Is Polish Difficult to Learn? 17


Image: Celeste Hodges

Image: Celeste Hodges

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

is Polish difficult to learn

Image: spadge6868

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!

For example:

  • 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!

Take care!

Agnieszka

agnieszka murdoch

 

Share with other language loversShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on StumbleUponShare on LinkedIn
  • Polish??? Hard???
    It is a hard language, indeed. Sorry. Declensions and prepositions will haunt you until your grave, but is it impossible? Not at all 😀 I just had a Skype session with a friend in which I spoke Polish and I still messed up some of my declensions.

    Sounds are easy, though because drilling helps (thanks to music and films).

    And we are forgetting VERBS 🙂 They are easier than in Spanish 😀 Less verbs to memorize and there isn’t a verb for every time and mood like Spanish.

    • Alan Steinke

      Why can’t everyone speak one language, my grandfather spoke German polish and I couldn’t understand him, my mother spoke that same language and had a hard time in school because my mom had to learn English or she couldn’t be in school,but she learned english,some of the Polish is simular to German words

  • Adam Paweł Wesołowski

    “Every word is stressed on the penultimate syllable” – this is not true. You’ve forgotten to put the word “almost” at the beggining of that sentence :P.
    Nice article, you’re right – you can learn every language, if you want to, even though Polish is quite hard (it really is, for us – native Polish speakers – too). Good luck! 😀

    • You’re right – there are always exceptions! I’m just trying to make things simple for those learners who are thinking of taking up Polish 🙂

  • Adrian

    Well, I’m a native Spanish speaker, I’ve only learned English, and the Polish has been really a shock for me.. I really would like to be agreed, but I’m not. The lack of Articles makes the things very difficult, with so many things to decline (even numbers, in this last case, I really don’t get the idea of why). I’m not sure for an English native speaker, but at least for a Spanish, where all the words are so symmetric (consonant+vowel+consonant+vowel)… to lead with 3 consonants together one after another has been quite difficult, lot of training just to be able to get close to the word, I remember all my training just to say the easier word in any language, “HELLO”, “cześć”… Verbs, 2 verbs for the same action (that’s how I see it), it’s really not helping at all. Well, a good thing is that the native are very very cooperative, when they see that you are really trying to learn their language.

    • Hi Adrian! Thank you for your thoughts. I can see why you think Polish can be quite challenging, especially when it comes to declination. It probably takes longer to understand the rules around Polish grammar than it does to understand Spanish grammar but that doesn’t make it impossible 🙂

      If you’re interested in getting some tips on learning Polish, I’ll be sending some out to my community of Polish learners soon so make sure you sign up using the form in this article.

      Best wishes,
      Agnieszka

    • En términos fonológicos, el polaco no es tan complicado. Claro, están esas consonantes que nunca terminan, pero muchos de los sonidos son claros. Creo que entender la diferencia entre sz, cz y ż/rz y ś, ć y ź puede ser difícil, pero con decirte que la ć existe en el castellano chileno y otros sonidos en el argentino, entonces no es tan difícil. Muchas de las cosas terminan siendo intuitivas.
      Una cosa que debo decir muy buena de los extranjeros aprendiendo polaco es que la ortografía que tenemos es casi impecable.

    • Zora

      If it’s going to make you feel better a lot of adults who’ve been living their etire life in Poland and read books have problems with cases for example ,,Te postacii/postaci” czy ,,Te postacie” (this characters). Native don’t understand why someone would trying to learn their language that’s why they are very cooperative XD I’m living in the Poland so I know. (Nie wiem jak można być takim samobójcą i marnować czas na naukę języka kraju, którego waluta stoi niżej od bułgarskiej)

      • miniPC Computer Service

        Te postacie to mianownik liczby mnogiej, brzydko z twojej strony opluwać mój język.
        Waluta niema nic do rzeczy a jedynie charakter jaki posiadasz i sposób w jaki go chcesz innym przekazać.
        Język Polski to drzwi do ośmiu innych słowiańskich języków w tym bułgarskiego tak jak język islandzki to drzwi do języków skandynawskich, wyrażaj swoje poglądy w lepszych manierach bo to co tu zaprezentowaś to zwykły hate speech.

    • Martin

      Interesting, one of … biggest problems for Poles learning English is … …correct use of articles. We treat these as … completely artificial, non-essential components of … language 🙂

  • I know that most of polish natives thinks that we have three genders, but this is not true. There are seven grammatical genders in polish: one female, one neutral, two in plural and three masculine.

  • Marta

    All my English speaking co-workers are all about ”how on earth can you make that sound with your mouth??” always when they try to say something in Polish. They also seem to have a hard time with pronouncing my surname – Zrodlewska 🙂

  • palikir

    I had played, i was playing, i played be translated as grałam/grałem, also grywałam/grywałem, byłem grałem/byłam grałam (archaic), zagrałam/zagrałem… I had lived etc. be translated as mieszkalam/łem also zamieszkiwałam/łem, pomieszkiwałam/łem, byłam/byłem mieszkałam/łem (archaic form too), zamieszkałam/zamieszkałem etc.

  • Senor Magnifico

    Nobody says it in Polish: ‘Ma psa Agnieszka’

    • Martin

      “Ma psa Agnieszka” sounds a bit odd (almost like a poem;), but a) it’s gramatcially correct, b) every Pole will understand what do you mean.

  • Arturs

    Polish shouldn’t be too hard if you are fluent or at least somehow familiar with Russian. Though Russian uses Cyrillic alphabet and Polish uses Latin alphabet for writing, many words have the same roots. If you speak Russian, many Polish words sound like a very funny or country-style version of a Russian analogue. Meanwhile, there are also cases when in Polish the meaning is exactly the oposite of what it would mean in Russian.

  • 경제윤

    Polish words are too long for me! That’s why it looks tricky 🙂