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How To Speak Polish

Learning Polish is not as much of a time commitment (and not as hard) as you might think. With Babbel, learning Polish online is easy, intuitive and under your control: learn at your own pace, choose the lessons you want, and review and practice vocabulary on the go. Although mastering the very different grammar, accent and pronunciation can be difficult at first, Babbel’s online courses and mobile apps include speech recognition so you can quickly become comfortable with speaking. Learn how to speak Polish and join more than 40 million people around the world who speak Polish fluently as their native or second language.

Polish is the most widely-spoken West Slavic language and the second most-spoken Slavic language after Russian. 97% of Polish citizens speak Polish as their mother tongue, making Poland the most linguistically homogeneous country in Europe. Polish is also spoken by large minority groups in Lithuania, Belarus, Czech Republic, Romania, Ukraine and it is the second most spoken language in England (spoken by 8% of the population). Polish is an excellent choice for anyone who wants to learn a Slavic language, but is new to this family of languages. Read the guide below and then test your skills with a free Polish lesson.

History of the Language

It’s impossible to know which languages were actually spoken in what is now Poland before the 10th century AD. We do know that the tribes in the region spoke various Slavic dialects and worshipped a deity of war and fertility called Svetovid. This all changed in the 966 AD when Mieszko I, the first ruler of the new Polish state, was baptized a Catholic. In properly medieval fashion, all of his subjects followed suit over the next couple hundred years. Why is this significant to the language? Because the spread of Catholicism brought Latin. The impact of Latin can still be seen today in the Polish alphabet, which uses a modified Latin script, and in the adoption of many words from Latin (it was the official language of Poland for much of the middle ages). Besides Latin-speaking clergymen, Medieval Poland also attracted large numbers of German and Jewish migrants, and their languages trickled into vernacular Polish over hundreds of years.

After a successful and long-lived commonwealth with Lithuania, the Polish state dissolved amid internal conflict and invading foreign armies. In 1795, Poland was divided among the Russian, Prussian and Austrian empires and wouldn’t regain independence until the 20th century. During this period, the Polish people resisted all manner of subjugation to keep their language and culture alive. Even though it was split into three different countries, ruled by three different languages, the Polish language remained resilient and unified. Many German and Russian words did enter the Polish language during this time, but thanks in a large part to a rich literary tradition, Poles maintained their language and identity during occupation.

The Polish Republic was reconstituted in 1918, in the wake of World War I, but it would be short-lived. In 1938, the country was invaded (again) by Germany from the west and the Soviet Union from the east. In 1945, Poland was reestablished (as a Soviet satellite state), but it was now 20% smaller than before WWII and it’s borders were shifted about 300 km westward (gaining territory from Germany in the west, but losing more to the Soviet Union in the east).

Polish Pronunciation and Grammar

English is a Germanic/Romance hybrid (German and Dutch roots with Danish, French and Latin influence). Polish is a West Slavic language and, except for modern loanwords from English (dżinsy – jeans, toster – toaster, komputer – computer), has very little in common with English.

For beginners trying to learn Polish, correctly pronouncing words can be a significant challenge. Polish has vocal sounds that don’t exist in English, like nasal vowels and a subtle gradient of different sh sounds. With the help of Babbel’s speech recognition feature you will be able to practice your accent and help ensure that your Polish is understandable.

Polish grammar may at first seem strange to an English-speaker, but its rules are actually straightforward. Polish had seven cases, which means that nouns, adjectives and pronouns can have seven different endings. For example, przyjaciel, przyjaciela, przyjacielowi, przyjacielem and przyjacielu all mean “friend” but each is used in a different context. This may sound complicated, but because so much information is conveyed in the nouns, word order is not as strict as it is in English. Whether you tell someone, “Nigdy jeszcze nie byłem w Niemczech” or “Nie byłem jeszcze nigdy w Niemczech” both wordings are actually the same sentence, which means, “I have never been to Germany”.

Ways to Learn Polish

There are several options available when learning how to speak Polish: hiring a private tutor, enrolling in a language course (in school or online), studying alone with a CD-ROM or audio course, joining an exchange program, or practicing conversational Polish with a native speaker (a so-called tandem partner). All of these strategies can be effective, although some (tutors and CD-ROMS) can be expensive, while classes and exchange programs are also a huge time commitment. The fastest way to pick up Polish – and the biggest commitment by far – is still immersion. Moving to a Polish-speaking country requires you to pick up the language in order to live day-to-day. This survival pressure usually produces fluency within a few months. If you do plan to immerse yourself in Polish, it’s not a bad idea to prepare beforehand with one of the methods mentioned above. If you don’t have much spare time, an online program like Babbel may be your best bet.

Learn Polish the Babbel Way

Babbel’s Polish course is affordable, accessible online and via mobile devices, and proven to strengthen your reading, listening, speaking and comprehension skills. As a Babbel user, you have access to a diverse program of grammar, conjugation, pronunciation, listening comprehension and writing exercises. You can practice online or via your iPhone or Android device. Whether you are too busy for a language class, a complete beginner, needing to brush up before a vacation or business trip, or wanting to re-learn everything you forgot in high school, Babbel can be customized to your needs.

Try your first Polish lesson for free and discover Babbel’s easy and intuitive course system which determines your individual level and accommodates different learning styles. You can learn at your own pace, set your own lesson plans and receive helpful hints whenever you need them. You will also be joining an entire community of learners. Babbel users can easily share questions, experiences and advice via message boards and chat, and the Babbel support team is always only a message away. Take the test to see your current level of Polish.