Difficulties in Speaking the Polish Language

April 7th, 2013

Polish is a relative straightforward written language, but presents incredibly challenges as a spoken language, especially to English-speakers.

Coherent Rules

Written Polish is amazingly well-organised. It’s a Slavic language, and as such the verb and consonant sounds are very uniform and consistent. Vowel sounds never change, no matter where they appear in a word or what letters they appear next to. This means “a” always sounds like “u” in but in Polish, and once you know that, you don’t need to think any harder. Consonant sounds are nearly as consistent, though there are some simple rules concerning consonants combining to form a new sound – for example, “d” sounds like the “d” in dome until combined with “ż” to form “dż” which makes it sound like the “j” in job. These rules can seem difficult at first but they’re relatively straightforward – and the rules themselves are very consistent as well, so once you learn them, you’re good to go.

Until you try speaking Polish, that is.

Lazy Pronunciation

The trouble most people have trying to speak Polish stems from two aspects of the language: The sounds themselves are difficult for English-speakers to manage, and can take years to be able to differentiate and form consistently, and the fact that the Poles themselves are very inconsistent in how they pronounce words.

The problem stems from the very consistency of Polish vowels and consonants. The meaning of a word isn’t changed if you blunt, mumble, or skip the ending of the word, so many Polish speakers do in fact blunt, mumble, or leave off the ending of words! In English, for example, if you don’t hit the ending of the word bed precisely, it will come out sound like bet or ben or beh, and everyone will be confused. So we hit the hard end of words very specifically when speaking English. In Polish this doesn’t matter, the word’s meaning isn’t altered by the final sound. But leaving off that final sound is incredibly problematic for anyone who is trying to learn Polish, because to their ear it entirely changes the words being spoken.

Still, Polish is a beautiful and fascinating language – and a language on the rise around the world (it’s now the third most-spoken language in England, for example), so learning Polish is definitely worth the effort. Just be prepared to have a rough go of it, at least at first!

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