Polish phrasebook

Polish (polski) is the official language of Poland, a country of 38.5 million people and is also used by some of the 10 million Polish diaspora around the world. It is understood and can be used for communication in the western parts of Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania. Polish is a Western Slavic language and the closest similar languages are those of Poland’s neighbours: Czech, Slovak, Ukrainian. The first two are most easily understood by a speaker of Polish, even though they have somewhat different interpretations of the Latin alphabet.

The language is unique in that it retains the nasal sounds lost in other Slavic languages and uses a unique diacritic mark, an ogonek (a “little tail”) attached to a and e to express them. It is also noted for its consonant clusters with similar-sounding affricates and fricatives, some of which may cause some serious pronunciation difficulties. On the other hand, there are only 8 vowels in Polish, (a, e, i, o, u ,y + nasals ą, ę) as compared to some 20 in RP English and the pronunciation follows a set of rules, so it can be read from the spelling of a word.

Like other Slavic languages, Polish is highly inflected and allows much discretion in its word order. For example, Ania kocha Jacka, Jacka kocha Ania, Ania Jacka kocha, etc. all translate to Annie loves Jack, a sentence that cannot be further reordered without changing the meaning. This may cause some confusion for speakers of positional languages such as English. Polish has seven cases, three grammatical genders (masculine, feminine and neuter) in singular and two (virile and non-virile) in plural. There are three tenses (past/present/future) and 18 verb conjugation patterns so as you can see the grammar may be a little challenging.

. . . Polish phrasebook . . .

  • A Ą B C Ć D E Ę F G H I J K L Ł M N Ń O Ó P R S Ś T U W Y Z ŹŻ
  • a ą b c ć d e ę f g h i j k l ł m n ń o ó p r s ś t u w y z źż

Q q and V v are used in foreign words only. X x is used in some historical names too.

a 
as in father
ą 
nasalized vowel, similar to French “an” or “en” [How to pronounce: Nasal vowels]
e 
as in bed
ę 
nasalized ‘e’, similar to French “in”, like rang [How to pronounce: Nasal vowels]; becomes just a long “e” at the end of words.
i 
as in marine
o 
as in lot
ó 
see u
u 
as in boot
y 
good approximation sound is myth.
y 
As in French je and le and in Dutch rode and witte. Just like the
b 
as in bed
c 
as in boots
ć 
somewhat as in catch, pronounced with the tongue touching the front of the palate
d 
as in dog
f 
as in fun
g 
as in go
h 
see ch
j 
as in yak
k 
as in keep
l 
as in lead
ł 
as in womb
m 
as in mother
n 
as in nice
ń 
as in canyon; sounds just like the Spanish “ñ”
p 
as in pig
q 
as kw, see k and w respectively (rarely used)
r 
no approximate sound in English but try ring
s 
as in song
ś 
somewhat as in wish
t 
as in top
v 
see w (rarely used)
w 
as in vote
x 
as ks, see k and s respectively (rarely used)
z 
as in haze
ź 
as in seizure
ż 
as zh in English loanwords or treasure
ch 
as Scots say in loch
ci, dzi, ni, si, zi 
as a ć//ń/ś/ź followed by an i
sz 
as in shackles
cz 
as in witch
rz 
see ż
 
as in John, voiced version of cz
 
voiced version of ć
szcz 
sz + cz is a common combination – just think freshcheese.
  • Emphasis is usually on the penultimate syllable, with only a few exceptions; non-Slavic words, the first and second plural forms of the past and conditional tenses of both aspects and names that end in -sław are stressed on the third-last syllable.
  • Devoicing occurs with b, d, g, w, z, ż and voiced digraphs in word endings and consonant clusters. Thus jabłko ‘an apple’ is really pronounced japko.
  • Nasal vowels are really nasal in certain configurations only. Other than that, they are om/on for ą and em/en for ę. To approximate them, say a or e normally and then the say the n sound as in the -ing endings. Link those two sounds together and voila you have a nasal vowel.
  • Voiceless plosivesk, p and t are not aspirated, unlike their English counterparts.
  • Ć-Cz, Dź-Dż, Ś-Sz. This is a little more difficult. The English sh/ch sounds are between ś/ć and sz/cz respectively – the former are softer, and the latter are harder. Cz is really just an affricate consisting of t + sz (or t + sh in English). is a voiced ć and is a voiced counterpart of cz, so another way to learn cz is to de-voice the J sound you know from John.
  • Rolling r is the sound you will most probably never learn. Approximate it with the r you know, whatever it is. Or if you are really determined, read about the alveolar trill and the alveolar flap.

After you know how to pronounce letters and digraphs, just pronounce all letters as you see them.

. . . Polish phrasebook . . .

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. . . Polish phrasebook . . .