If you want to learn a language, there’s no better way than by speaking with natives.
There are two ways to easily practise speaking with natives online – one being language exchanges (free) and the other being paid Polish language lessons (not free, but can be cheap).
In this blog post, I’ll be talking specifically about the paid option and the reasons that I recommend it over its free alternative.
That’s right – even though I achieved incredible results with completely free language exchanges alone, if you can afford them, I highly recommend paying for Polish lessons. I’ll explain why below.
Why you need Polish lessons in the first place
First of all, I should clarify that when I say Polish “lessons”, I’m actually referring to any amount of speaking time where you can practise speaking Polish with a native and get feedback.
A “lesson” doesn’t have to be with a qualified teacher or follow a particular structure, but it does have to provide you with feedback about what you’re doing right and, more importantly, where you need to improve.
You might think that talking to a Polish person that you know already will be beneficial to learning Polish (and you’d be right). However, there are still many advantages of having a Polish tutor to practise online with via Skype or Google Hangouts.
For a start, It saves the Polish people you already know the burden of trying to teach you the language, plus you get a written log of your mistakes.
They’re extremely affordable and, providing you have a suitable electronic device, you can do Polish lessons online from anywhere on Earth where you have Internet access.
The bonus of having a Polish tutor
Your Polish tutor is also likely to understand your needs as they’ll have taught other learners like you and may have gone through a similar struggle in order to learn English or another language.
I recommend having at least two people to practise with to avoid straining any relationships with the Polish natives that you already have in your life!
Stop bugging your friends and family for free Polish lessons!
Do you have a Polish partner, family member or work colleague? They might teach you the odd phrase here and there, but they probably don’t want to actually teach you their language.
Because it’s hard. They probably don’t know how to explain some things to you and might not even know the answers to your questions themselves.
Being a native speaker doesn’t necessarily mean that you’d make a very good tutor either. Natives learned Polish in a completely different way to how us foreigners have to learn it.
So, whatever you do, please don’t rely on the Polish people that you already know to help you learn Polish. By all means, chat to them in Polish when you can, but remember that it’s not their job to teach you – especially if you’re not paying them to do it.
There are tons of people out there (myself included) that can help you improve your Polish, without you having to put an unnecessary strain on your relationships.
Learning Polish is great fun, but it isn’t worth falling out with your loved ones. Be sensible and get a tutor. Two tutors, if you can afford it.
With online Polish lessons, you get a log of your mistakes
If there’s one question I ask in almost every single Polish lesson, it’s “Jak to się pisze?” (How is it written?).
When one of my tutors correct me while we’re talking, I don’t rely on just remembering what they said, I ask them to write it down and I repeat the correct sentence out loud.
After the conversation, I can make a computerised flashcard with the correction to study later so that I never make the same mistake again.
This doesn’t just work for corrections – if my tutor says an unfamiliar word, I’ll ask them to write it down for me too.
Ask your tutor “Jak to się pisze?” (How is it written?) whenever they say a correction or a word that you’re unfamiliar with.
I also used to record my Skype conversations on my PC with a piece of software called iFree Skype Recorder. You can’t do that with face-to-face conversation!
I stopped recording my conversations because I rarely listened to them, but the recordings were occasionally quite handy. If there was a correction that I missed that wasn’t written down, I could always go back and listen to the recording to find out what it was.
It’s was also nice to have a record of how my Polish was improving over time, although the earlier recordings were cringeworthy!
You can do Polish language lessons from anywhere (with Internet)
You can do a Polish language lesson from anywhere that you have internet. I really mean anywhere.
As long as you both have a device that can do video chat, know what time you’re supposed to be talking, and have an internet connection, there’s nothing stopping you.
I’ve had Polish conversations whilst walking home from work, I’ve done a few whilst lying on the sofa…I even did one from bed.
The most productive place that I’ve found to have Polish lessons is at my desk, but if there’s a particular armchair that you like or a coffee shop you just love to go to, take your lessons from there.
You really can do them from anywhere. The possibilities are endless. Just don’t do them on the toilet!
Your Polish tutor understands your needs
More likely than not, your Polish tutor will know what you need to progress.
Your tutor is either going through or has been through a similarly difficult language learning journey to yours. Plus, they’ll have more than likely spoken to dozens of other learners who have had similar issues to you.
Your tutor might recommend you resources, send you links or help you read things.
They could give you simple explanations, rephrase things to make themselves easier to understand or check your comprehension of Polish idioms – phrases which they use (like “raining cats and dogs” and “barking up the wrong tree”) which have an alternative meaning.
Some tutors might write your corrections in full sentences, speak extra slow for you or guide you with pronunciation.
My wonderful Polish tutors do all of the above.
If your Polish tutor is not doing something that they could be doing to help you, all you have to do is ask. You’re paying them, after all.
It won’t feel weird speaking Polish with them
Let me explain this really strange thing which is going on.
My wife, Anna, who is Polish and lives in England, speaks to me in English.
Her dad, who is Polish and lives in Poland, only speaks to me in English.
Her late nan, her late uncle and her cousin only ever spoke to me in Polish.
Roughly half of the family in Warsaw speak to me in Polish and the other half speak to me in English. Weirdly, we could all be sitting at the dinner table and I’d have to switch language depending on who I’m talking to.
What makes this even stranger is that all of the family are Polish and they all speak Polish to each other.
So why do some people speak to me in English while others speak to me in Polish?
It’s simple, really.
We have continued to speak the language that we were introduced to each other in, regardless of our proficiency level in that language.
I remember asking my wife, Anna, to speak to me in Polish many times, but mid-conversation and sometimes even mid-sentence, she would automatically switch back to English.
It was just natural. Even now, we still speak to each other in English out of habit.
I’ve spoken to waiters and waitresses in Poland who, after initially starting speaking to me in English, have realised that I can speak Polish and yet have still continued to speak to me in English.
Of course, sometimes people just want to get a bit of English practice and others are just trying to be polite, but you’ll usually find that if you’re used to speaking a certain language with someone, it tends to stick.
The best part is you can use this to your advantage.
Having a dedicated Polish tutor that you only speak Polish with means that it will become natural for you to speak Polish with them and unnatural for you to speak English with them.
This is very easy to do: Just enforce the no-English rule from day one! Occasional slips are OK, but the vast majority of what you say should be in Polish to get the full benefit.
Where to get the best online Polish lessons
When it comes to Polish lessons, I can only recommend you one resource because it’s the only one that I’ve personally used: italki.
With more than 3 million users on the site, it’s very easy to find a Polish tutor that will help you with your Polish at a price that suits you.
My top tips for effective Polish lessons
Once you’ve found a tutor and made the bold step of booking a lesson, you’ve made one of the most important step towards improving your Polish you could ever make.
To make the most of the time that you have with your tutor, here are my top tips for effective Polish lessons.
Do do these during your lesson
- Do use earphones. You’ll need to be able to hear your tutor over any background noise or chatty significant others
- Do only speak in Polish. If you don’t know how to say something in Polish, either say something else or search for what you want to say using an online translator. The rule is simple: If it helps you get the point across in Polish, use it
- Do come prepared with a topic that you’d like to discuss. If it’s something you don’t know the words for, prepare something in advance, if you can
- Do ask your tutor for corrections. If you have a list of written corrections, you can look them up after the conversation and even turn them into computerised flashcards
- Do always show up – on time. If you’re either not going to be on time or need to cancel, send your tutor a message on Skype and/or italki, giving them as much notice as possible. You might even be able to rearrange at no charge if you give them enough notice
- Do allow yourself more time than you have scheduled. Your Polish lesson might overrun by a few minutes, so don’t put something in the oven and forget about it
- Do always thank your tutor. Whether you’re paying them or not, they’ve given up their time to teach you how to speak Polish. The least you can do is say “thank you”
- Do have more than one tutor, if you can afford it. Ideally, you should have at least one male and one female tutor. Some Polish words change depending on whether you’re speaking or referring to either a man or a woman. Having both to talk to will not only give you the opportunity to learn the terms for both genders, but should one of your tutors be unavailable one week, you still have another one to speak with.
Don’t do these things during your Polish lesson
- Don’t keep talking about the same things. If you’re not sure what to talk about either practise asking and answering a few questions from your phrasebook or pick a language exchange topic instead. If there isn’t something topical on Onet for you to discuss, there are plenty of websites available with example topics to choose from
- Don’t do more than an hour of Polish lessons in a day. You might burn yourself out by taking on too much, particularly in the beginning stages of learning how to speak Polish
- Don’t do more than four hour of Polish lessons a week. While you could do this, and you’d see great improvements, you probably shouldn’t sacrifice your social life to learn Polish. After all, no one wants to speak to a boring person!
- Don’t forget to send your tutor a message when you’re ready to start. That means that they know when they can call you
- Don’t ditch a tutor before having at least three lessons with them. The first few lessons can be a bit awkward, so give it a bit of time before choosing to pull the plug. I’ve found three to be the magic number in general. Of course, if your tutor is a weirdo, extremely dull, or you just can’t stand talking to them, then cut them loose early. As you’ll see from my log, I’ve had well over 50 conversations with some tutors and less than 5 with others. Be brutal. There are 40 million Poles on the planet. If you don’t like talking with this one, find someone else
- Don’t forget that you will have good days and bad days. Keep a language log, even just a basic one, so that you can see exactly how much progress you’ve made so far when the time gets tough.
How can I have a Polish lesson if I only know the basics?
“I’ve been enjoying reading your blog and getting some more tips. A question I have for you, if you don’t mind, is how to get the most out of a language exchange. In your blog you write about what to talk about, but I feel like there are so many, and I mean SO MANY holes in my vocabulary that I couldn’t really talk about these things. You also wrote that your first exchanges were “cringeworthy”, which I can’t imagine mine wouldn’t be either. Basically, I feel like my Polish is so elementary that I really cannot express myself. What would you say is the best way to proceed?”
First off, I just have to say what a great question this is.
Painfully, I know exactly what this feels like.
Before my first Polish conversation, a language exchange, I guesstimated that I’d be able to talk for about 30 seconds before I’d run out of things to say.
I’d rehearsed a few things – for example, how to say my name, where I live, where my family come from, where I worked and why I was learning Polish. So, I decided to stretch myself and looked for a partner who’d be willing to do 30 minutes in Polish in exchange for 30 minutes in English.
So how on Earth did I survive this 30 minute ordeal?
Unfortunately, the best way to explain what I mean by “cheating” is by doing something that I swore that I would never do.
I’m going to post the recording of my very first Polish conversation.
This was my first ever conversation in Polish. Yes, you read correctly. My first EVER conversation in Polish.
To save you listening to it (it’s painfully bad), let me give you a few take away points:
- Despite never having any Polish lessons, or completing a course, or living in Poland, I could actually keep the conversation going
- When I didn’t know something in Polish, I just asked in English how to say it. My partner wanted to practise his English with me anyway, so I killed two birds with one stone
- When I didn’t understand something that my partner said, I just guessed. If it was a yes/no question, I pretty much always answered “Yes”. If there was an awkward pause, I said “OK”
- I got the word “Kindle” mixed up with the word for “toilet”…and no one died
- My language partner asked me some ridiculously difficult questions that I was never, ever, ever going to be able to answer in Polish
If you did listen to the audio, a few things may surprise you.
The most surprising is that I actually knew how to say quite a lot in Polish.
How? In a word, Anki.
I’d used the very computerised flashcards that you’ll find on this site and had worked solely on building my understanding of Polish.
By understanding the correct way of saying things, I was able to produce something remotely correct myself. Not perfect, but passable.
As I said in the recording, I’d only actually being using the flashcards for a couple of months and had already achieved great results, which is one of the reasons I recommend that all Polish language learners who want to improve their Polish download and study the same computerised flashcards that I did (and still do!).
Why is studying with computerised flashcards so effective?If you want to find out why studying with computerised flashcards is so effective, click on the link below. https://www.howtospeakpolish.com/flashcards
When I didn’t know how to say something, I just typed it into Google Translate.
There are no rules to say that you can’t use phrasebooks, dictionaries, translators or even English in your Polish lessons.
Personally, I avoid English entirely in my lessons and really benefit from doing so, but that doesn’t mean that you have to.
In fact, in the past, I’ve even mimed what I was trying to express instead of using English.
My advice is to throw everything you’ve got at getting your point across without using English: Books, flashcards, interpretive dance – whatever.
If those don’t work, use English.
You can always build up the amount of time that you speak in Polish during the lessons over time.
Get your point across and ask your tutor to tell you the correct way to say it in Polish. Turn their corrections into computerised flashcards and you’ll be able to say it correctly from that point forwards.
Remember to enjoy yourself!
Don’t forget to have fun!
Paradoxically, you’ll speak more fluently with tutors who correct you less, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re necessarily speaking better Polish.
Remember, if you’re not enjoying speaking with any of your Polish tutors, stop taking lessons with them.
This has been a huge post, so if you have any questions about the above, make sure to leave me a comment below.
More resources about Polish lessons
- I’ll be the first to say that I think Duolingo could do with a lot of improvement, but if you really can’t afford Polish lessons, then give it a shot
- If you’re looking for the easiest way to learn Polish, I’ve heard great things about Babbel’s app from other Polish language learners. I haven’t used it myself (Anki works for me and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it), but it’s still worth investigating
- David Snopek, who wrote this post then somewhat disappeared off of the face of the internet, was the only non-native Polish person around creating content for Polish learners when I started. I’d go as far as saying that he’s the main inspiration behind this site. I wanted to see who else was out there and go as big as possible. Anyway, he wrote this great guest post on Fluent in 3 Months explaining why Polish is easier than everyone thinks. I read it before I got started and now look at me! Well worth a read
- The Polish section of the Loecsen site is pretty much “How to speak Polish for Beginners” 101. If you’re just starting out, it’s worth a look at, but if you know your “Dzień dobry” from your “Dobry wieczór” then it might be a bit to basic for you
- We live in a wonderful time where we can even have pre-recorded Polish language lessons on YouTube. Make sure to check out this video from PolishPod101 explaining how to introduce yourself
What are your best tips for effective Polish lessons?
You can keep track of my conversations here and find out exactly how often and how long I spend doing them each week.
One of my most unusual tips is to always have a glass of water handy – you’d be surprised how much you might need it.
What are your best Polish lesson tips? Leave them in the comments below!