Is it hard to learn Polish? Is it really a hard language? Or is this just another myth concocted by unintelligent wannabes in the quest for global superiority? I don’t really care, but at least today I can give you my personal view on it – again and as ever – only my opinion. Nothing concrete, nothing fake, nothing out of place.
“Birds go flying at the speed of sound to show you how it all began” – Coldplay.
Despite what most people in the media drenched world think (as ever), Polish is an easier language than people believe. It’s certainly the easiest language I have tried to learn in years. Having backpacked through Arabic countries without a clue how to say anything more than “thanks”, having studied (and quit half way through) Chinese in Hong Kong, having studied Spanish in Uruguay, lived with a local family in Montevideo and forgotten all of it, it is clear that Polish is now my second strongest language. But as a busy travel writer, tourist, teacher and media savvy guy, I find it hard to make time to keep learning this beautiful language. It’s hard for me because of my choc o bloc lifestyle, and my media outreach, but these are MY five main problems with learning Polish.
But yet there are still so many barriers, so many difficulties in the learning process and here are my worst 5 reasons why my Polish is so bad and my learning is so slow despite having been enrolled on a Polish course in Gdansk and also studying in the vibrant capitalowksi Warszawa in recent times.
1.Polish People Talk to Foreigners in English
I hate this one. Every day in Poland I try to speak to Polish people in Polish. Almost 95% of the time, they will reply in English. This is probably because of my accent or one/two mispronounced words or endings so they have sussed I am foreign and they expect I will know English. It is also because they like to practice, prove and improve their English – trust me they don’t need improvement – they have one of the best levels of English speaking in the world – miles higher than Germany, France and Spain for sure. They even give me an English menu sometimes, but I cry wolf. I do not want an English menu. I want to learn your beautiful polski.
When this happens, I normally pretend not to understand English, my usual reply is “nie rozumiem angeilski, i ja rozumiem tylko troche polskie!” That means roughly “I don’t understand English and I understand only a little Polish”. Sure, this is a lie but I only do it as it pushes and forces me to learn the languages. It’s a bug bear of mine especially in cafes, here was my conversation today while ordering a coffee.
Kelnerka/Coffee Lady: Dzień Dobry
Me: Dzień Dobry
Kelnerka/Coffee Lady: I dla Pan?
Me: Po proszę kawą z mlekiem
Kelnerka/Coffee Lady: Big or small?
Me: Duza poproszę
Kelnerka/Coffee Lady: To stay here or to take away?
Me: na miejscu.
Kelnerka/Coffee Lady: Anything else for you?
Me: Nie dziękuję. To wszystko.
Kelnerka/Coffee Lady: How would you like to pay?
Me: Gotowkę poproszę.
Kelnerka/Coffee Lady: OK, here’s your coffee. Thanks and have a nice day!
Me: Dziękuję bardzo, do widzenia.
I walk away happy that I have spoken 100% Polish the whole time. The kelnerka or coffee lady is often bewildered that I kept speaking Polish and all my answers were word perfect. MY local cafe when I lived in Brzezno in Gdansk always spoke to me in Polish and had a Polish menu, I loved that place – the Przystanek Kawa.
2.Everything Important in Polish Cities is ALSO written/spoken In English
AS Poland is probably the most prosperous and under-rated country in Europe, English dominates international proceedings. This means that even the Metro announcements in the capital Warszawa (or in weak English, Warsaw) are in English. The challenge has gone abegging, thanks to the English versions of Odjazdy i Przyjazdy…
Hotels, cafes, restaurants, museums now all have things written in both Polish and English. Although in theory this shouldn’t really be an issue, it makes us lazy as English speakers, as we don’t have to use our brain to work out the meaning, since we can read it in English. We go into auto mode in our busy lives…
3.Polish People Love Pretending Their Language is the Hardest
There is a stigma within Polish people, even some of my best friends that their language is so deadly and difficult that they almost deliberately try to tell you to avoid learning it. Ultimately as humans we all make our own decisions in life, so we have to try and ignore them. I don’t get upset that Polish people do this though – it makes me proud that they care but they should know that genuine tourists and people like me who love Poland, want to believe we can learn the language and that it is EASIER than people believe.
I am very very grateful to my friends like Rafal, Artur, Piotr, Kamil, Piotr P as they helped me learn some basic words on my early trips. There wasn’t a second when I couldn’t order a dobre piwo. They helped me fall in love with Poland, over time.
“Some might say that we should never ponder on our thoughts today as they hold sway over time” – Oasis.
4.There Are Only Really Two Countries to Learn It In
The fact is you can learn English in many countries around the world and you can learn Spanish in most of South America and Central America. Portuguese, French and Dutch are also widely taught. Even German can be learned in 4 countries (Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Liechtenstein).
But with Polish, to learn it you really have just two main options – learn it in Poland or learn it in a Polish community in the USA (such as Chicago or New York City). So you have to be prepared to move here and immerse yourself in the culture. I’m doing it, trust me that is what I am doing with this blog, my passions, my new project promoting glorious Gdynia and my 20 province adventure. 18 down, 2 to go…
5.Most Countries Concentrate on Learning English, Spanish, French First
The problem with this one is that I understand why they do it. English is probably the most universal travel language and in a world where people love travel. AT Bangor Grammar School in Bangor, Northern Ireland I wasn’t a cool student. I had the knowledge and passion but not the respect. I just didn’t want to learn German or French. I did it, they were obvious and on the menu. Polish wasn’t on my 13 year old menu, even though Robbie Warzychca was, from my first ever Northern Ireland v. Poland match. So I started learning Polish late in life!
I was 25 when I learnt my first Polish word, 27 when I said my first sentence and 35 when I first realised I should try and learn it. By the tender age of 36 I had moved here and I haven’t looked back. Thanks to all my Polish friends and teachers who inspired me thus far. The journey goes on and I try my best every day to be a better man.
“Bo bez ciebie nie ma nic, z tobą jedną mogę być, jeśli tylko chcesz” – Borysewicz & Kukiz.
(because without you, there’s nothing, with you I can be, if you only want).
So it’s a tough struggle against these 5 reasons but I’m up for the challenge. Minute on minute. Day on day. Week on week. The future is promised to NO-ONE.