Sometimes you’ll be learning some Polish and will feel like you’re all alone. Little do you know, there are thousands of other learners out there also improving their Polish day by day. I’ve been speaking to a number of those learners to find out their top tips for learning the language.
These 10 top tips will set you on the road to speaking amazing Polish.
10 Polish learners share their top tips
1. Immerse yourself
Something which is extremely powerful is immersion. Tom is a big fan of replicating the immersion of Poland wherever you are:[alert-announce]Tom says:
“Try to immerse yourself. Watch as much Polish TV and movies as possible and maybe even find people to Skype and talk to in Polish.”
Having personally spent a lot of time watching and listening to a lot of Polish media which I didn’t understand, I’ve come to the following conclusions:
- Listening to or watching something in Polish is more beneficial for your Polish than doing the same in English.
- You won’t understand everything. If you did, you’d be fluent already.
- It’s hard to motivate yourself to listen or watch something that you wouldn’t listen to or watch in English. Only consume something in Polish if you would if it were in English.
Basically, while listening to a lot of content that you cannot understand is not particularly beneficial, consuming massive amounts of Polish that you can understand is. Your job is to find a way of understanding most, if not all of that content. Subtitles, lyrics and transcripts are all very useful for this.
In short, if you’re not understanding, you’re not learning. Having said that, flooding yourself with Polish will help you to review the words and phrases that you’ve already learned. Your brain retains only that which it deems necessary. If you’re not surrounded by Polish often enough, your brain won’t think that it’s essential to learn. On the flipside, if you’re watching a video in Polish, it’ll do its best to decode the message contained within. That’s literally what brains do. It’s science.
Your brain also uses what you’ve previously heard to make sense of new information. Listen to this and all will become clear.
So, make your input comprehensible wherever possible and get lots of it as often as you can. While I agree that immersion is beneficial (because it keeps you in contact with the language), in my opinion, if you don’t understand what you’re hearing or reading, you are wasting your time.
2. Don’t be afraid to mess up
As soon as you lose the ego, you really start to learn. You’re expected to make mistakes when speaking a foreign language. People would be more surprised if you didn’t!
Jordan hits the nail on the head with his tip.[alert-announce]Jordan says:
“Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Be patient with yourself and have fun with it. Most people love to help out someone learning their language, so get out there and mess it up. Getting that real life practice is what really makes your new language stick.”
I’ve heard a story of one Polish learner accidentally saying “Przyjechałem pająkiem” (“I came by spider”) instead of “Przyjechałem pociągiem” (“I came by train”). Sure, everyone laughed, but no one died. When I first started learning, I tried to order “Thursday shots of vodka” at a bar, mistaking the word “czwartek” (“Thursday”) for “cztery” (“four”). At some point, you might say something equally as embarrassing. One thing is for sure, you will never, ever, ever make the same mistake again!
It’s really not a big deal. Lose the ego, learn the language.
3. Eat that onion!
Renzo believes that unlike other languages which get tougher as you go along, Polish is a language which you have to absorb slowly. He says that once you’ve broken the back of the language, that’s when you really start to see a curve in your learning progress.[alert-announce]Renzo says:
“The language process of learning Polish is like an onion. It’s impossible basically to eat the whole thing at once, and you have to take it piece by piece and you might cry (struggle) a little, but at the end when you are done cooking, it tastes delicious.”
An analogy for Polish like no other! Need I say more?
4. Talk to natives
Natasha, like me, is a big advocate for speaking with natives. I’ll be the first to admit that at first it seems terrifying, but the only way to improve your speaking is to speak![alert-announce]Natasha says:
“I have found practicing Polish with other people helps a lot and it also builds my confidence when speaking it.”
As Natasha says, by speaking Polish you will actually gain confidence in speaking Polish! All you have to do is get started.
See this post for instructions on how to find a native to practise with and how to get the most out of your conversations.
If you really can’t bring yourself to speaking to another human being, here’s how to practise by yourself:
5. Keep listening
Ruslan’s top tip is all about keeping in contact with the language and improving your listening ability.[alert-announce]Ruslan says:
“Try to listen to Polish on [a] daily basis.”
It’s short and sweet, but very, very powerful.
Mario certainly agrees. He listens to Polish at every available opportunity. Here’s a technique that he finds useful.[alert-announce]Mario says:
“Listening to Polish music and radio stations! Like aaallll the time (in the car, at the gym, etc)…and at the same time trying to recognize words while I listen.”
Click here for a list of Polish radio stations to suit every taste:
However, don’t fall into the trap of passive listening. You’ll learn nothing from the process. If you can’t even pay full attention to what you’re listening to, how do you expect to learn anything?
6. Substitute formal classes with conversation
7. Use it or lose it
Rob is a heritage Polish speaker who grew up speaking Polish at home. “I never had any formal training,” he told me. Rob joined italki to help keep his Polish fresh. “I don’t have much occasion to speak Polish anymore and I feel like its slipping away slowly,” he added.
Although he didn’t feel that he could provide a specific tip, I think there are two hidden in what he says. If you’re a heritage learner, you can substitute formal classes with conversation using a website like italki. The other tip is to make sure to speak Polish to ensure you don’t lose your skills. Even native speakers can forget the language if they don’t keep practising!
8. Master the basics
Pia started learning on italki in December 2016. Half of her family are Polish and she wants to learn to be able to confidently speak and understand Polish with her friends and family. Because of her unique background, Pia’s tip comes from the lessons she learned in childhood.[alert-announce]Pia says:
“When I was young my parents sent me for Polish lessons for several years…while I wasn’t fluent by the end of them, I had learnt the grammatical side of things and basic vocab which has stuck with me. So I understand the letters and different sounds and female vs male words, etc….I would say a basic [understanding] of that can help a lot!”
In short, it’s important to get on top of the basics. Sure, you might want to go and learn more exciting parts of the language, but with a solid grounding in the basics, you’ll find everything else a lot easier!
Unlike Pia, I wouldn’t recommend learning the grammatical side of things early on. In fact, I’d advise putting it off for as long as is physically possible! There are three reasons I suggest this.
- You will actually learn a lot of grammar implicitly anyway.
- Learning it early on can be hugely demotivating.
- By putting it off, you’ll end up learning the grammar that you need to know when you need to learn it.
Of course, that’s just my personal opinion. If you’re a huge fan of grammar and want to get stuck in from Day 1, go for it! Just remember that grammar comes from language, but language doesn’t come from grammar. Knowing grammar rules and speaking grammatically correct (or is that “grammatically correctly”?) are two completely different things.
9. Write things down
Kirsty describes herself as “a beginner with a long way to go”, but still has a fantastic tip to share which will help with remember words.[alert-announce]Kirsty says:
“I’m a slow learner so my top tip for learning is write words down. It took me a whole day to spell the days of the week and another day just to say them!”
I rarely write Polish by hand, but sometimes wonder if the movement involved to write something by hand helps us to remember it better. That certainly seems to be the thought process behind things like the Goldlist vocabulary learning technique. The technique’s inventor, David J. James, explains why handwriting is vital on Huliganov.tv.
“It is a long-term memory function, which is why your signature always comes out the same, year in, year out, and you don’t even need to think about it consciously.” – David J. James
Makes sense to me. Perhaps it’s worth us investing in a small notebook!
10. Read labels
Vicky has a rather unconventional tip to share which will help you find comprehensible input wherever you are. Even on the toilet![alert-announce]Vicky says:
“Read the labels on toiletries whilst you’re sitting on the loo. So many tubes/bottles are printed with multilingual packaging now and nearly all of the products in my bathroom (which were bought in the UK) have not only Polish, but multiple other languages on them. Obviously, don’t obsess over weird chemical ingredients, but the instructions and other bits contain pretty useful stuff.”
What Vicky is describing is a perfect way to get more comprehensible input. Comprehensible input is input that you can understand – whether that’s using translations, pictures or other explanations. I’ve personally found that by reading the English first, it helps you understand the Polish better. I have no idea why and maybe this is only the case for me, so try it out both ways and see which works for you. Whenever you go to an attraction, ask for leaflets in both English and Polish. You can compare the two and pick up words as you go!
BONUS – 11. Focus on the language that you need
It wouldn’t be right to create a list of top tips from Polish learners and not contribute, so here is one from myself.
[alert-announce]Nathan from HowToSpeakPolish.com says:
[/alert-announce] Let me break this down for you.
“Focus on the language that you need.”
That means concentration. If you’re passively listening to something, that is not concentration. If you’re doing another task, that is not concentration. Even if you let your mind wander, that is not concentration.
Focus is key to learning to speak Polish. Without it, things will just go in one ucho and out the other.
…on the language…
It’s not obvious what I mean by this. When I say “the language”, I mean one specific language. I also mean the specific type of language that you require.
If you are learning Polish and French, every moment you spend doing French is a moment that you could have been using to improve your Polish. One at a time will lead to better progress. After all, focus is key to learning to speak Polish. You cannot serve two masters.
There are different flavours of Polish to learn. Colloquial Polish, formal Polish and academic Polish are three of the most popular. You need to figure out and work on which flavour you want to learn. Pick one and then master it. Focus is the key to…you get the idea.
…that you need
If you never cook, don’t learn kitchen vocabulary.
Unless you’re a gardener, don’t memorise different types of flowers.
If you’re not a savant, don’t look up every word.
You will never learn every language. You will never learn every word in any language. You have to be selective.
If you’re not sure what to learn, get talking or writing in Polish. When you come across a word or phrase that you don’t know how to say in Polish, that is what you should learn. If you’re listening to or reading something in Polish that you would normally listen to or read if it were in English and you come across a word or phrase that you don’t know how to say, that is what you should learn. Everything else should be left behind. You don’t need it now and you probably never will.[alert-warning]TL;DR: If you’re looking for tips on how to learn Polish, ask other Polish learners! You can get the answers to questions that you have about Polish by going to my Ask Questions page: http://www.howtospeakpolish.com/ask/[/alert-warning]