6 Polish Words You’ll Struggle To Pronounce (If You’re Not Polish)

Don’t let those consonant clusters get you down.
June 5, 2020

For the average English speaker, Polish doesn’t seem like the most approachable language right off the bat. All those c’s and z’s can look mighty daunting when they’re bunched together with other consonants, and the accent marks won’t help you understand how to pronounce Polish when you’ve never seen them before.

Fortunately, if you’re reading this, then you’ve probably already braved the initial hurdle of beginning your studies. And once you get started, you’ll quickly realize that Polish pronunciation is actually more straightforward than English pronunciation. Polish letters are always pronounced the same way every time, and there are no silent letters to be aware of. If you know how the individual letters are supposed to sound, then you’re already most of the way there when it comes to understanding how to pronounce Polish.

Another tip to demystify the pronunciation: some sounds are represented by two letters. So when you see combinations like cz, rz, and ch, you know they’re referring to a single sound like “ch,” “zh” (like the s in “pleasure”), and “h,” respectively.

There’s more to it, of course. Let’s look at how it works in the context of actual, tricky-to-pronounce words.

How To Pronounce Polish Words

1. chrzciny (christening)

Deep breaths — it’s not as complicated as it looks. And it certainly looks complicated because the first vowel doesn’t appear until after five consonants in a row. However, the “c” that comes before it is combined with the “i” to soften the sound. Additionally, the first four consonants are actually just two sounds composed of two letters each.

Hear it pronounced here.

2. prześcieradło (sheet)

Once again, we have a word that begins with a complicated-looking consonant cluster. But remember: “rz” is just one sound (like the “s” in “pleasure”). Next, we encounter a couple of accented letters. The “ś” is similar to the “sh” in sheer, and “ł” sounds like the “wi” in the word “will.”

prześcieradło

3. przestępstwo (crime)

Here’s another word that begins much like the previous one. The vowel “ę” joins the following “p” to form a single sound, which is followed by four consonants in a sequence that do not appear in English and other popular languages in the world. Hint: attach the “st” to the end of the previous sound and treat “wo” like a separate syllable.

Hear it pronounced here.

4. rzeżucha (bittercress)

The pronunciation of this word is really tricky because “rz” and “ż” have the same sound. When you’re learning how to pronounce Polish, you’ll have to memorize that certain sounds actually have two alternate spellings (such as this one). Additionally, “ch” has the same pronunciation as “h,” so the “c” in this case is mute.

Hear it pronounced here.

5. źdźbło (blade of grass)

How do you deal with a word that only contains one vowel, and it doesn’t at appear until the very end? Let’s take it apart. The “ź” and “dź” have a very similar sound that might be confusing for non-Polish speakers. The first is softened somewhat, and the second has a more pronounced “d” sound at the beginning. When we combine them with the next consonants, especially the “ł”, it seems almost impossible to pronounce it correctly. But it’s possible! You just have to listen carefully.

Hear it pronounced here.

6. żółtko (yolk)

There are three unusual letters at the beginning of this word. The vowel “ó” is actually pronounced more like a “u” than an “o.” The “ż” is similar to the “s” in “treasure,” and the “ł” immediately follows the vowel with a soft “w” sound. Putting it all together, there’s a lot of complexity within such a short word.

Hear it pronounced here.

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Author Headshot
Steph Koyfman
Steph is a writer, lindy hopper, and astrologer. She’s also a language enthusiast who grew up bilingual and had an early love affair with books. She has mostly proved herself as a New Yorker, and she can introduce herself in Swedish thanks to Babbel. She also speaks Russian and Spanish, but she’s a little rusty on those fronts.
Steph is a writer, lindy hopper, and astrologer. She’s also a language enthusiast who grew up bilingual and had an early love affair with books. She has mostly proved herself as a New Yorker, and she can introduce herself in Swedish thanks to Babbel. She also speaks Russian and Spanish, but she’s a little rusty on those fronts.

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