Your pronunciation is part of your personality. Your accent defines who you are – or at least part of it. However, if you want to be understood while speaking Polish, it’s important that your native accent doesn’t mask what you are saying. Although you may not necessarily want to emulate a Polish accent, achieving something similar will ensure that you’re easily understood.
There are many ways to improve your pronunciation whilst speaking Polish, but all of them boil down to the same thing: Copying native speakers. Cantus agrees:
— Cantus (@_Cantus) 29 November 2016
@How2SpeakPolish If I say a word and they look confused then it’s a good indication I’ve said it wrong. Usually people are very helpful.
— Cantus (@_Cantus) 29 November 2016
To find out how to find a native speaker to practise with, read my post about conversation exchanges.
Even if you don’t have a native speaker to help you, there are other alternatives which I share below as well as the most effective way to learn how to speak Polish with perfect pronunciation. Let’s look at a few useful techniques, starting with shadowing. If you’re more a visual person, you can watch this video instead.
Shadowing – how to do it
One of shadowing’s biggest proponents is Professor Alexander Arguelles. If you want, you can watch a video of him explaining the technique in detail on YouTube.
Personally, I’ve never had the time to watch it all (Does it really take a whole hour to explain?), but the general gist from the bits that I’ve seen is to listen to recorded audio whilst trying to say the words that you hear at the same time (plus there’s an additional part about walking that I don’t think anyone except the professor himself actually does). While a transcript isn’t compulsory, it certainly helps.
Why I don’t like shadowing, even though it might work
I’ve tried this method myself (although admittedly not for a significant length of time) and…I didn’t like it. Plus, I looked really strange doing it. It could be that my Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone book and audiobook combination just wasn’t a good fit. To be honest, trying to find transcripts for Polish audio is hard enough in the first place, so maybe shadowing just isn’t as suitable for Polish as it is for other languages.
I also think that there’s another reason I couldn’t stick with it – it was really, really, really hard. Even doing it in English, I struggle. Imagine watching a TV show with subtitles and trying to say the speech along with the characters. You’d never know when they were going to say a line or how they were going to say it unless you’d seen the show before and watched it over and over again…and that’s just boring.
Repeat what you hear
A better method to improve your pronunciation is simply repeating what you hear. When you hear something in Polish, every so often, just try and repeat it out loud. Get your tongue moving – it’s all practice. You won’t catch every word at first, but it’s a good start.
Some people suggest that you should record yourself to find out where you need to improve. If you’ve got a native speaker to critique you, this might be a good method, but if you haven’t, I personally can’t see much benefit. Perhaps later on when you’re more aware of how words are supposed to be pronounced, you might be able to self critique your own accent, but for many people, even the sheer thought of recording themselves would make them cringe. Surely there must be another way?
Sing your way to success
Fortunately, there is a much better way. A far superior way of improving your accent that doesn’t look weird, doesn’t sound weird, doesn’t involve any recording, doesn’t require any critiquing and is actually fun. Yes, you read correctly – FUN! What is it? Singing!
Seriously – pick a Polish song you like, look up the lyrics and just sing along. You’re listening and repeating after a native speaker with a transcript, just in musical form. The closer you can mimic the artist performing the song, the more native you’ll sound. After all, they are native!
Does that mean that you’ll sound like you’re singing every time you speak? Of course not! But the more you practise, the more you’ll be able to pronounce things exactly how a native speaker would – even when speaking.
If you add the lyrics alongside their translations into Anki, you’ll learn all of the lyrics of the song as well as their meanings, meaning that you can sing along even without having a copy of the lyrics handy. Tone deaf? Sing in the shower, in the car or while walking the dog. No other humans ever have to know.
Singing isn’t for me. Any other alternatives?
If you hate all Polish music or don’t fancy singing either in public or in private, there are other options. Text-to-speech software, also known as TTS, allows you to input whatever Polish you’d like to know how to pronounce before reading it to you in a computerised Polish voice. They’re not perfect, but the voices on Google Translate and Yandex Translate sound near native and are definitely good pronunciation models for when you don’t have a (patient enough) native to repeat themselves over and over again. Try them out yourself – type something in Polish into the text box, select Polish as the language and then click on the sound icon to hear it pronounced. Replay it and repeat after it as many times as is necessary to nail down perfect pronunciation. Short sentences work best.
What’s the most efficient way to pronounce words like a Pole?
The absolute best way to acquire an amazing Polish accent is to practise saying Polish tongue twisters. As even Poles struggle to say them, practising them until you can say them even remotely close to how they’re supposed to be said will work wonders for your pronunciation skills and impress any of the Poles that you come across. Whenever a Polish person tells me how difficult Polish pronunciation is, I usually reply “W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie” and then go back to drinking my beer. After all, if you can say that, then you can say anything!
Don’t be discouraged!
Here was my attempt to take on the “nine most unpronounceable words in Polish” back in December 2016: żółć, szczęście, Pszczyna, następstw, źdźbło, bezwzględny, Szymankowszczyzna, Szczebrzeszyn and Grzegorz Brzęczyszczykiewicz.
If I can do it, so can you! (Even if I cant spell Szymankowszczyzna properly.)[alert-announce]
Polish Pronunciation Programme
If you really want to improve your Polish pronunciation, check out my course “Polish Pronunciation Programme” here:
http://www.howtospeakpolish.com/ppp[/alert-announce] [alert-warning]TL;DR: As mimicking native speakers is the only way to reduce your accent, finding lyrics and singing along to Polish music is one of the best ways to improve your accent, allowing Poles to understand you easier when you speak.[/alert-warning]