Learning Polish – being a true beginner (my newest challenge!)

Those of you who follow read my blog regularly will have seen a number of posts relating to my journey of learning Italian, something that I have thoroughly enjoyed doing. In my two 8-month stints in Palermo, I have managed to get myself from beginner level to intermediate level, though a lot of that improvement actually took place during the summer between those two contracts where I studied intensively and independently, partially to improve my Italian and partially to experiment with independent learning techniques.

This year, I am leaving Italy and returning to the UK, a move which I hope will be permanent. While I fully intend to hold on to my Italian (by speaking to Italian friends, reading in Italian and watching films in Italian, for example), I also decided that it was about time for a new linguistic challenge.

Enter Polish.

Why Polish?ย 

In no particular order:

  • I am a complete beginner at Polish. I can only say goodbye (but not spell it) – because once upon a time my mum had some Polish kids in her L2 unit at primary school. (Once I started secondary school, holidays did not coincide and so when I was on half term or holiday, I would often go into school with mum and listen to kids read and suchlike. The Polish children used to say goodbye in Polish at the end of the day when they went home.) = indubitably a challenge!
  • I have never tried to learn a language whose alphabet is different from English. Polish has some different letters, as well as using some consonant clusters that English either doesn’t use or doesn’t use in the same way. So, not as difficult as, say, learning Arabic would be but more difficult than French, German or Italian, which are the languages I have learnt to varying degrees so far. From a learning perspective, this is a challenge; from a teaching perspective, this should help me better understand the problems students whose L1 is further from English might experience.
  • My sister’s husband is Polish and his family don’t speak a lot of English, so it would be nice to be able to communicate basically with them when they visit. Of course, my sister is learning Polish too, for obvious reasons. And anything she can do, I can do better, right? Well, maybe not but we can egg each other on and practice together on Skype and stuff, I imagine. ๐Ÿ™‚ And of course, when I visit them, I get practice opportunities!
  • Sandy Millin is moving to Poland to take up a DoS job there, and I would like to visit, as I have never been to Poland before. It would be nice not to be completely helpless if this happens! Also, a bit of healthy competition never hurt anybody! ๐Ÿ˜‰

What I have done so far:

  • Downloaded a Memrise course in Beginners Polish.

(This was my starting point for Italian too…).

The good thing about this is the recordings that accompany the words and the memes that you have to choose to help you remember the words. The memes for my Italian course seemed all too often to involve random rather unhelpful busty blonde women, whereas the ones in this Polish course so far are quite useful memory aids. However, I have noticed that I can often remember the sound of the word via the meme, but then can’t remember the spelling associated with it. So on my list of things to do is get to grips with the sound-script thing. Fortunately this shouldn’t be tooooo difficult (famous last words?) because, as I understand it, Polish is written phonetically, with a very small number of exceptions. I need to stop applying English sound-spelling rules (dodgy as they are!) to Polish words.

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 11.27.03

Beginner…that’s me!


  • Looked for resources:ย 

This started as a hunt for Graded Readers, but apparently these are thin on the ground where Polish is concerned. What wouldn’t I give for an A1 Black Cat Graded Reader in Polish now… Nevertheless, I have found a Polish for Dummies book which looks promising (I have been looking at the free sample!). It comes with an audio disc (or, as I would get the e-book, an audio download) in that it explains the pronunciation and some grammar stuff, as one would expect, but also apparently has lots of conversations recorded. I feel like it would be helpful for me to just read and listen a bit to start with, to help me get to grips with what Polish looks like vs how it sounds, because in my life, I have not heard a lot of Polish or seen a lot of Polish. Hardly any, actually!

For Dummies like me! :-)

For Dummies like me! ๐Ÿ˜‰

I have also seen some Usborne Everyday Words flashcards, which I find rather appealing. Which reminds me, I must have a trawl through Quizlet and see if there is anything ready-made on there that I could use. I should also start to make my own in due course. The Usborne ones I saw have also reminded me that I could also post-it everything when I get back to the UK… ๐Ÿ˜€

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 11.23.45

Yay, pictures!


Finally, I will confess, Harry Potter in Polish has crossed my mind as a possibility… or perhaps Twilightย … using the same approach as I did with Italian initially, i.e. the original text and the translation side by side until I can manage without the original, but I think I need to get my head around pronunciation first!

Good old Harry Potter...!

Good old Harry Potter…!

What happens next?

  • Probably very little this week, being the last week of term and therefore very busy.ย If I can log on to my Memrise course a couple of times and do some review, I would be happy with that!
  • Once I am on holiday, download Polish for Dummies and start listening and reading. And work on the sound-spelling thing.
  • Then, when I get back to the UK, make myself a learning contract!

Of course, it’s going to be a bit different from last summer.

A) there is no time limit on the Polish, whereas with the Italian I wanted to get it down by the end of the summer last year.

B) I want to work on my other languages too – my French, my German and, of course, keep up the Italian. I am wondering what my brain will make of juggling 4 languages plus English on a regular basis. (Another experiment…) So I suppose my room will be little Europe rather than little Italy as it was last summer!

Let’s see what happens… I’ll aim to post another update in a month’s time! For that matter, I also aim to actually publish some of the pile of drafts that have built up on my blog ‘work-desk’ since IATEFL!! It’s been a busy time. The tumbleweed will get booted out of the way soon, though – watch this space! ๐Ÿ™‚

7 thoughts on “Learning Polish – being a true beginner (my newest challenge!)

  1. You’ve already done more work on your Polish than me! ๐Ÿ™‚ Do send some of those resources my way when you find them, and I’ll do the same in the other direction. The Usborne book looks great. I’ll hopefully get my version of this post written when I’m in Barcelona. That might motivate me to do a bit more than just memrise too. Though the Czech and the Russian I already have don’t hurt either to give me a slight head start ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Looking forward to competing, sorry, learning with you!

    • It sounds like more work than has actually happened, I think… :p Resource sharing sounds like a great idea! ๐Ÿ™‚ Look forward to your version of this post and indeed competing, I mean learning, with you too. ๐Ÿ™‚ Not fair that you have Czech and Russian though, I have zilch in that department… ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Good luck with your Polish! “Harry Potter” is a very good choice, because the translation is excellent, I recommend also getting some Polish books which were translated into English, however this might be for a higher-level student ๐Ÿ˜‰ e.g. Sapkowski’s “The Witcher” ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. My CELTA tutor here in Berlin is a Brit who speaks fluent German and Polish, as she jaunted off there to be a DoS (or something similar…) a few years ago. She gave us our immersion beginners’ lesson in Polish on our CELTA and it was fascinating – I totally agree with your experience: she drilled us on drinks until the cows came home, using realia and gestures to teach us a little dialogue, but then when she wrote said dialogue on the board, our pronunciation went to pot! It was a very interesting realisation for me, as I had always perceived myself to be someone who needs the written word to help!
    She’s called Helen Down – she might be willing to help if you email her ๐Ÿ™‚ She LOVES Polish, and often cycles there from Berlin!

  4. Hi guys . I am Polish and I live in UK . I still learn English but I don’t use it much cause I have only Polish speaking friends . I really would like to impove my speaking skills and I am happy to teach as much as I can . If you need any help , please contact me via email mbeelas@gmail.com . Thx

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