Learn Polish - Crash Course Introduction

Posted On: 8 Jun 2018

Category: Polish Language

Thinking of learning Polish? Here is a basic and simplified overview of what you will have to learn!

For this article, I assume you are native in English (or at least fluent in English). If you are native from Czech Republic or Ukraine you will find learning Polish much easier!

This is a VERY BASIC overview. A lot of things are simplified. This is an overview for someone who has had no lessons in how to speak in Polish.

Spelling (medium-hard) and pronouncing (quite easy)

Some Polish words are really hard to spell and pronounce. But the majority aren't too hard to get your head around after some practice.

Most letters are pronounced similarly to in English. Some exceptions: ł sounds like the English 'w'. w sounds like the English 'v'.

There are some new letters: ę ('en', but a nasal sound), ą ('awn', again it is a nasal sound). Some letters have lines above them which change the sound a little. As this is a very basic overview crash course then you can pretend that ć sounds like 'c' in English (it doesn't, but is close enough).

The best thing about learning Polish: letters always sound the same (unlike English)

In English we have words like Horse/Worse, Heart/Heard, Mint/Pint (the letters are the same, but are pronounced very differently). Polish language does not have this! Once you know what each letter sounds like, you can (in theory!) read it correctly.

This makes things much much easier!

Genders (masculine/feminine/neutur) - lots of rules but once you know the rules its easy!

Gender is important.

But it is easy!

All nouns have a gender. You can work out the gender based on the ending. Feminine words end in -a. Neutral in -o or -e. Masculine are all the others*

*there are more rules than this. But that covers 90% of the words. Neutral words actually normally end in -o, -e, -ę or -um. Words ending in -ść are normally feminine.

Cases! A complete pain to learn! Lots of rules. 7 cases!

Cases are something we don't have in English. The closest we have is using appostraphies. Maybe this can explain it:

In English we say:

John's hat

The word John was changed to John's, and now you know he owns something.

This is kind of what cases do in Polish (not really, but it is a close comparison for some cases). But there are 7 cases and they have many meanings, usages etc.

There are 3 common ones - Nominative (the basic form), Accusative (used with many verbs such as lubić (to like)) and Genitive (used for any negative accusative sentences, for possessiveness etc)

There are lots more adverbs

Every single adjective in Polish can be turned into an adverb. There are simple rules for adverbs in Polish though.

It isn't too hard to learn.

They have an important concept of casual and formal ways to address people (pan/pani) - easy to learn

When asking someone something, you could use the 'ty' (=you) form of a verb, but if speaking to a stranger or someone older then the pan/pani (which translates to something like sir/madam) should be used.

But this is easy to learn and if you are a foreigner using the wrong form it isn't the end of the world.

You don't need to use 'I', 'you', 'he', 'she', etc...

To say "I am" (as in, "I am here/tall/etc") you use the być verb (to be). This conjugates like this:

  • I am : ja jestem
  • You are: ty jesteś
  • He ison jest
  • She isona jest

Because the 'jest-' part is different for each one* you can ignore the 'ja'/'ty'/'he'/'she'/etc. People don't really say ja jestem they just say jestem.

* yes! for he/she/it it is the same (on jest/ona jest/ono jest). But from context you can work out who it is referring to, and if it isn't clear then obviously the 'he' / 'she' / 'it' would be added!

Swearing in Polish

You just need to learn "kurwa" (= f@ck or b*tch). It is used like British people use 'bloody', and can be put anywhere in a sentence for emphasis.

Counting - a pain!

Ok just simple counting is easy and learning the Polish number system is easy. Their numbers make sense, it isn't like the French system (4 times 20 or however they write it!).

But depending on the case the numbers change a lot.

To order two beers you can say: Proszę dwa piwa (dwa hasn't changed!)

(BTW beer is normally piwo (neutral) but after using proszę you use Accusative case so the -o ending changes to -a (but it isn't feminine now! it is still neutral). But I am focusing just on the number - dwa (2)).

But to order two teas (herbata) you must say:

Proszę dwie herbaty - dwa has changed to dwie. (herbata is tea, and it is feminine because of the -a ending. In Accusative femine words change the -a to -y on the end of the word)

But this isn't important to learn! If you say proszę dwa herbata it will still be understood even if it is not correct at all!

There are lots of rules when it comes to learning how to say dates in Polish.

Verb aspects - the difference between "I read a book" (i.e. you finished reading it) and "I was reading a book" (you didn't complete the book)

In English we have one verb (e.g. to read) and we change the words around it to indicate if you finished the action or not.

In Polish all* verbs have 2 versions of them (which both translate to the same 1 verb in English). One for each aspect. Perfect and imperfective.

*like 95%+ verbs do in Polish. Some don't!

This is a boring and difficult topic. See our page on Polish perfective and imperfective aspects here.

There are certain verbs for going somewhere just by foot, or just by vehicle

Polish speakers often get annoyed if you use the wrong one!

In English we might just say "I went to the shop" if you went by car or you walked in.

In Polish if you walk it you would say:

idę do sklepu - to go by foot

jadę do sklepu - to go by vehicle

(note that idę/iść doesn't actually mean 'walk', and jadę/jechać doesn't mean 'to drive'. They both mean 'to go')

There are many other examples like this where in Polish you have to select the exact correct verb for the situation. There are more verbs in Polish than English. They have a verb for every specific situation or action!