This is the bit where you expect me to tell you how hard learning Polish is and how it takes a long time. Nope. Not from me. I know how important mindset is to learning a language and the last thing I’d want to do is put you off before you even start.

The first step is getting you ready to learn how to speak Polish. Think of it as the setup step. You’ll need to get three things ready to move onto step two: Anki, Immersion and Motivation.

Let’s start with Anki.

Anki, the ultimate Polish language learning tool.

Misadvertising alert – Anki is not only not a Polish language learning tool, but it’s technically not even a language learning tool. It’s actually a memorisation program. Nonetheless, language learners across the globe have been using this free software for years to learn languages. It’s not as slick as Memrise or Quizlet or Duolingo, but it’s extremely powerful, customisable and I’ve even gone to the trouble of making you some resources to go along with it to help you speed up the fiddly process of setting it up.

You’ve been warned – all that potential for customisation comes with a little bit of confusion. That’s why all of the Polish Perfection Packs come with a video tutorial which shows you how to get up and running in minutes.

Everything that you need to speak Polish

You probably already have everything that you need to learn how to speak Polish. Here’s a list of all that you need to complete my method:

  1. A PC or a Mac with internet access. (Please note, this website only gives instructions for PC users. I’m not cool enough to own a Mac!)
  2. The Anki SRS software, complete with the AwesomeTTS (Code: 301952613), MCD Support for Anki (Code: 160835825) and Replay buttons on card add ons (Code: 498789867). I’ll tell you how to install these plugins later. Where possible, you should also have the Anki software installed on your smartphone (iOS, Android) to allow you the benefit of being able to learn how to speak Polish wherever you are without having to be stuck in front of a computer.
  3. A Polish language phrasebook with language in both the target language and English. Preferably, this will be for speakers of Polish learning English as opposed to the other way around. If you can’t afford an actual book, there are less extensive online phrasebooks that you could use instead.
  4. The iTunes software.
  5. A YouTube account.

That’s all you need to learn how to speak Polish and is probably things which you either already have or could easily get for free. Optionally, to save yourself the time and effort of typing out thousands of Polish sentences and their English translations, you’d probably prefer to download a pre-made Polish Perfection Pack. Each pack contains thousands of Polish sentences, their English translations and accompanying sound files to correct your terrible pronunciation. Find out more about the Polish Perfection Packs on the Resources page:

http://www.howtospeakpolish.com/resources

Assuming you haven’t downloaded a pre-made Polish Perfection Pack pack, here’s how to get started with Anki:

Setting up

I’ll do my best to keep this page updated, but sometimes subtle things change in Anki as the program is continually improved. If you notice a subtle difference between what I’ve written and what you can see, use your best judgement.

  • Install and open Anki. Click Tools, Preferences and set the Timebox Time Limit to 15 minutes. Also make sure that the second drop down menu has “Show New Cards After Reviews” selected.
  • Click Tools, Add-ons, Browse and Install…, then copy and paste the code for the AwesomeTTS add on (Code: 301952613).
  • Click Tools, Add-ons, Browse and Install…, then copy and paste the code for the MCD Support for Anki add on (Code: 160835825).
  • Click Tools, Add-ons, Browse and Install… and then copy and paste the code for the Replay buttons on card add on (Code: 498789867). Now restart Anki.
  • Configure the Default deck by clicking on its accompanying settings icon, and then clicking on Options.

Anki’s Default Options group should be set up as follows:

New Cards:
  • Steps (in minutes): 0.4 2 10 50 250
  • Order: Show new cards in random order
  • New cards/day: 15
  • Graduating interval: 1 days
  • Easy interval: 2 days
  • Starting ease: 500%
  • Bury related new card until the next day: Selected
Reviews:
  • Maximum reviews/day: 99999
  • Easy bonus: 120%
  • Interval modifier: 95%
  • Maximum interval: 99999 days
  • Bury related reviews until the next day: Selected
Lapses:
  • Steps (in minutes): 0.4 2 10 50 250
  • New interval: 20%
  • Minimum interval: 1 day
  • Leech threshold: 6 lapses
  • Leech action: Suspend Card
General:
  • Ignore answer times longer than: 60 seconds
  • Show answer timer: Unselected
  • Automatically play audio: Selected
  • When answer shown, replay both question and answer audio: Unselected.
Whether it’s 5 cards or 10 cards for you, the number of cards that you study each day should be so low that you can consistently study all of your Anki reviews. When you first start learning, you’ll be highly motivated and will be eager to do as many as possible. That motivation fades, so to make sure that you don’t burn yourself out, stick to a slow, comfortable pace that you know you’ll be able to achieve everyday. Should you find yourself overwhelmed with too many cards on a regular basis, lower the number of new cards per day (highlighted in green above) to a more suitable number.

Of course, the less cards you study, the slower your progress will be, but you can always put it back up again to 15 – or even higher (mine is currently set to 30) – as your Polish level improves. Don’t worry about studying a small number everyday – they all add up. Learning just 5 new words a day works out to more than 1,800 Polish words over the course of a year!

Creating a new custom Note Type

After you have set Anki up, click “Tools”, “Manage Note Types…”, then “Add” followed by “Clone: Cloze”.  Name your new card template “Polish”. Select your new card template type in the list and click on “Fields”. Add, rename and reposition fields so that you have four fields in the order “Text”, “English Translation” and “Sound”, respectively.

With the “Text” field selected, select the “Sort by this field in the browser” radio button option. Close the Fields dialog box.

In the Note Types dialog box, select the new Note Type that you’ve just created and click on “Cards”. Use the following settings to customise your cards accordingly.

If you’re not comfortable editing the HTML and CSS on the card, you can download a pre-made Polish Perfection Pack which has already been made for you from the Resources section.

FRONT TEMPLATE

<span id="task">Guess the missing word. There might be more than one that fits, so list all of the potential options.</span><br/><span id="engtrans">{{English Translation}}</span><br/>{{cloze:Text}}<br/><br class="smallbr"/>

{{type:cloze:Text}}

STYLING

a, .card {
font-family: arial;
font-size: 2em;
text-align: center;
color: white; /* Text */
background-color: firebrick /* Background */
}
a { opacity: 0.7;}
.cloze, #engtrans {
font-weight: bold;
color: black; /* Cloze and English Translation*/
}
div#halftrans { opacity: 0.3;}
code#typeans { font-family: arial; font-size: 1.4em}
#task {font-size: 0.8em; font-weight:bold}
a {font-size: 0.7em}
.smallbr {font-size:0.5em}
.linkimage {height:3em; padding: 0.5em; margin-bottom: -1.75em}

BACK TEMPLATE

<span id="task">Listen to the sentence, repeat it, then rate how easily you recalled the missing word.</span><br/><div id="halftrans"><span id="engtrans">{{English Translation}}</span></div><tts service="yandex" voice="pl">{{cloze:Text}}</tts><br/>{{Sound}}<br/><br class="smallbr"/>
<span id="s1">{{type:cloze:Text}}</span><br/>
<a id="dictlink" href="#"></a><br/><br/>
<a id="twitterlink" href="#"></a><br/><br/>
<a id="googlelink" href="#"></a><br/><br/>
<a id="imagelink" href="#"></a>
<span id="s2" style="display:none"></span>
<span id="s3" style="display:none"></span>
<span id="s4" style="display:none"></span>
<span id="s5" style="display:none"></span>
<script>
var countryCode = "pl"; // change country code here. 'pl' is Polish.
var html = document.getElementById("s1").innerHTML;
var div = document.createElement("div");
div.innerHTML = html;
var text = div.textContent || div.innerText || "";
var text2 = text.replace(/^\s+|\s+$/g,'');
var arrow = text2.indexOf('↓');
var text2length = text2.length;
arrow += 1;
var text3 = text2.substring(arrow, text2length);
var text3 = text3.replace('↓', ''); //new line added to remove arrow
var text3 = text3.replace('✔', ''); //new line added to remove tick
var text3 = text3.trim();
document.getElementById("s5").innerHTML = "https\://www.google.com/images?q=" + text3 + "+site\:." + countryCode;
link = document.getElementById("s5").innerHTML;
document.getElementById('imagelink').href = link;
document.getElementById('imagelink').innerHTML = "<img class='linkimage' src='http://www.howtospeakpolish.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/images.png' />" + "Look at images of \"" + text3 + "\" to make sure you don't forget what it means";
if (countryCode == "pl") {
document.getElementById("s4").innerHTML = "http\://sjp.pwn.pl/szukaj/" + text3 + ".html";
link = document.getElementById("s4").innerHTML;
document.getElementById('dictlink').href = link;
document.getElementById('dictlink').innerHTML = "<img class='linkimage' src='http://www.howtospeakpolish.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/dictionary.png' />" + "Look up \"" + text3 + "\" in a Polish dictionary to avoid learning an incorrect meaning";
}
document.getElementById("s3").innerHTML = "https\://www.twitter.com/search\?q\=" + text3 + "%20lang%3A" + countryCode;
link = document.getElementById("s3").innerHTML;
document.getElementById('twitterlink').href = link;
document.getElementById('twitterlink').innerHTML = "<img class='linkimage' src='http://www.howtospeakpolish.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/reading.png' />" + "Read \"" + text3 + "\" in context to prevent misuse";
document.getElementById("s2").innerHTML = "https://translate.google.com/#" + countryCode + "/en/" + text3;
link = document.getElementById("s2").innerHTML;
document.getElementById('googlelink').href = link;
document.getElementById('googlelink').innerHTML = "<img class='linkimage' src='http://www.howtospeakpolish.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/translate.png' />" + "Translate \"" + text3 + "\" to ensure you haven't misinterpreted it";
</script>

AnkiMobile

If you install Anki on your smartphone, you will have a different range of options available to you, depending on the model of phone which you have. After syncing your cards via your AnkiWeb account, use the following settings:

GENERAL SETTINGS

  • Fetch Media on Sync: Selected
  • Automatic synchronization: Selected
  • Language: System Language

REVIEWING

  • New card position: Mix new cards and reviews
  • Start of next day 3 hours past midnight.
  • Timebox time limit: 15 min
  • Show button time: Deselected
  • Show remaining: Deselected
  • Automatically display answer: Deselected

The rest of the settings shall be left to you to decide.

Immersion – Useful, but not for the reasons you think

I’ve written extensively about immersion on this website and why I believe living in a country to learn a language is overrated. I learned how to speak Polish without living in Poland. How? By bringing Poland to me. That’s where immersion comes in and you can do it very simply wherever you are by using the internet.

Rather than repeat everything that I said in this blog post…

…I’ll sum it up here in a few sentences.

  1. If you can’t be in Poland, fake it.
  2. Poles are everywhere – talk to them.
  3. Translate your life.

The first two should be fairly self-explanatory. “Translating your life” may require a bit more of an explanation. It’s as simple as this.

Do what you were going to do anyway, but in Polish.

That’s right. Were you going to watch a movie? Watch a Polish movie.

Reading a book? Read a Polish book.

Writing a shopping list? Write the shopping list in Polish.

Of course, you don’t have to do this with everything, but the more things you do it with – the Polish is integrated with your life – the quicker and the easier you will learn it. That is exactly what people are talking about when they talk about “immersion”. There are many people who live in England who cannot speak English. They are surrounded by the language as well as native speakers. Why can’t they speak English? Because they don’t need to. They can get by speaking the language(s) they already know with other people that speak that language. They probably watch TV and listen to the radio is that language too. English isn’t part of their lives, so they don’t speak it. However, if you had an job where your customers only spoke English and your boss only spoke English and you had to write documents only in English, you’d have no choice but to use English.

Immersion doesn’t help you learn a language, necessity does.

Give yourself no choice by translating as much of your life as possible. It could be as simple as finding a Polish radio station that you like, changing the language on your phone and computer and following Polish accounts on Instagram.

The more you translate your life, the easier you’ll find it to speak Polish.

Motivation – the thing that keeps you going

Starting to learn Polish is easy. Continuing is hard. That’s why you require a motivator.

I’ve written a huge post about motivation here:

The gist of it is: Have a consequence.

If you bet a friend $100 that you’d be able to have a 15 minute conversation with a Polish person in 6 months, you’d do it. You’d probably learn how to do it in three months, just to avoid losing the bet. You see, we don’t like to lose things. It’s the same reason why people hoard stuff. The idea of not having it is too hard to bear.

When I first started learning, I bet Anna 100 zloty that I would talk only Polish for 24 hours. She didn’t think I could do it. I didn’t think I could do it. But I did. Because I didn’t want to give her 100 zloty.

There are plenty of things which you can do, all of which are detailed in that article. Set a specific goal – something that you want to achieve with Polish – and give yourself a consequence if you don’t achieve that goal. Ask a friend to help you. It has to be a real consequence. Saying you’ll give £50 to your favourite charity if you don’t achieve your goal is not going to motivate you. However, saying you’ll donate $75 to a political party that you hate will.

It doesn’t have to be money based, it could be time based. I hate hanging around in the make up store whenever Anna is choosing make up. I once bet her that I would speak Polish for a whole two days and if I didn’t do it, I would have to come to the make up store with her, help her pick it out AND pay for it. Unfortunately, because she started speaking English to me and I responded in English, I actually lost the bet. However, given the circumstances, she didn’t take my money.

THIS IS VERY BAD.

I failed my challenge and had no consequence. So, now I know that Anna is a bad judge and won’t take my money if I fail. Find someone who will enforce it. Someone you can trust to punish you. Someone that you know will follow through.

If you fear the consequences, you’ll do what it takes to avoid them.

Ready for step 2?

So by now you should have Anki set up, an immersion environment in place and a specific Polish learning goal and consequence if you don’t achieve it.

It’s time for step 2.

Proceed to Step 2: F.I.R.E

P.S. If you’re just reading along to get an idea of how the method works, that’s great. However, it would be much more useful if you actually used Anki to get an idea of how it works. See my resources page where you can download a Polish Perfection Pack and start learning how to speak Polish in minutes.