One of the greatest challenges travelers to Poland face is simply navigating basic signs around the cities.
As someone who spent the a good chunk of time living in Poland, I’ll be the first to tell you that not being able to read is a huge pain. Then I decided to learn Polish and today I am here to help you with a few tips on how to learn the Polish language yourself.
Or at least a bit of it.
When you speak English as a first language, it’s fairly easy to pick up languages that at least use the same letters as you.
However, when you go to Poland you end up staring at a stop sign wondering what on Earth you’re reading.
Of course, everything that can go wrong will go wrong. You’re just getting off the airplane, trying to get a bus to the city center.
You’ve got your apartment host waiting for you. And you can’t figure out which sign goes to the city center or the suburbs.
Yeah, that’s the time you’re really gonna wish you’d at least started to learn Polish – even if just a little bit. And read my guide to the best hotels in Warsaw.
Eventually, after a few weeks in Poland, I got tired of feeling like a complete outsider.
While most young people in Polish speak perfectly adequate English, it’s nice to be able to communicate the basics in Polish. For example, at grocery stores, many of the cashiers are older and don’t speak English.
If you learn Polish and can say a few basic words, their friendliness to you skyrockets!
I ended up enrolling in a program called Polish Pod 101 (link – not an affiliate link) and buckled down on it. My intention was to learn Polish online.
I wasn’t sure how long I wanted to commit to living in Poland, and didn’t want to deal with enrolling in an actual in-person class.
On top of it, I had other work projects that required my attention – I didn’t realistically know how much time I could commit to going to class. And for some reason, Duolingo and it teaching me how to say “Apple” and buy a dress didn’t help much.
I wanted to learn Polish so… well, hopefully so I wasn’t always so lost.
Can You Really Learn Polish Online?
If you’re a self-learner, you’re absolutely going to love Polish Pod (and potentially other Polish language online learnings sites – but I am recommending what I have personally tried).
My issue with learning languages has always been the practicality of it.
It doesn’t do me any good to know how to say ‘Mom/Dad/Sister/Cousin/Second Uncle twice removed’ when I’m out and about in a place like Krakow. I need to know the basic stuff that makes life easier to live.
Things such as…
- Which metro stop is this?
- May I have a [insert food/drink]?
- Where is [insert attraction]?
- Maybe even an “inside joke” or two
I don’t need to ask someone about their family because I’m simply not going to be doing that. Nor will I eat apples all day long!
Sure, there is a time and place for that, but if you’re traveling abroad you need to learn how to handle yourself in day-to-day conversations, not have intimate conversations with people.
That’s a flaw that many language study programs have – they teach you too much fluff.
While this is “easy” as it’s only a matter of saying individual words, it’s absolutely useless in real-world application.
Here are some of the best features of Polish Pod:
- Alphabet lessons: Fairly obvious, you need to be able to grasp what the individual letters mean. While thankfully Polish uses Latin letters (and not Cyrillic like Russian does), they’re still different.
- Choice of lessons: want to know how to communicate at the airport, or order lunch at a cafe?
- Common words and phrases: Polish words themselves are tricky and it’s good to drill them in to memory.
- Pronunciation review: Unlike a language like Spanish, you can’t butcher Polish relentlessly and have natives understand you. It’s so different from English your pronunciation is going to need work.
There are tons of other features of Polish Pod 101 (don’t get me started on the cute Polish girls who teach some of the lessons), but these four things are going to help you lay a foundation while you learn Polish online.
Learn Polish: The Alphabet
Take a look at the Polish alphabet. To an English speaker, that bottom part might as well be from another planet.
I used to joke with native Polish speakers that those letters to me was like looking at Egyptian hieroglyphics (except I wasn’t joking).
Do you think I’m kidding? Take a look:
There’s nothing amazing about having to learn a new alphabet. It’s a tedious grind. No self-sufficient adult wants to learn a new alphabet.
However, Polish Pod does a good job of giving you the basics on the alphabet without making it too much of a pain.
This will allow you to get the basics down (which are probably going to be needed at points) and you can move on to the more exciting part and really learn Polish.
Choice of Lessons
There’s one thing that I’ll keep coming back to regarding studying Polish—you need practical…well, practice. Polish Pod 101 has a variety of different lesson paths you can take depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.
Here’s a screenshot of the different learning paths you can take with Polish Pod:
As you can see, the beginning lessons have very specific information about flights and other basic necessities such as emergencies.
As you graduate to the upper-levels of the course, you’ll have less “niche” lessons – the nice thing is that they still work together quite well.
These awesome paths let you pick and choose the topic of study rather than wasting your time using generic words you’d never use in a real-life situation.
My first week in Poland, when I tried to say “Dziękuję” (thank you) to my waitress. She looked at me funny, and the girl I was with (a native Pole) doubled up with laughter as the waitress walked away.
Apparently, I had completely butchered the conversation and said a not-so-nice word in Polish. Ha!
Polish Pod has some great tools to help you with pronunciation. Polish words are incredibly difficult for native English speakers to pronounce.
If you want to learn Polish, pronunciation might be the most difficult thing you’ll encounter. It’s simply so different than what we’re used to speaking (as are most Slavic languages).
Being able to enunciate words in their proper way will greatly help you out if you end up in a sticky situation. And especially help you impress Slavic beauties, which is always a bonus in my books.
Whether you want to start to learn Polish or become fluent, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option than Polish Pod.
It gives you practical advice that you can use and practice in the real world, while foregoing a lot of the unnecessary work that many other learning methods choose to dedicate themselves too.
I don’t know about you, but I need to be able to ask for a coffee much more than ask how the weather is. I can always just look to the sky for that.