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Polish (język polski, polszczyzna)
Spoken by: ~ 42 million
Spoken in: Poland
Language family: Slavic


Phonology Edit

Stress in Polish is usually fixed on the penultimate (second-last) syllable of words. Exceptions are in some loanwords and certain conjugated verbal forms. All of the vowels are short. Exceptionally, Polish has nasal vowels unlike the other modern Slavonic languages. These nasal vowels are somewhat similar to those in French and Portuguese. The Proto-Slavonic language had nasal vowels and Polish is the only daughter language to have retained this type of sound.

In spite of this, Polish pronunication is marked fairly consistently in spelling and so reading it aloud is not as difficult as it may seem to those unaccustomed to consonant clusters, acute accents, tails and dots.

Grammar Edit

Like most other Slavonic languages, Polish has elaborate inflections for nouns and adjectives.

There are seven cases for nouns and adjectives: nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, locative, instrumental and vocative.

There are two numbers: singular and plural

There are three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter with masculine divided further into animate and inanimate categories in the declensions of the nominative and accusative.

There are four moods: infinitive, indicative, conditional and imperative

There are two voices: active and passive

There are three tenses: past, present and future

There are two verbal aspects: imperfective and perfective (these aspects deal with the concept of whether the verb describes an action that was/is/will be repetitive/ongoing OR an action that was/is/will be completed.). This means that most actions are expressed with an imperfective and a corresponding perfective verb.

Because of Polish's inflective nature, personal subject pronouns are usually omitted unless the speaker wishes to emphasize or clarify the subject of a sentence.

Syntax is usually subject-verb-object BUT this can change depending on the focus or nuance that a speaker wishes to convey. Thus, syntax can be rather flexible compared to English as much of the relevant grammatical information of a sentence is revealed in the inflections, suffixes and prefixes of the words.

Adjectives can precede or follow the nouns that they describe. This depends on whether the adjective describes an intrinsic quality of the noun.

For intrinsic qualities, the adjective follows the noun.

Ex. język polski = Polish language (literally 'language polish' - the reasoning is that there is only one Polish language)

For non-intrinsic qualities, the adjective precedes the noun.

Ex. czerwony samolot = red airplane (literally 'red airplane' - the reasoning is that the colour of an airplane is not an intrinsic quality)

Sometimes the order can be expressed both ways.

Ex. impreza urodzinowa OR urodzinowa impreza = birthday party (literally 'party birthday' OR 'birthday party' - Both versions are acceptable)

In addition, adjectives must agree with the nouns that they describe:

mały chłopiec = small boy (masculine animate nominative singular)

duży zeszyt = big notebook (masculine inanimate nominative singular)

mała dziewczyna = small girl (feminine nominative singular)

czerwone auto = red car (neuter nominative singular)

mali chłopcy = small boys (masculine animate nominative plural)

duże zeszyty = big notebooks (masculine inanimate nominative plural)

małe dziewczyny = small girls (feminine nominative plural)

czerwone auta = red cars (neuter nominative plural)

Orthography Edit

Polish spelling is quite phonetic but there are a few exceptions. For example, a final 'ę' in a word such as 'się' is often pronounced as 'e' (i.e. without nasalization). Polish has the same alphabet as English without 'v'. The special characters in Polish are: ą, cz, ć, ę, ł, ń, ó, rz, sz, ś, ż, ź.

Common difficulties Edit

For English speakers, the greatest difficulties in my opinion are:

1) Verbal aspect

2) Verbs of motion

3) Syntax

4) Nominal and adjectival declension

5) Vocabulary

Resources Edit

1) Teach Yourself Polish (Nigel Gotteri and Joanna Michalak-Gray) (price: approx $35 US)

- It comes with two CDs or audio cassettes and a textbook.

- What I enjoyed most about this course was that it had lively dialogues and useful information on grammar. It also comes with exercises for each chapter and answers at the back of the book.

- What I enjoyed least about this course was that its presentation of grammar was somewhat unstructured and could intimidate the learner at first. In the interest of keeping lively dialogues, it's natural that the language used would have relatively complex structures for a beginner and some idioms. The grammar section of each chapter would focus on the grammatical aspects of each set of dialogues. It would have been desirable if the textbook had included more exercises.



2) Colloquial Polish (Bolesław Masur) (price: approx $45 US)

- It comes with two CDs or audio cassettes and a textbook.

- What I enjoyed about this course was that it had good dialogues (perhaps not as lively as those used in the Teach Yourself course) and useful information on grammar. It also comes with exercises for each chapter and answers at the back of the book.

- Compared to the Teach Yourself course, 'Colloquial Polish' has a somewhat better presentation of grammar since the dialogues are designed in a way to emphasize the grammar or theme of a given chapter. It would have been desirable if the textbook had included more exercises. As a first step, Colloquial Polish would probably be a slightly better starting point for the absolute beginner because of its better presentation.



3) Pimsleur's Polish Comprehensive I (price: between $150 US to $250 US)

- It comes with 16 CDs and a small primer

- What I enjoy about this course is that you can acquire a reasonably good accent of basic phrases after going through its exercises of reading the primer and repeating after the speaker.

- This is a typical Pimsleur course in that the focus is on correct pronounciation and acquiring a small stock of short sentences and vocabulary. Unfortunately, it is expensive and I don't consider the benefit as greater than the cost. If you're an absolute beginner and interested in gaining a satisfactory overall introduction but feel intimidated by more involved introductory courses (ex. 'Beginning Polish' by Alexander Schenker or 'First-Year Polish' by Swan), I would start with 'Teach Yourself Polish' or 'Colloquial Polish'.



4) First-Year Polish (Oscar Swan) (price: variable)

- It comes with 5 audio cassettes (first edition) or 6 CDs or audio cassettes (second edition) and a textbook (first or second edition).

- The audio for the book is also available as .aiff files from the same domain at the University of Pittsburgh that hosts Prof. Swan's learning material for Polish (see "Links" at the bottom of this profile for the URL).

- What I enjoy about this set is that it is full of exercises, dialogues and explanations and you can acquire a reasonably good grasp of basic Polish after going through the course. Unfortunately, this set is really meant for university students and does not have a key for the exercises. You'll need to get a Polish friend or teacher to correct your exercises or help you with the exercises that ask for oral participation.

- As an alternative, Dr. Swan has updated this course and set it up online as 'First-Year Polish Course' at his website (see "Links" at the bottom of this profile for the URL). You can print the textbook (provisional online third edition) and do the exercises online with his proprietary software called 'Lektorek'. In addition, half of the dialogues can be played on the internet using Quick Time player. The website also has links to useful sites for students of Polish including an online version of the revised edition of his earlier work: "A Grammar of Contemporary Polish".



5) Intermediate Polish (Oscar Swan) (price: variable)

- It comes with 2 audio casettes and a textbook. You can get the textbook from Amazon or Alibiris.com. You can order the set of tapes with the textbook from an organization called Lektorek which is affiliated with Dr. Swan. It is the continuation of his course "First-Year Polish"

- Like 'First-Year Polish', this set is also full of exercises, dialogues and explanations which will help reinforce and improve your knowledge of Polish. Unfortunately, this set is really meant for university students and does not have a key for the exercises. You'll need to get a Polish friend or teacher to correct your exercises or help you with the exercises that ask for oral participation.

- Unfortunately, Dr. Swan has not created an online version of this course.



6) "Beginning Polish" (Alexander Schenker) (price: variable)

- This course is the nearest to that of a FSI Basic Course for Polish.

- It comes with two books. Vol. 1 is a textbook with basic sentences, grammatical notes and a few exercises.

- Vol. 2 is a workbook that is full of drills and also has a glossary and summary of Polish grammar. The drills are similar to the "Substitution" or "Transformation Drills" that are in FSI Basic Courses.

- The audio drills and recordings for the books are available for free download as MP3 files from Yale University (see "Links" at the bottom of this profile for the URL).

- Like a lot of FSI courses, the material is presented fairly drily and be aware that its method of drilling may bore some people.

- Vol. 1 is usually easy to find on Amazon or bookfinder.com but the price seems to vary between $20 and $50 US. Vol. 2 is somewhat harder to find and consequently is often a little more expensive than Vol. 1.



7) Cześć, jak się masz? (Władyslaw Miodunka) (2nd edition) (cz. 1 (part 1) "Spotykamy się w Polsce" and cz. 2 (part 2) "Spotykamy się w Europie")

- The first edition is a set of one book and its CD. price is approx. $25 US)

- The second edition is a set of two books, each with its own CD. (Each part costs about $35 US)

- (My comments are taken from my experiences with the first edition) What I enjoy about this set is that it has many exercises (but not as many as Swan's books), dialogues and explanations and you can acquire a reasonably good grasp of basic Polish after going through the course. Unfortunately, this set is really meant for university students and does not have a key for the exercises. You'll need to get a Polish friend or teacher to correct your exercises or help you with the exercises that ask for oral participation.

- It would have been desirable if the textbook had included even more exercises, but this is a relatively minor complaint.

- Part 1 of the 2nd edition is meant for students at level A1 on ALTE's scale, while Part 2 of the 2nd edition is meant for students at level A2 on the same scale.



8) Z polskim na ty (Ewa Lipińska) (price: approx $30 US)

- This book comes with 1 or 2 CDs, depending on the edition.

- This is a continuation of 'Cześć, jak się masz?', and is also full of exercises, dialogues and explanations which will help reinforce and improve your knowledge of Polish. This set is really meant for university students even though it does come with an answer key in the back and can be useful for those who are learning on their own.

- It would have been desirable if the textbook had included even more exercises, but this is a relatively minor complaint.

- It's meant for students at level B1 on ALTE's scale.



9) Kiedyś wrócisz tu... cz. I (part I); cz. 2 (part II) (Ewa Lipińska and Elżbieta Grażyna Dąmbska) (price: approx. $35 US each)

- Each book comes with a CD and a textbook.

- Both parts form a continuing sequence from 'Z polskim na ty', and are also full of exercises, dialogues and explanations which will help reinforce and improve your knowledge of Polish. This set is really meant for university students but it does have a key for about half of the exercises. You'll need to get a Polish friend or teacher to correct your other exercises or help you with the exercises that ask for oral participation.

- It would have been desirable if the textbooks had included even more exercises, but this is a relatively minor complaint.

- Part I is meant for students at level B2 on ALTE's scale, while Part II is meant for students at level C1 on the same scale.



10) Przygoda z gramatyką. Fleksja i słowotwórstwo imion. Ćwiczenia funkcjonalno-gramatyczne dla cudzoziemców (Józef Pyzik) (price: approx. $25 US)

- It is a textbook giving a good description of Polish nominal and adjectival declension with charts and examples. It also has lots of drills and includes a full key to all exercises.

- What I enjoy about it is that its full of drills and includes answers. This is perfect for mastering (or at least memorizing) the mechanics of cases.

- This book is entirely in Polish and isn't very useful to absolute beginners learning on their own. Such a learner might be overwhelmed by the explanations of fine grammatical points in Polish.

- It's meant for students at levels B2 and C1 on ALTE's scale.



11) Czas na czasownik (Piotr Garncarek) (price: approx. $25 US)

- It is a textbook giving brief descriptions of Polish verbal conjugation with charts and examples. Each chapter begins with a text that uses only certain verbs according to their conjugation pattern. The subsequent exercises all involve verbs with the same conjugation pattern. It also includes a full key to all exercises.

- What I enjoy about it is that its full of drills and includes answers. This is perfect for mastering (or at least memorizing) the conjugations and understanding aspects.

- This book is entirely in Polish and isn't very useful to absolute beginners learning on their own. Such a learner might be overwhelmed by the explanations of grammatical points in Polish.

- It's meant for students at level B1 on ALTE's scale.



12) Iść czy jechać? Ćwiczenia gramatyczno-semantyczne z czasownikami ruchu (Józef Pyzik) (price: approx. $25 US)

- It is a textbook giving a good description of Polish verbs of motion with charts and examples. It also has lots of drills and includes a full key to all exercises.

- What I enjoy about it is that it's full of drills and includes answers. This is perfect for mastering (or at least absorbing) that terror of Slavonic languages: verbs of motion.

- This book is in Polish and English and can be a useful supplement for absolute beginners learning on their own and highly recommended for more advanced learners of the language.

- It's meant for students at levels B2 and C1 on ALTE's scale.



13) Praktyczny słownik łączliwości składniowej czasowników polskich (Stanisław Mędak) (Practical Dictionary of Polish Conjugation of Verbs) (price: approx. $40 US)

- This is an excellent guide to using Polish verbs.

- It's different from Barron's guides for verb conjugations in other languages (e.g. 501 Russian verbs, etc.) (q.v.)

- Its entries show information for 1001 verbs as it pertains to case governance and associated prepositions using examples. It also presents information on subtle changes arising from stem mutations or prefixes which are part of Polish verbal aspect.

- It is entirely in Polish and thus may be more accessible for those who are past the beginner's stage of learning Polish.



14) 301 Polish Verbs (Klara Janecki) (price: approx. $20 US)

- A handy reference of Polish verbs giving patterns of conjugation for 301 verbs, and holding an index showing over 2300 verbs, each of which is linked to a verb table in the main section.

- It's the Polish version of other books by Barrons (e.g. "501 French Verbs", "501 Russian Verbs", etc.)



15) Polish: An Essential Grammar (Dana Bielec) (price: approx. $30 US)

- A useful reference book on Polish grammar. It is rather easier to understand than Swan's online reference grammar. Alas Bielec's book isn't as comprehensive as Swan's reference and isn't free. ;-)

- Bielec has also written two other books 'Basic Polish: A Grammar and Workbook' (approx. $30 US) and 'Intermediate Polish: A Grammar and Workbook' (approx. $35 US) which are textbooks that have exercises for each chapter. While both of Bielec's books have solutions for the exercises, there aren't as many exercises in them as in the books by Pyzik and Garncarek.



16) Collins słownik angielsko-polski and Collins słownik polsko-angielski (edited by Dr. Jacek Fisiak) (price: approx. $30 US)

- It's a two volume set edited by Jacek Fisiak and is the most useful and accessible medium two-way dictionary for learners of Polish.

- It not only includes many idioms and colloquialisms in its entries, but it also indicates the genitive singular form of every noun and important information for the verbs. For the verbs, the imperfective-perfective aspectual pair for each verbal entry is shown along with the conjugation endings in present tense for the 1st person singular ('I') and 2nd person singular ('you') in the Polish-English section. In some cases, it also indicates the declensions and conjugations of exceptional nouns and irregular verbs respectively in the Polish-English section.

- There is also a smaller and slightly cheaper version of this dictionary in one volume which is obtainable in North America at approximately $30 Canadian or $25 US.



17) Nowy słownik polsko-angielski, angielsko-polski Fundacji Kościuszkowskiej (edited by Dr. Jacek Fisiak) (price: approx. $120 US)

- It's also a two-volume set edited by Jacek Fisiak and is the largest two-way dictionary for learners of Polish.

- You could think of this set as a much larger version of the two-volume set from Collins and includes even more entries and examples. Strangely, it does not indicate the imperfective-perfective aspectual pair for each verbal entry in the Polish-English section. This lessens its utility for learners.



18) Wielki słownik angielsko-polski & Wielki słownik polsko-angielski. (Great English-Polish Dictionary & Great Polish-English Dictionary - edited by Jan Stanisławski et al.) (price: variable) (Most of the content of this review deals with the older edition. I do not own the newer edition of this set.)

- This dictionary is a set of four volumes (A to O and P to Z for English-Polish and A to Ó and P to Ź for Polish-English).

- You can find the older edition from the 1970s in a bookshop that specializes in used books or through bookfinder.com. Depending on the condition of the set, the price can cost anywhere from a few dollars to infinity. :-)). The newer edition from the 1990s is much more expensive and costs about $250 US brand new.

- What I like most about this set of dictionaries is that it is quite comprehensive. In addition, most entries include useful examples showing idiomatic usage and prepositions and cases that are governed by the verbs where applicable.

- In the Polish-English volumes, Stanisławski et al. have matched every imperfective verb with its perfective counterpart where applicable. For irregular verbs and verbs whose conjugations cannot be easily deduced, these same volumes show the conjugational pattern of the present tense and sometimes other forms such as the past participle, present adjectival participle and the imperative.

- The appendices of the Polish-English dictionary have a list of abbreviations and an abstract on Polish grammar with charts of declensions and conjugations in English and Polish.

- What I find somewhat less useful is that this set of dictionaries shows only the genitive plural of most nouns. Unfortunately, the respective forms of the nominative plural and the genitive singular are rarely presented in the dictionary. (Collins English-Polish-English dictionaries DO show these forms, however.)

- In my experience, it makes a little more sense to show the noun's form in the genitive singular since it is often more difficult to predict the genitive singular of a Polish noun (especially for masculine nouns) than the form in the genitive plural.



- In spite of these drawbacks, I find that this dictionary is still worth having and the newer editions would be a very good alternative to the new large dictionary that is sponsored by the Kościuszko Foundation.



19) Berlitz Polish Dictionary: Polish-English/English-Polish (edited by Berlitz) (price: approx. $10 US)

- In case that you can't get the medium or small dictionary by Fisiak, this dictionary from Berlitz will do in a pinch. It has the added advantage of being quite cheap

- It does not have quite as many idioms and colloquialisms in its entries as the small dictionary published by Collins, but it does indicate the genitive singular form of every noun and the imperfective-perfective aspectual pair for every verbal entry where applicable.



*** I do not recommend the small or medium dictionaries that are edited by Iwo Cyprian Pogonowski, With all due respect to Mr. Pogonowski, his dictionaries are little more than word lists and are not very useful for most learners of Polish. Unlike the dictionaries that are edited by Fisiak or Stanisławski et al. and the Berlitz pocket dictionary, Pogonowski does NOT indicate the genitive singular form in entries for nouns or the imperfective-perfective pairs in the entries for verbs. Instead he gives only the gender of every noun and phonetic transliterations of the Polish words. ***



LINKS


Other forums

- PolishForum.com's forums for discussions on Polish in general and Polish grammar

- Unilang's discussion forum for Polish

- WordReference's discussion forum for Polish


General collections of links

- A wide-ranging website on many aspects of the language (e.g. grammar, online courses, education, professional organizations, media).

- Long list of links related to Poland maintained by University College London

- Links page from Polish Cultural Institute, London



General treatment and descriptions of Polish's learning difficulty

- A good but brief description of Polish

- Wikipedia's article on Polish



Dictionaries and other databases

- Online collection of Polish dictionaries

- Słownik języka polskiego or online monolingual dictionary of Polish which gives inflectional tables for words entered by the user

- Online verb conjugator in several languages. Click on the Polish flag for list of Polish verbs and their conjugational tables.

- Online explanatory dictionary of Polish slang (mostly in Polish)

- Wikisłownik - Polish version of Wiktionary with most entries displaying inflected forms under “Odmiana” and aspectual counterparts (for verbs only)



Online courses, downloadable material and lists of available courses

- A brief evaluation of various textbooks and references for English-speaking learners of Polish.

- Website of Professor Oscar Swan's Polish material at the University of Pittsburgh

- Audio for the second edition of "First-Year Polish" as .aiff files at the website of Prof. Swan's linked above.

- Website at Yale University which hosts audio for Alexander Schenker's "Beginning Polish" as .mp3s

- "Polish Basic Course" from Defense Language Institute hosted at ERIC (text only - Warning: LARGE download which consists of almost 3200 pages or about 95 MB)

- Online courses for a few European languages, including Polish

- "Reading Authentic Polish Vol. 1" hosted at ERIC (text only)

- "Reading Authentic Polish Vol. 2" hosted at ERIC (text only)

- "Polish: Individualized Instruction Units 1-5" hosted at ERIC (text only)

- "Polish: Individualized Instruction Units 6-10" hosted at ERIC (text only)

- "Polish: Individualized Instruction Units 11-15" hosted at ERIC (text only)

- "Polish: Individualized Instruction Units 16-20" hosted at ERIC (text only)

- "FSI Communicating in Polish" hosted at ERIC (text only)

- "Concise Polish Grammar" by R. F. Feldstein

- Polish section of the website of Slavic Languages and Literatures at University of Michigan. Highlights include notes on grammar and list of private and public institutions offering courses in Polish language and culture during the summer.

- Sublearning - Polish to English movie subtitle flash cards



Information on dialects

- A website on Polish dialects (in Polish only).

- A website about the Teshen Silesian dialect spoken in the northeastern part of the Czech Republic around Těšin (Czeski Cieszyn).



Literature and authentic texts

- Online collection of literary texts and classics of Polish literature

- Online collection of =English&view=cover&sort=title&match=all&location=everywhere&ilang=English children's literature in Polish from the International Children's Digital Library



Bookstores that carry Polish inventory or material of interest for learners of Polish (N.B. far from exhaustive)

- Albertus

- Bay Foreign Language Books Ltd.

- Dom Książki

- Eden Polish Bookstore

- Empik

- Księgarnia Eva

- Księgarnia Polska

- Matras

- Polbook.com

- Polimex Bookstore

- The Polish Bookstore

- Polish Bookstore in Ottawa

- Polonia.com

- Schoenhof's



Downloadable/streamed media

- Lists of radio stations and television stations in Poland (stations' websites have content that is playable as a stream).

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