False friends in… Polish and Spanish

This is the most classic example of false friends between Spanish and Polish. I still remember Poles giggling by looking at those signs in Spanish and having false expectations. You can find this comic and more at Rolf's Silly Linguistics comics.
This is the most classic example of false friends between Spanish and Polish. I still remember Poles giggling by looking at those signs in Spanish and having false expectations.
You can find this comic and more at Rolf’s Silly Linguistics comics.

These past days, I have thinking about how useful has been being a native Spanish while learning Polish. Despite Spanish being a Romance one and Polish being a Slavic one, the cultural influences of Latin and Greek in those two languages are helpful to figure out certain words such as gwarancja (similar to garantíawarranty-), galeria (galería in Spanish –gallery-), but others, if misused, mispelled, mispronounced or misheard, can bring more than a chuckle, headdesk or angry faces to either native Spanish or Polish speakers. Those are the famous false friends. Sure, they are quite helpful to remember words of common use in those languages, but they can also be a nuisance because many people do not know how to use them properly or keeping it to a certain context.

Here is a list of the most common ones, with certain examples on how to use them (and when to not). First word mentioned will be in Polish and the second one in Spanish:

  • Rolf’s comic already showed us the most classic one: kurwa/curva. Despite they are spelled different, they are pronounced identically. Kurwa in Polish means “whore” and it is also used as a rude exclamation. It is one of the most common swear words and probably, the first word every Spanish speaking Polish learner is acquainted with because curva means… “curve”. You can usually see that word in road signs warning you that there’ll be strong curves on the road ahead.
  • Pan/pan: They are pronounced and written exactly the same, but they mean quite different things. In Polish, it is a honourific for males (equivalent to Mister) and is also the singular formal version of “you” for a man. In Spanish, “pan” means “bread”. So imagine if Pan Kowalski is a Polish baker who moves to a Spanish-speaking country and decides to start a bakery business. Probably “Pan Kowalski” will be a smart brand name 🙂 .
  • Ola/ola/hola: Those three words sound exactly the same, but it can get complicated for Spanish speakers or learners. Ola in Polish is a nickname for Aleksandra. But in Spanish, ola is a “wave” and it is pronounced just like the friendly greeting, ¡hola! So imagine, this situation: “but look at that big wave…  Hi Ola!” and how it’d sound in Spanish, “pero mira a esa ola gigante… ¡Hola Ola!”. Awkward and weird, isn’t it?
  • Ser/ser: In Polish, ser means “cheese”, but in Spanish, it is the equivalent of the verb “to be” or it can also mean a “being”.
  • No/no: This aspect can be quite confusing and if you are able to master it in Polish, you’ll probably feel confident. “No” in Polish is a common expression to say “well” or “yeah” and you tend to use it as an answer when something is quite evident. In Spanish, just like in English, no means “no”.  The temptation to use it for Spanish speakers is strong, but you must use it in moderation in Polish 😉 .
  • Pycha/pija: Both of those words have similar pronounciation for learners, but they mean two completely different things. While pycha in Polish is an expression used when something is delicious (just like Yummy!), its meaning in Spanish will depend on the variety of Spanish you know… but most of the times, the connotation will be negative. While in Spain, pija means that something/someone is posh (and in a negative way)… in South America, pija means… cock.
  • Pensja/pensión: Remember that Latin/Greek tip I gave you, now here is a strong exception to it. In Polish, pensja means “salary” while pensión in Spanish may mean either your “pension” or a small bed&breakfast that offers rooms for rent or a home with rooms rented for out-of-town Uni students or workers.
  • Cena/cena: They are spelled the same, but pronounced differently. In Polish, c is /ts/ and cena will mean “price”. In Spanish, it will mean “dinner”.
  • Mizeria/miseria: A Polish mizeria would be fresh and delicious… it is a cucumber salad, while a Spanish miseria would be tough, awful and sad… it means “misery”.
  • Droga/droga: Both are highly addictive in a different way. A Polish droga is a road or journey while a Spanish droga is a drug.
  • Pies/pies: Another easy, but complicated word. While a Polish pies would bark, you can walk on your Spanish pies. In Polish, it means “dog” and in Spanish, it will be your “feet”.

Do you know more Polish-Spanish false friends? Do you have more fun false friends in the languages you know? Feel free to share the best ones you’ve got 😀

Polish culture through language: KOMBINOWAĆ

Meet Franek Dolas, master at kombinować
Meet Franek Dolas, master at kombinować

Most, if not all, of the times, languages have special concepts in which you have to look through history to understand their logic and how and when to use them. Kombinować is one of those concepts. It is hard to translate (but not impossible) as you really need to know the context of when it was said and of course, who said it as you can use it in a myriad of ways.

„No, będę kombinować”.

This sentence can be interpreted in so many ways. From something similar to “God will provide” (popular saying in the Chilean countryside), “I will figure it out”,  “I will make it” or… “I will involve myself in something shady, but it’ll be okay because it’s for own sake”. The last meaning will evoke several feelings with Poles. Yes, it will remind them the hard times from the PRL (or Polish People’s Republic… as the time frame between 1944 and 1989 is known). Getting a new flat, switch cars or any durable good were hard to get, so people had to come out with different ways in order to provide for their families: that relative living abroad who could send money, that bureaucrat friend working at a government office that could ease any red tape, or the relative of a friend of a good neighbour of your parents who can needs a special favour from you and you need something from him. I can relate to some of those situations (sure, we had Coca Cola from way before… but I still remember when someone would travel to a duty free zone or abroad -as in neighbouring countries- and would get me clothes that have yet to come here, a nice toy or chocolate bars you wouldn’t find in the supermarket), but Poles have something with that word. Sure, there were hard times, but you often appreciated things that you now take for granted.

This post is dedicated to Waldek and Asia who taught me all about kombinować through a Polish movie from the 60’s called Jak rozpętałem drugą wojnę światową (How I unleashed World War II) in which its main character, Franciszek Dolas,  thinks he started WWII and tries to fix it in most ways possible, and of course that leads him into getting into awkward situations. He could be an example how to kombinować (despite his results). I would recommend the 3-part movie, anyways 🙂 And this song from the film is a classic among Poles, too:

So, what about special words in your language or dialect? Or have you got a similar word to kombinować?

Polish up your Polish… with music!

Meet Pan Kowalski, the true Lord of the Seven Kingdoms. He already listened to this playlist and has recommend it completely! (Source: unknown)
Meet Pan Kowalski, the true Lord of the Seven Kingdoms. He already listened to this playlist and has recommend it completely! In his own words… POLECAM!
(Source: unknown)

I am a man of my promises, and despite I really took my time, here comes a playlist for those interested in Polish language and culture. It includes a bit of everything Polish music has to offer. Sincerely, Poles have a strong and rich rock scene, and a jazz one, too! Most of their songs talk about history, social criticism and such… but of course, there are the typical ones about love or silly stuff.
As last time, there will be the same playlist uploaded to both Spotify and Youtube, though there is only one difference! Do you wish to spot it? All I could say is that I could not find one of the songs on Spotify and another one was impossible to find on Youtube, so I was forced to add a different song for each of those playlists.
Anyways, you can enjoy the playlist on Spotify by clicking on this link and on Youtube, by clicking the videos below. I really hope you enjoy them!

The name of the playlist was completely inspired by the promise from the President of the European Council Donald Tusk when he was getting ready to take on his next challenge. He didn’t know fluent English, but promised to “polish his English”. Of course, many jokes appeared about “Polish”-ing English (because of the double meaning of polish/Polish in English 😉 ).

Practice Spanish with music…


First of all, I must say this post should have been posted yesterday, but I took a well-deserved day-off from work and despite I took another day off today, I am now ready to post a proper update on the blog.

Many of my readers have asked me about good Spanish music to listen and, at the same time, practice Spanish. Despite I do not listen to music in Spanish as often as other people, I took the challenge. Also, I wanted to keep myself out of the more famous artists in other markets, which was an easy task as I do not listen to dance music in Spanish or cheesy love pop ballads.

Most of the songs are taken from the radio I listen at work, Rock&Pop, and only one band is from Mexico and another from Colombia. The rest of them are from the Southern Cone region: Uruguay, Argentina and… Chile. I tried to focus myself more in Chilean artists because I guess most of you are curious about Chilean Spanish and what kind of music is being listened AND recognized for its quality these days.

So, if you have Spotify, you may click on this link. If you don’t have Spotify or if it’s unavailable in your country, Good Guy Cris has posted the same playlist on YouTube:

Key word from one of the songs:

Bacán = Chilean slang word for “cool”. It is a word mostly young people use, but older people tolerate it well as other ones are explicit. Other countries in Latin America have a related word called “bacano/bacana” which is used in a similar way. Bacán is a genderless word in Spanish so, as the song from Gepe says “bacán tu casa” (your house is cool) or you can also say “bacán tu sitio” (your site is cool).

Since there was no post yesterday, I really want to make it up to all of you and there’ll be a follow up post to this one! And it’ll be about Polish music 😀 So stay tuned!


5 simple Polish language lifehacks

In Warsaw, you can always make for someone a good day!
In Warsaw, you can always make for someone a good day!

Most people think Polish language is hard and probably impossible to learn it properly, thus feeling quite discouraged by it. However, I believe that nothing is impossible (quoting Nicolás Massú, a famous Chilean tennis player), so here are some essential lifehacks that will make your Polish learning easier, and why not… motivate your dupa (sorry, but I think this deserves it!) to learn Polish.

  1. Stress rules in Polish are a piece of cake. Most of the times, the stress in words falls in the second to last syllable. Of course, there are exceptions, such as words of Greek origin and the conjugated verbs of the first and second plural persons in past tense, but most of the times, you can nail a perfect pronunciation by following this rule. Stress is never random in Polish.
  2. Understand other Slavic languages easily: I once watched a documentary on Polish TV where the host went to Croatia. He had a Croatian guest and they talked to each other in simplified versions of their own language! How cool was that? Sure, in Spanish, I have the same feeling when speaking with a native Italian or Portuguese speaker (though, more with Italians, I must say!), but with Polish… you can understand some Russian, Czech, Slovak, Ukrainian, Serbian, Croatian, Bulgarian, among others. However, like any language from the same family, there are false friends. My personal favourite? Never tell a Czech person to look for something in the kitchen “szukaj w kuchni” because all you’d get is weird stares, a laugh and probably that person would end up having sex in the kitchen.
  3. Fewer verbal tenses to learn: I speak Spanish, a language with a verb tense and mood for almost every situation. I still remember in primary school learning about the pluscuamperfecto not knowing what it really meant and when to use it and not. Well, Polish has much fewer verbal tenses and moods to worry about. Mind you, Polish has two aspects: perfective and nonperfective! One is used when you did an action and you finished doing it completely while the other… sometimes yes, sometimes not.
  4. Are you scared of the infamous Szcz? There is an easy solution for that which works with any English speaker! Try saying Fresh Cheese as fast as you can, and focus on the Sh-Ch… did you do it? Well, you nailed Szcz perfectly! Now, try saying Szczecin.And my personal favourite…..
  5. Do you ever wish to tell off someone you don’t know well or is in allegedly higher hierarchy than you? Well, in Polish, it is totally normal and okay to do so and you can use it with formal language, so you can be mean and not disrepectful at the same time. The Polish pronouns for formal you in singular is Pan / Pani (Sir / Madam), so Pan jest idiotą? Yes, you Sir are an idiot ;). This thing reminded me of a scene from a classical Polish movie (in which the main phrase happens to be also the brand name of one of my favourite Polish shops):

Though there is also this classical video of a woman telling an old lady off because of her political views:


I hope you have enjoyed my lifehacks! Feel free to comment 😀