning any new language is difficult. It requires time, patience, humour and the ability to be humble and know that you will make mistakes. So far I have picked up quite a few words but only one or two small sentences. One of the problems is I need to visualize a word, so I need to see how to spell it. This is just the start of the problem – try asking someone in Poland to spell a word – they just don’t do it! The other problem is when I do write it down I take one look at what is written and step back in horror – it’s ugly. Finally, I have come up with a strategy. When I encounter words or sentences I want to remember I will look them up in my dictionary, and write them down on some note cards. I will carry these cards everyday and try to study them whenever I have time. To make it easy I will also write down how I see/hear the pronunciation. I am determined to hold a conversation with Babcia as soon as possible….


In my book, I woke up this Morning…in Poland!!!, I deal quite a lot with the every day problems associated with a mixed cultural relationship, living in a foreign country, etc. and much of this relates to language. Here’s an extract of one of the first scenes I deal with language in the book..

“The domestic departure lounge at Warsaw Frederic Chopin airport is smaller than a single departure gate at Heathrow, with rows of those seats joined together atypical of airports, there is a small kiosk serving hot snacks, beer, crisps, lottery tickets, pictures of Pope John Paul the 2nd, and tickets for the Wifi hotspot which is apparently available in the lounge.

The lounge is very busy and incredibly hot with standing room only. There are 4 gates with departures for flights all over the country; to Gdansk, Krakow and places like Łodź (pronounced Woodj) and Rzeszow (pronounced Jeshov). I imagine the difficulties I’m sure to encounter trying to pronounce these new letters with all these squiggles, dots and tails on top, through and under them. In total there are 32 letters in the Polish alphabet. The Polish have so many different Z’s I’m going to fall asleep just trying to pronounce them. Words like please (proszę), sorry (przepraszam – in any language this is hard to say for a man but try it in Polish when you’re not a national, its kind of like pshehprahshahm – that’s right its nigh on impossible!). And then there is this is no ‘joke’ (żartujesz) and what about this particular Government Ministries web site http://www.zzpprzymz.pl? I dread to ask what they do. Some words even have 3 z’s in them like lucky which is szczesciarz and if you think that’s difficult, it gets worse. When verbs depend upon something such as ‘will you take’ zabierzesz and for example when you go to the doctors ‘will you take your clothes off?” is ‘rozbierzesz sie?’ and rz is pronounced sjz. So I hope I will never be sick or sorry while I’m in Poland.

So far my language efforts have been okay – I’ve already mastered the basics like Yes – Tak. No which is Nie. I love you (very useful to know) is kocham cie and when you meet someone the usual greeting for good day or hello is dzien dobry which sounds like “gin dobre” which is maybe something to do with Polish drinking habits!

There are no announcements in English so I have to pay particular attention to the screens as queues seem to be forming in many different directions and merging with one another.

‘Pardon’ forgetting I am no longer in France, ‘Sorry, excuse me is this the line for the flight to Katowice?’ I ask a man who is wearing an ill fitted suit and his collar so wide open I’ve no idea why he bothers to leave his tie on.

‘Katowice?’ he asks.

Other people are staring…

‘Tak, yes are you going to Katowice?’ at least I try a little Polish and I think I got the pronunciation of ‘Katovitsa’ right.

He thinks a while, his bottom lip slightly protruded as he slowly raises his finger to the brow of his head, squints and then looks up at the fan swirling around above us. His head moving in unison with the fan as if he has fixed his eye on one spot.

‘Katowice?’ he asks again..

‘Oui, Oui I mean Tak, Tak Katowice?’ I say a little frustrated.

‘Nie’ and he promptly turns away. No one else offers to help!

Then, just to confuse me Katowice drops off the screen of Gate 4.

I wait patiently”.


Read more of my twaddle over at DatBlog

8 thoughts on “Polish Language Problems (Part zzz)

  1. Biluś says:

    Thanks for an entertaining post :-) It is a tough language to learn, but then anything worthwhile is worth a struggle! I disagree that the language looks ugly when written – for me, it both looks and sounds beautiful, which is one reason I’ve made that effort.

    Part of the problem for me is not pronunciation – which can be great fun, I once tried 5-6 times unsuccessfully to repeat a student’s name: Grzesiek! – but the grammar and especially declensions: you think you’ve learnt a word and then it changes according to up to 8 different contexts of use. Now, that is tough, especially to an Englishman who didn’t do grammar at school…

    I’ve now got my own blog to reinforce my own learning – Learn Polish with Biluś – which I intend to build up over time into a user-friendly resource for non-grammarians everywhere. My advice is just relax, have fun and stick with it!

  2. Mi says:

    Hi! I’m a Polish native speaker and I have to say that you have a strange opinion about pronouncing Polish words. “Gin dobre”? I know what you mean, but it doesn’t sound Polish at all. Gin is dżin in Polish, not dzień. What’s more, the comment about Polish drinking habits is irrelevant. I don’t know where you are from, but I thought that binge drinking is a British invention.

  3. Datblog says:

    Mi – to the untrained ear, dzien and dzin are very close to Gin – the correlation between gin and polish drinking was a light hearted look at something – I never mentioned binge drinking, and I certainly agree binge drinking is far worse in the UK than Poland, but nevertheless Poland does have the same per capita alcoholic problem as the UK, only surpassed by Luxembourg.

    My reference was tongue in cheek – I am English and teetotal (I don’t drink any alcohol)

  4. Datblog says:

    Bilus – you have a good blog. I particularly find the way you present learning Polish very useful

  5. bob says:

    DJWWYS great site man thanks http://peace.com

  6. Anonymous says:

    “try asking someone in Poland to spell a word – they just don’t do it!”

    Have you really been to Poland? Are you sure it was Poland? Polish language is phonemic so letters in Polish represent all sounds that are used in the language, so Polish people do not have problems with that at all. Do not expect Polish people using English alphabet.

  7. […] Polish Language Problems (Part zzz) The other problem is when I do write it down I take one look at what is written and step back in horror. […]

  8. Anonymous says:

    First of all,why would they have announcements in English?Typical lazy English thinking…It’s Poland,they have Polish announcements,if you want them in English go to an English speaking country.Secondly Polish people don’t know how to spell?First time I hear….And again you are confusing Polish with the British…If you really want to know who cannot spell go and ask first English person how to spell ache,cynic or psychology…Good luck!
    And what about the z’s in the Polish alphabet?We ONLY have ONE Z!!!
    After z we have Ź and after that there’s Ż….Completely DIFFERENT letters!
    And the drinking?Come on!!!You are joking,right?

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