Is Polish the most difficult language to learn?
If you think the answer is ‘no’ – don’t worry about reading this blog post. You’re already on the right track! If you think it’s ‘yes’ – carry on!
Polish has been named the most difficult language to learn by so many websites, bloggers and people I know. I’ve got a theory about this and I’d like to share it with you so bear with me!
Polish is difficult for first-time language learners
My theory is that the people who think Polish is tricky tend to be people who haven’t learned any foreign language long enough to master it at least a little bit.
If you only speak your native language, how can you possibly know what is and what is not difficult? It’s like saying building a toaster from scratch is more difficult than building a kettle without ever having done any DIY.
Once you speak one foreign language pretty fluently, you’ve got a benchmark you can compare things against. You also have an idea of how language learning works, what your learning style is, you have an understanding of the grammar of another language and how another language’s syntax works. And all this makes learning another language so much easier!
What I’m essentially saying is that if you already speak one foreign language, you’re less likely to think that Polish is difficult than somebody who doesn’t speak any foreign languages at all.
Check out my post with the best books and resources to learn Polish if you’d like to have a go at it yourself!
Polish is difficult if your native language is English
Another thing I’ve noticed is that people who say Polish is difficult (or any language for that matter) are native English speakers. Language learners know, however, that English is one of the easiest languages to learn because of its relatively simple grammar, small number of exceptions to rules, and straightforward pronunciation. And also because it’s a language a lot of people grow up with it – watching cartoons, playing video games, listening to American music and so on.
There are a couple of tricky things in Polish
Like in any language, there are some things in Polish that could be ‘perceived as slightly problematic’ – I don’t want to use the word ‘difficult’ as to not put you off!
- Pronunciation of soft consonants ‘sz’, ‘ś’, ‘ź’, ‘dż’ is something that needs to be practised a lot. Polish children practise this in reception. I remember doing ‘mouth gymnastics’ myself. Does it sound offputting? Well, if you’re an English speaker, remember trying to pronounce ‘th’ and ‘r’ sounds and struggling? Well, you made it, so you will most definitely make it in Polish as well!
- There are seven cases of each noun depending on what its function in a sentence is. For example ‘This is a cat’ would be ‘To jest kot’, and ‘I have a cat’ would be ‘Mam kota’. Don’t worry, some of the seven cases are the same so you don’t always have to learn seven versions of each word! Also, people will understand you anyway, even if you make a mistake. Still not convinced? English is equally complicated – just think about all the different prepositions that follow verbs ‘look at’, ‘look up’, ‘look for’, ‘look down’, ‘look after’ – one word but so many different versions of it!
- Some sounds sound exactly the same but are spelt differently. For example the ‘ó’ and ‘u’ in ‘góra’ (mountain) and ‘burza’ (strom) are the exact same sound so you need to memorise the spelling separately. But then, how do you, English speaker, know how to spell ‘thorough’ or ‘right’/’write’?
- There are three genders. But hey, most languages have genders, including languages considered by English speakers as relatively easy to learn, such as French or Spanish. Polish genders are also much easier to memorise than the French/Spanish ones. The vast majority of feminine nouns end in an ‘a’ (probably 99%), all neutre nouns end in an ‘o’ and the rest are masculine. Easy peasy!
Reasons why Polish is not difficult to learn
Believe it or not – there are a number of reasons why Polish is not a difficult language to learn (at least compared to other languages).
- Most consonants and some vowels are pronounced pretty much the same as in English. It’s phonetic, and silent letters are pretty much non-existent.
- Every word is stressed on the penultimate syllable so there’s nothing to memorise here. See? It’s not crazy like in English where you have ‘desert‘ and ‘desert’, ‘construct‘ and ‘construct’, or ‘decrease‘ and ‘decrease’.
- There are far fewer tenses than in English. For example, ‘I have lived’, ‘I have been living’ and ‘I live’ can all be translated as ‘Mieszkam’. ‘I played’, ‘I had played’ and ‘I was playing’ would be translated as ‘Grałam’. The list goes on and on 🙂
- A lot of vocabulary has a Latin root. For example, ‘informacja’, ‘komunikacja’, ‘motywacja’, ‘inspiracja’, ‘edukacja’ – I don’t even have to translate these for you, do I?
- Word order doesn’t really matter. In English, it does. The sentence ‘Agnieszka has a dog’ can only be said in one way in English, i.e. you couldn’t say ‘Have a cat Agnieszka’ (well, you could but the meaning would be totally different). In Polish, you could say ‘Agnieszka ma psa’, ‘Ma psa Agnieszka’, ‘Ma Agnieszka psa’, ‘Psa ma Agnieszka’ and they all make sense and mean the same thing.
Everything is relative and so is language difficulty
I hope I managed to convince you with my five bullet points that Polish is not such a difficult language to learn (versus four bullet points for why it could be seen as such…). Polish is easy, and Benny Lewis agrees with me.
If you’d like to give Polish a go, check out my post with the best books and resources to learn Polish.
I wish you luck in your learning journey! Make sure you subscribe to and share this post to spread the word about learning Polish as a foreign language!