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The Polish language

The Polish language

POLISH YOUR POLISH!

If you want to do something unusual and exciting, or maybe just impress your family and friends,

learn some Polish phrases and some facts about the Polish language!

Learning Polish is not as difficult as it might seem at first glance. It's an extremely rich and beautiful language, spoken not only in Poland but also throughout the world, officially ranked number 21 in the world as regards the number of speakers.

The Polish language (język polski) is the official language of the Republic of Poland (Rzeczpospolita Polska), where about 39 million people use it. There is also a significant number of Polish speakers throughout the world. The biggest groups are in the United States, Russia, Israel, Lithuania, Belarus, the Ukraine, Argentina, Germany and the United Kingdom. According to statistics 10 million people speak Polish outside Poland. Since 2003, when Polish became one of the official languages of the European Union, the number of learners of Polish as a foreign language has been steadily increasing.

Polish belongs to the West Slavic group of the Indo-European family of languages, along with Czech, Slovakian and Serbian. Someone who speaks another Indo-European language (e.g. English, German, French) may find a few similarities between Polish and their own language. Learning Polish can be fun too! So, think Polish!

THE POLISH ALPHABET

Like many other European languages, Polish uses the Latin alphabet, supplemented by a few letters representing sounds which do not exist in Latin. There are 32 letters atogether: 9 vowels and 23 consonants.

Occasionally, the letters q, v, x are also used, mainly in words taken from other languages, e.g. quiz, xero, vivat.

Most of the words in Polish are pronounced as they are written or in a very similar way, so we can use the rule "read as it's written". The stress usually falls on the penultimate syllable.

The Signs in Gdańsk will guide you through all the Polish letters one by one but here is a reading guide to some of Gdańsk's signs to start with:

Letter

Word

Pronounced...

Meaning

A

Apteka

like English ‘a' in: art, after

pharmacy

Ą

Książka

nasal, as in French: bon, ton

book

B

Bar

like English 'b' in book

bar

C

Cukier

close to ‘tz' in Switzerland

sugar

Ć

Biegać

combination ‘t+ś'

to run

D

Dobranoc

like English ‘d' in daughter

Good night

E

Ser

like English ‘e' in ten, men

cheese

Ę

Proszę

nasal, as in French : un, bien

please

F

Faks

like ‘f' in four

fax

G

Gotycki

like English ‘g' in go

Gothic

H

Herbata

like English ‘h' in house, ham

tea

I

Wino

like English ‘e' in: he, me

wine

J

Jajka

like ‘y' in : yellow, you

eggs

K

Kawa

like English ‘k' in: kind

coffee

L

List

like English ‘l' in: : lamp, late

letter

Ł

Bułka

like English ‘w' in: way, water

roll

M

Minuta

like English ‘m' in: my, me

minute

N

Nie

like English ‘n' in: not, name

no

Ń

Karta dań

similar to English ‘n' in onion

menu

O

KANTOR

like English short ‘o' in: Tom, all

Exchange office

Ó

Bóg

like English ‘oo' in: food, book

God

P

Policja

like English ‘p' in: pot

police

R

Opera

like Scottish ‘rolled' ‘r'

opera house

S

Stary

like English ‘s' in: son

old

Ś

Ślub

a very soft, hissing ‘s'

wedding

T

Tak

like English ‘t' in: table

yes

U

Ulica

same pronunciation as ‘ó'

street

W

Woda

like English ‘v' in: verb

water

Y

Zupy

like English ‘y' in: Mary, very

soups

Z

Znaczek

like English ‘z' in: zone

stamp

Ź

Rzeźba

a very soft, hissing ‘z'

sculpture

Ż

Ryż

like English ‘s' in measure

rice

 

When you start your adventure with Polish, the first thing you'll notice is the combinations of consonants like "sz", "cz", "drz", "wrz", etc. which look more complex than they sound. The good news is that almost all such combinations are pronounced by single sounds which are quite easy to say. For instance: KRZESŁO (ksheh-swoh).

 

Letter

Word

Pronounced...

Meaning

CH

Chleb

like English ‘h' in: house, ham

bread

SZ

Bursztyn

like English ‘sh' in: shop, shoe

amber

RZ

Przewodnik

like English ‘s' in measure

guide book

CZ

Czas

like English ‘ch' in: choose, chair

time

Dżem

like English ‘j' in: jewel

jam

DZ

Bardzo

combination ‘d+z', close to English lads

very

Łódź

a very soft sound close to English ‘g' in genial

boat