Picking up Polish

One of the cool things about arriving in Poland was that for the first time in ages, I was in a country where I only didn’t know a single word of the language (actually, i did know one word – na zdrowie meaning ‘cheers!’). At first, Polish appears completely impenetrable, with lots of crazy letter combos like ‘szcz’ and ‘trzy’. However, on reading a little about the language, I quickly realised that once you know how each combo sounds, you can more or less work out how to pronounce words phonetically. Of course, there are still occasions that require a certain linguistic gymnastics for the English tongue – my current favourite being chcę, which is pronounced something like ‘khtseng’, where ‘kh’ has a sound as in ‘loch‘, and the ‘ng’ is pronounced nasally. Yeah, you try it.

To illustrate how usefuI this is we need only look at my native language. I often feel sympathy for people learning English as the pronunciation is all over the shop. For example, consider the following words:

  • tough
  • though
  • through
  • thorough
  • thought
  • cough
  • bough

That’s seven (count ’em, seven) different ways of pronouncing the same four letters! Polish has the right idea, in my opinion.

While visiting a museum with bad English translations, I noticed that Polish seems to be lacking a word for ‘the’. My curiosity piqued, I checked my trusty interwebs, and found this site with free interactive language courses.

Sure enough, ‘the’ is conspicuously absent, and even personal pronouns are optional. For example, ja mówię (I speak) can simply be phrased mówię and ty mówisz (you speak) can be phrased mówisz. The subject is inferred by the word ending.

Verbs can be negated by adding nie before them so nie mówię po polsku means ‘I don’t speak (in) Polish’. A statement can be turned into a question by adding czy before it, thus czy mówisz po polsku? means ‘do you speak Polish?’

This led me to the realisation that Polish is quite simple, so much so that after only about half an hour playing with the site I was successfully translating phrases like ‘I understand: you don’t speak English’, and ‘do you know where the bank is?’. OK, I’m hardly fluent, and I’m sure there’s loads of complexities I’m missing, but it just goes to show how a little time investment can help grasp something you once thought ungraspable.

I’m back in Krakow for a few hours and have somehow managed to book a night train to Prague at the last minute on Good Friday. About time I had some luck. It’s been fun trying to wrap my tongue around a foreign language, but as I’m leaving Poland I’ll have to start all over again. Yay travelling! Fortunately, it looks like Czech has some similarities with Polish so I should have a head start.

I’ve really loved Poland, but there are many more countries to be seen. See you in the Czech Rebublic!

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One Response to Picking up Polish

  1. Steve says:

    Great blogging Mark, keep it going.
    Shame about the hiking – the mountains looked great!
    You’ll enjoy Prague; see the castle, and drink the beer!! watch out for the prices though, they can be high.

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