Visually, the Polish language can look rather intimidating for someone who didn’t grow up speaking the language — at least for a native English speaker. All those consonant clusters and diacritical marks can really throw you for a loop when you’re first attempting to master your budding reading skills. Fortunately, it’s nothing you can’t overcome with exposure and practice. It’s important to pick the right Polish books when you’re first starting out: something that’s appropriate to your learning level, and also interesting enough to keep you engaged.
Here are five suggestions for Polish books that’ll help you along in your language studies, organized from beginner to advanced. As a bonus, these works have significant cultural value to Polish people, so you’ll be absorbing important cultural context as you read.
The fables of Jan Brzechwa are pretty much a staple of every Polish child’s youth, and that’s part of what makes Bajki (Fairytales) a great place to start for beginner Polish learners. The language is simple and clear, and the storylines are memorable. Plus, you’ll gain deeper insight into the language by familiarizing itself with its most foundational folktales.
Tytus, Romek i A’Tomek
Babbel’s Polish experts recommend this comic book series by Henryk Jerzy Chmielewski for beginner to intermediate learners. It’s one of the most popular and longest-running comic series in the Polish language. And because of its visual format, you’ll be able to lean on the visual clues and short sentences to help you along if you’re still at a Polish novice.
Ten Obcy (That Stranger) is one of the Polish books that is required reading for Year 6 students in Poland, and it’s been translated into 23 languages. The story follows four teenage friends spending their summer on an island near Warsaw that was formed by flooding. Ideal for intermediate learners thanks to its young-adult focus, this novel by Irena Jurgielewiczowa deals with coming-of-age themes.
Bolesław Prus’ Lalka (The Doll) is a Polish classic that details a love affair between two characters of different social classes. You’ll get a comprehensive glimpse into what Polish culture looked like in the 19th century, and intermediate to advanced learners will feel challenged by the novel’s complexity. Nobel laureate Czesław Miłosz said it was the greatest Polish novel of all time, so you won’t want to sleep on this one!
Poezje Wybrane (Selected Poems)
Speaking of Czesław Miłosz, intermediate to advanced learners will also get a lot out of reading his poetry. Winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature, Miłosz is one of the most internationally recognized names in Polish literature. If you’re up for a challenge, you could also reach for one of his full-length novels (The Captive Mind is the most famous), but poems are great for learners because they’re short. They also demand more thought and attention, however, so you’ll have to think beyond the surface-value meaning of the words!