Has anyone ever told you that Polish is the hardest language in the whole world? Did you want to learn it but you got scared because you were told that there are at least one million forms of numeral “two” and the pronunciation is a nightmare?
Well, not everything is so dramatic. Let’s find out what might help you if you study Polish.
Polish is one of those Slavic languages which alphabet is based on Latin (so, the letters look the same as in English, French, Spanish and so on). Many of Slavic languages like for example Russian, Ukrainian or Bulgarian use Cyrillic alphabet, but in case of Polish there’s no need to bother about it. If you speak a language, that uses another alphabet, you probably anyway know some English, so... you already know Polish letters!
Surprisingly, is rather regular. I mean, there are some rules you need to know, of course, but apart from that we usually write as we speak. There is no reduction like in French. If someone ever showed you such words as ‘gżegżółka’, ‘źdźbło’, ‘chrząszcz’ or ‘dżdżysty’ as an example how Polish is terribly difficult, I assure you – you will see them mostly in spelling exercises for Polish primary school pupils.
In 99% the stress falls always on the second-to-last syllable. There are some exceptions (I suppose that 4 or 5), but again, there are clear rules. Even if you don’t know them it will be not a huge mistake, as the meaning of a particular word won’t be changed. Moreover, there is a growing tendency to stress always the penultimate syllable.
Polish is highly standardised, which means that the conventional forms that you will learn, are in common use. The people don’t speak in a strikingly different way in different cities. You will notice some details for sure, but you will certainly not face the situation that you don’t understand anything as if it was another language.
Actually there are just three (past, present and future). If you studied English, French or Spanish and wondered for what they have so many grammar tenses and constructions, you will find relief with Polish. I will only add that future tense is actually formed like present, so again – less to study!
If you studied Romance languages and struggled with Subjuntivo, Congiuntivo or Subjonctiff, I have good news for you because in Polish we just don’t have it. You will always use the forms of present tense.
In Polish there are 7 cases, not thousands as they say. Although it can be complicated in the beginning, if you study Russian – there are 6, like in the majority of Slavic languages. The grammatical cases exist in German, Greek, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Latvian, Lithuanian, Hungarian, Romanian, Sanskrit and Tamil, so Polish is not so unique. Especially when you compare it to Hungarian (29 cases according to Wikipedia).
Word order doesn’t really matter. In English or German – it does. But in Polish even if you mix some words it will not influence the meaning of whole phrase. It may sound a bit unusual but still it will be understandable.
Words that you will understand for sure
Polish, due to its contacts with others nations over the centuries, has adopted many of words of Latin origin which are also present in other languages spoken in Europe. Let’s take for example informacja – information – información, komputer – computer, telefon – telephone, konotacja – connotation and many others.
There aren’t any in Polish so you don’t have to think what is grammatically definite or not.
Above I listed 10 reasons that might help you when you study Polish. Obviously, it is not the hardest language in the world, although this myth is still alive. As a PhD candidate in Slavic Languages and Literatures I certainly would not say that is more difficult than any other Slavic language (I studied a couple of them).
If you want to listen to my tip for successful language learning I would recommend as follows:
Accept that Polish (or any other Slavic language you decided to study) is just different from other languages you probably speak.
Find similarities in grammar to your own language that could help you to understand Polish grammar rules better.
Remember, that there is not only grammar to study! Any language must be practised – communication is a skill you should develop, not something that can be learned from books without talking to the people.